Well, I managed to get away from the Ukraine War for a while, but the recent debate in the news about sending western Main Battle Tanks to the Ukrainian armed forces keeps jumping out at me. Therefore, I decided to weigh in a little as to why it’s important to send survivable MBTs to the Ukrainian Army.

It’s pretty simple. The cast-off Soviet era junk that Ukraine is using at the moment is just that, junk. It really says something that I truly believe that the sixty-year old M60 Patton design would be a major upgrade for the Ukrainian Army, especially if supplied with an upgraded 120mm gun and modern electronics. However, I also believe the old 105 gun would work just fine against what the Russian Army is using in Ukraine. There are reports of the creaky T62 design being fielded by Russia; this is simply unbelievable. If the Ukrainian Army does receive the capable German Leopard 2 tank in usable quantities, the Russian Army can forget about meaningful armored operations unless they attack with a ten-to-one ratio.

However, that’s probably their plan.

I have been confounded on many levels by the Ukraine War, specifically by the lousy training of Russian soldiers, the completely unreformed and atrocious behavior of its troops, and the piss-poor planning and performance of its officer corps at every level. Also, it seems that the Russian Air Force is incapable of meaningful combat operations in Ukrainian airspace. About all they can manage is to shoot cruise missiles at Ukrainian apartment blocks from the safe airspace in Belarus or Russia itself. Lousy. Perfectly lousy, and criminal.

Less surprising has been the underperformance of the Russian Army’s tanks and their shoddy logistics. I won’t talk about the logistics, the Russians have always been terrible with supply issues.

No, today I want to talk about their tanks.

The Soviets knew their tanks were prone to self-destructing if hit by anti-tank munitions. They’ve known this since the T-54 design in the 1950’s. It’s called the jack-in-the-box syndrome. If you penetrate the armor on a Russian tank, the stored munitions on board explode immediately. The crew cooks, and the turret flies from the tank. Hence the macabre jack-in-the-box description. Visit any former battlefield where Soviet designed tanks were used, and you’ll find chunks of armor, sometimes the crew, and usually a turret laying on the ground a considerable distance away.

It is simply inexcusable that the Russians have never fixed this problem. No, they essentially refined the flawed T-54 over and over again until they reached the final Soviet design, the T-90.

The T-90 sucks, too. Witness the many images of it totally destroyed on the battlefield in Ukraine. No wonder the Ukrainians want better tanks- their crews die just like the Russians in an inferior design. Russian tanks are great for putting down protestors or cowing populations in the third world, but they don’t fare well against determined and skillful infantry or well-equipped modern armored forces.

Wow, all the crappy features of Russian tanks. So many. First, the T54 had no “turret basket,” or a feature that allowed the crew to swivel with the turret. Heaven help a gunner who didn’t get out of the way of the breach block as the turret turned. Then, an “improvement,” an auto-loader for the T-64, had a tendency to auto-load wayward arms. The Soviets messed around with turbine engines, different suspension systems, and reactive armor. They ended up switching back to diesel engines, and in the process created a logistical nightmare of subvariants, all of which needed different parts.

However, they never got around to adequately protecting the stored munitions on any of their designs.

The Chechens in the nineties, many of them with previous Soviet service, knew this. They knew the T-80 was vulnerable on its thinly armored sides to light anti-tank weapons like the venerable RPG-7.

Armored like crazy in the front, the T-80 was vulnerable to strikes to its sides. Just aim for the road wheels as the vehicle passes, and BOOM.

For pity’s sake. You’d think the Russians, who have built more tanks than anyone, would be wise to this obvious flaw.

Nope. Statistics are unreliable in the middle of a shooting war, but an estimate based from numerous open sources indicates that as of this fall, the Russian Army has lost about 1,300 tanks. Some sources estimate that this is half of their total available machines. Google this figure. I think it’s realistic.

You have to ask the question. Does the Russian government give two shits about their soldiers?

The question answers itself. They obviously don’t. To date, approximately 115,000 Russian troops have died in Ukraine over one year of war. This is a conservative number. For modern warfare, this is a staggering statistic. If you assume a WW2 3:1 ratio of wounded to killed, this means almost one-half million Russian casualties.

Unbelievable. Since 1945, nothing appears to have changed. Use Punishment Battalions (convict soldiers) to soak up munitions, then strike the enemy with sheer mass in frontal assaults. Smother the fire with corpses. Rely on cheap, inferior designs. Enforce military discipline using only the most brutish and violent techniques. Torment and terrorize occupied territories. Send in the secret police- and give them carte blanche to further Russian aims.

This is the reality of the battlefield in Ukraine.

The Russian government is not just guilty of atrocities against Ukraine, they are criminally wasteful with the lives of their citizens as well.

Look no further than their tanks, they are deathtraps.

It remains to be seen what happens with their first true armored design change, the T14 Armata, when it is finally used in combat. Is it a true peer tank with Western designs? It’s a fair question. If the Ukrainians get decent tanks soon, they may hold them as a mobile reserve to face a possible T14 led onslaught.

If there are sufficient numbers of them, I suspect the Russians are holding the T14 back for an offensive this late winter or spring. Then we may see the world’s first modern peer-on-peer design armored battle. Challengers or Leopards versus the T14.

Time will tell.


Hey, all.

I’m preparing the final manuscript of the second alt-history book on the Ohio Rifles series, “The Hidden Sun.”

While editing, I came across this vignette, which I had forgotten about. It does a nice job of showing a particular sort of combat leadership. When I thought about it, the entire chapter was not only an introduction to the characters that would propel the narrative forward but also about leadership.

How do you motivate guys to do stuff they really, really don’t want to do?

They try to teach you various techniques in Army leadership schools, and the US does a pretty good job of it, but for some of it you only learn the hard way. By experience under shitty circumstances.

The vignette is an excerpt from “The Hidden Sun.” Shooting for a late February release.


Eight Ball, who no longer thought of himself as Eugene Ball, looked at the new arsehole as he spoke.

“Your gun running smooth?”

“It works, Corp.”

“How many magazines do you carry?”

“Ten thirty rounders, plus Tommy has some extra for me.”

His cherry-arse Corporal nodded. “Yeah, that’ll do.”

Like you fuckin’ know, Eight muttered.

“Excuse me, fuckhead?”

He must have made more noise than he thought. Fuckin’ ringin’ ears. His corporal stood there, eyebrows raised.

Fuck it, Eight thought. “I said, like you fuckin’ know, Corp.”

The ruddy man stared at him for a second. Eugene snorted and grabbed a rag…

Something happened. Pain. Choking. Something on his throat…shoe leather…he squirmed and tried to pull the thing off his neck. He tried to shout. Couldn’t breathe…

The fucking Corporal spoke; Eugene could hear him just fine, it seemed.

“Arsehole, I ran a BAR at the Somme and Thuin. Fuck you. If you want to breathe, nod.”

Eugene nodded. The Corporal pulled the boot off of his neck. Eugene tried to get up.

A blinding thump. He was looking up at the fucking partially denuded pines. How the fuck did he get down here? He heard fucking Strohmeier’s voice.

“You try to rush me again, and I’ll fucking off you. You understand?”

Eugene understood.


“Is your gun running smooth?”

Eugene sat up and looked the corporal in the eye. His head fucking hurt. He reached inside his tunic and grabbed a smoke. He lit up. Then he answered.

“Yes, Corporal.”

Strohmeier moved on.


Strangely enough, I am not minding this edit. Usually, it’s a horrible painstaking chore, but this time it isn’t. I’m not sure why, although it may have to do with an alteration I’ve made to my technique. In any case, it’s all to the good, because I am fairly certain it’ll be a wrap on the edits by the end of the month.

I mean to publish four books this year, and I’ve made a good start.

Stay tuned.

Antique place find

Morning, everyone.

I think I may have had a piece of luck yesterday, which is unusual in an antique store. Usually there’s nothing but junk for outrageous prices. However, there’s one fairly close by where you can catch a deal from time to time. My daughter asked to be dropped off there while I continued to my physical therapy appointment- a bad knee I picked up at Fort Sill half a lifetime ago.

So, there I sat, my leg in a warming cuff thing. My phone pinged. With nothing better to do, I looked at it.

She sent me this image.

It was an obviously old violin with glimpses of very nice maple.

Expecting an outrageous price, I asked her how much. She said a hundred.

Seriously, I thought. Yeah, you can buy a very inexpensive learner’s type violin on Amazon for that kind of money, and it will work, but you get what you pay for. BTW, I’ve bought the style violin as shown on the link above, and I’ve played on them. They are great for beginners and as party fiddles. You know, you won’t cry if you drop it cause you’re dead drunk. I do recommend the Cecilio fiddles as entry violins- trust me, there are much worse violins you can buy, and the package deal is pretty cool. How can you beat a couple of bows, a case, etc., plus a functional violin for a hundred twenty-five? Even when you outgrow the fiddle, you can still use most of the stuff.

But I digress.

With some haste, I left PT and went down to the store to pick her up. The violin looked promising in the pic, but I needed to examine it. A lot of times these old ladies will have uneconomical repairs. There are reasons that the price is low. So, with some trepidation I went upstairs to look (there are three floors in the junk store. Pretty big).

The violin was an excellent quality 4/4, probably 19th century manufacture, possibly German. I don’t believe that the chinrest is original to the instrument. The tailpiece probably is, though. It was in a standard antique pressed paper case.

This is a better image.

Still not a great pic, but you get the idea. The violin was obviously in need of some TLC and minor repairs, but overall it seemed OK. The old case was actually alright, but someone had wrapped the deteriorated leather handle with electric tape- for some reason, this seems to be a thing around here. I’ve seen the tape fix about a dozen times.

As usual, the bow was junk. Twisted beyond salvage. Also, the sound post was all screwy and canted, and the bridge had obviously not been fitted properly. The violin was filthy. There was a small crack by the right F-notch, and a loose spot where the previous chinrest had been installed. Typical.

This is standard stuff. At one point this was a very nice instrument. It fell onto hard times post WW2, as evidenced by the steel strings. However, it seemed a good candidate for repair. I decided to buy it.

Well, after a bit of haggling, I got the price down to $94.50. This was a pretty good deal for what could potentially be a very pretty and good sounding violin. Maybe. It’s always a risk with an instrument that you can’t play immediately- how does it sound? The proof really is in the pudding. A good example would be the old violin I saved this past spring- I had no idea what it would do until the restoration process was complete, but old Twist sings well.

It’s the same story here, but the price point was such that I was willing to take a risk. As I was in town anyway, I just dropped it off at my instructor’s place for a cleaning and the minor repairs. For a short while, the violin is his problem. Worst case scenario I’m out a hundred bucks. But I don’t think so. I believe it will clean up and play nicely.

Stay tuned.

The Plan for Twenty-Three

Morning or whatever, everyone.

Alright. I’ve taken a few weeks to go on about the terrible war in Ukraine. I’m done with that for now, pretty sure you all know where I stand.

Today I’d like to talk about my writing projects going forward this year. Yesterday I had a very productive planning session with my friend and mentor John Birmingham, and he had a few great suggestions.

First and foremost, I don’t think my original publishing schedule for the upcoming year is aggressive enough. Originally, I had planned to release two novels, maybe three. No, the new plan is to kick out four if possible.

What will this entail?

Well, I’d like to publish the entire alt-history Ohio Rifles trilogy by June. Ok, this is possible, but it involves a lot of footwork on my part. Mind, the entire draft of the trilogy is completed and it has been for a couple of years. However, there is the usual editing required. Also, my peeps on my Patreon site get the first crack at it behind the paywall. Usually I release a chapter per week, but I’m going to have to accelerate this release schedule.

So, those people are about to get a lot of content, fast. I don’t have 46 weeks between now and June- this is how many chapters have not seen the light of day in the RIFLES trilogy.

Second, I kind of put the bridge novel of another trilogy on the back burner because I’m unsatisfied with the first draft of book two. Well, JB suggested I use the first fifteen minutes of each workday for this problematic draft. I think it’s a great suggestion, and it should goose the completed RD forward.

I think it’s realistic that I can release STORY2 in August or September.

Finally, by punching out the RIFLES trilogy by June and getting STORY2 out of the way, I’ve created oxygen for a desired Christmas launch of another series, which I call INVASION.

This is an entirely new universe, and it should be a lot of fun to write. For more details, you can always pony up three-odd bucks and get on the other side of my Patreon paywall, where I go into more depth about my plans.

Because there’s a lot going on in terms of writing this upcoming year.

And that’s just my stuff. There are ongoing collaborations, as well.

23 looks to be a busy year. But that’s good.

Peace, J.

Good Tank for Ukraine

I could sub-head this article “Maybe you don’t get what you want, but you get what you need.”

These last posts about the Ukrainian War are turning into a bit of a kick around here. But it’s in the headlines a lot. And I used to be a soldier, so I’ve got a little knowledge about this subject. Yes, I will get to writing about other subjects. But not today.

You can’t get away from news about the war. It’s everywhere. And sometimes people say really stupid or ill-informed stuff. Some people make unbelievable statements, like the head of the Russian mercenary organization, the Wagner Group. Check out his guidance for recently released convict-soldiers:

You can’t make this shit up.

So, it caught my eye when I saw that the US was considering sending Brads (the Bradley IFV) to Ukraine, and the same article mentioned that we might also send the M1 Abrams there.

While it would be great to see an M1 smoking some Wagner pukes, I have a few issues with sending the M1 to Ukraine.

First, our NATO allies in the east need armored upgrades. They should get the first priority. In fact, the Poles are first on the list and receiving shipments as we speak. NATO allies- first in line.

Second, there is a steep learning curve with maintaining and operating the M1. It is not a simple machine by any means. The mechanics and crew would take many months to train, and the Ukrainians needed armor now, not later.

Finally, and most crucially, there is the tyranny of logistics and finance. I’ll talk about finance first. The M1 is seriously expensive, and the Ukrainians aren’t exactly flush with cash. Either we’d have to pony up the greenbacks for the tanks, or they would. Now let’s talk logistics. The M1 slurps down JP-8 fuel, and something tells me the Ukrainians don’t have oodles of that, which the M1 requires. Just getting gas to the fighting units on the vast Eastern Front would be a nightmare. Let alone the parts because the M1 breaks a lot. And let’s not forget munitions. It’s a nightmare. Seriously.

This is why I think that providing the Ukrainians with the M1 is, while well-intentioned, not the best idea.

I have a better one.

We can give the Ukrainians the very capable and suitable M60 Patton. They are in service worldwide, have seen lots of action, and we have an unknown, probably large, amount (think thousands) of them sitting in mothballs, doing nothing.

Why. I’ll address this point by point, using the bullet statements above as a guide.

First, our NATO allies don’t want the old M-60. They want the latest and greatest, and this is understandable. However, the M-60 had no problems smoking Sov armor in several wars, most notably with the USMC in Gulf One. Yes, the M-60 isn’t cutting-edge, but it doesn’t need to be. It needs to kill Soviet designs, and it has and will. We can probably supply thousands of these tanks in a shortened timeline. Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

Second, the M60 will look familiar to Ukrainian mechanics and crews. It is powered by a reliable diesel, there are minimum electronics, there is no turbine engine. Also, crews used to the T series Soviet tanks will think they’ve died and gone to heaven with the roominess and user-friendly Western crew compartment and controls. Also, the tech on the M60 will be easier to soak in for crews used to the T series tanks. Mechanics and crew will take to the old M60 like a fish to water, speeding up integration into the front line. And the Ukrainians need speed with a looming Russian offensive this winter.

Finally, let’s talk finance and logistics. The finance is the best part! All the money for the M60 was spent decades ago. We can give the things away with few qualms. These days the only thing that gets done with the M60 is free donations to war museums. How about sending them to a worthy cause instead? I’d also wager there’s a mountain of old munitions sitting around for the tanks that are just taking up space in a depot. Ship it. The tanks, munitions, and parts cost more to store and maintain than sending them over the pond. The logistics? Ukrainian diesel will work just fine in the M60. Also, we already have a parts and munitions chain in place for the war- there would be no increased burden for maintaining the M60, unlike the M1 Abrams.

So there’s my brainstorm of the day.

Send the M60 to Ukraine.

It’s ugly, but it works.

Postscript: A friend saw this article and responded by emailing me this youtube link of some random tanks on a former or current back range somewhere in the southern United States. I reviewed the link and a few things struck me. First, the tanks had not been demilitarized. Second, they were not as bad as you would think. Finally, there were sixteen of them (!) in just this one spot at one installation. This suggests to me that there are many hundreds of these examples just sitting around rusting. OK, fine. As is, the tanks in the video need some work. Fine. Look a this video, a demo of what can be done with an old M60 hull. Send these tanks to Raytheon, I say.

Then send them to Ukraine.


Funny sometimes how little changes in this world. Today’s article concerns the modern re-imagining of the World War Two era Soviet (Russian) use of the Shtrafbat, created by Stalin’s Order No. 227.

This piece could be considered as the antithesis of my previous post, The Good Fight.

No, this time I’m not talking about Ukrainians fighting for their homes and freedom.

I’m going to discuss the Russian Army’s use of convict recruits against hard targets. It seems that Putin has resurrected the practice of using Punishment Battalions, or the old Soviet Shtrafbat, as a means of reducing losses to his regular troops. Recruiters have been going around to Russian prisons and penal colonies in an effort to round up cannon fodder. This has met with a fair amount of success, as the prisoners have been promised a commutation of their sentences and cash if they fight.

Of course, it’s well known that hundreds of thousands of Russian military age males have fled Russia to avoid conscription for the war effort. I guess not everyone buys the idea that the Russian Army is fighting to liberate Ukraine in a just war. So, the Red Army has to find the bodies somewhere.

Why not turn to the old concept of the Punishment Battalion?

It is a twisted sort of genius. You have men who are poorly armed and trained. There are unconfirmed reports of “conscripts” using the old M1891/30 Mosin rifles and the venerable M40 steel helmet, and I do not doubt that the tales of their slip-shod training are true. The “soldiers” get pointed at a target and they are told “go.” If they have any questions, they are issued cheap tablets with maps, and their advance is monitored by drones.

Apparently, these bullet-sponges get pointed at the hardest targets, and they are told that success is their only option. The Wagner Group, a Russian government mercenary proxy, enforces discipline with summary executions. In one gruesome and well-publicized case, a deserter was killed with a sledgehammer on video.

This is a win/win for Vladimir Putin. By using Wagner to form and employ these modern Punishment troops, they never enter the rolls as official members of the Russian Army. Any promises made to them are worthless if they survive. Also, this eases the strain on the Russian Goverment’s budget, as there are less mouths to feed in the prisons and camps. In addition, using the Punishment troops against difficult objectives allows the Reds to conserve their trained manpower and maintain some vestige of morale among their regular troops. Finally, as the cherry on top of this excrement sundae, the Punishment troops succeed from time to time, and they soak up lots of scarce Ukrainian munitions.

This. This is the very definition of treachery and cynicism. It is the opposite path of the true warrior, or professional soldiering.

Using the coercion of the Russian State, tens of thousands are being sent to fight and die for undisputed tyranny with the false promise of freedom. If every single one of these convict fighters dies in battle, Putin could care less.

Of course, there are downsides to this cynical approach. First, you have armed dangerous and desperate men with nothing to lose. This can backfire in many ways. Only by using the most brutal methods can these Punishment troops be brought to heel, which is a resource and morale sink. Second, by raising the profile of the Wagner Group, Putin has created a shadow army whose goals may not pair with the regular Red Army, or in the long term, with Putin himself. Finally, you are begging for a slew of war crimes with these people, especially if they are left to forage off the local population. Now, I doubt Putin cares about this, but it will harden the Ukrainian resistance and world opinion past the degree where it is now; that’s really saying something. Regular Russian troops have already left a trail of torture rooms and mass graves behind them. Heaven help the occupied locals when Punishment troops are garrisoned nearby.

If regular Russian troops have done these atrocities, imagine what the Punishment troops will do. I guess there has been a preference for convicts with violent convictions, or HIV and Hep C infected prisoners. Seriously. Does it get any worse? Probably, sadly, in time.

Stay tuned, because every time I think Putin has hit the bottom of the barrel, he cuts a new hole and falls a bit farther.

Strength to the Ukrainians. The warriors.

Defeat for the Russians. The pawns and hapless cannon fodder.

No wonder the smart military age males, or the ones with a little money, fled by any means necessary.

What a shame about Russia, a land cursed with awful government. There is so much human potential in that resource-rich land. But no. Yet another bloodthirsty tyrant holds sway, and look at what’s happened.

No surprise that the Shtrafbat has been resurrected from the darkest pages of history, to be used in a part of the world known as the Bloodlands. BTW, if you want to be sickened by human depravity, read that book.

Enough for one day. My head hurts just writing this.

The Good Fight

Image courtesy Euronews. IMO it’s probably staged, or a training exercise. It doesn’t matter. Here is a Ukrainian woman approaching middle age with a rifle in her hands, in the uniform of her country. If she’s not in immediate danger, she will be (or has already been). It doesn’t matter what her background is, or her Military Occupational Specialty. If a bullet finds her, or shrapnel rains from the sky, she’s in deep shit.

Look, I’m not a pro-war guy. If any of you have read my books, you have probably figured this out.

War is disgusting. War is a large-scale loss of resources and lives. War is the destruction of all you hold dear.

Sadly, it is also occasionally necessary. The fight against fascism in World War Two is a great example. Live on our flatscreens in our comfy living rooms, we are seeing another.

It’s not hard to see the bad guy here. For no plausible reason, the Russian Army invaded Ukraine. They proceeded to terrorize the civilian population and engage in behaviors that are unworthy of modern military professionals. You don’t have to believe a damn word I say, every creditable news source on the planet will give you reams of almost unbearable information on this front. But sure, if you want to tune into the mouthpieces of the Russian regime or Communist China, I’m sure you can get another perspective. Just like you can find people who will sell you some bill of goods anywhere.

A quick aside as to the validity of NATO hordes pouring across the Russian frontier to threaten the Rodina. If you think NATO was indeed a serious threat to Russia (for example, the fearsome German Army, with somewhere between 200-300 serviceable main battle tanks), I’d suggest you do some light reading into Flat Earth Theory, or some other bullshit.

But hey, the point of this article is not to convince you of anything. What you choose to believe is up to you, even if we disagree.

No, I’d like to talk about the obligation of a warrior.

What is a warrior?

I’m sure there’s textbook definitions. I’ll give you my take.

Simply put, a warrior is someone who places themselves between the people and harm. A person who willingly chooses the path of sacrifice and danger for the greater good. (BTW, this doesn’t just have to be with feats of arms. There are many forms of courage.)

Yes, war is terrible. Conflict is undesirable. Violence is best avoided.

However, sometimes the path to conflict is the only choice. The whole idea that “no war is justified” is crap, refuted by any study of history and kindergarten logic.

My dad used to always say that I was never to pick a fight. However, he added a coda. If he found out I had run from a fight, I had a problem. He said “you’ll never be in trouble for defending yourself, or someone who deserves help.” He put action to words.

There was a boy who bullied me terribly when I was eleven or so. I dreaded riding the bus because of this kid. He was bigger than me, and he tormented me. One day when we got off the bus, I had enough. He started his routine. I punched him in the nose, breaking his glasses. We fought a few minutes and then he ran home. So, I left for the old farmhouse with the taste of blood in my mouth from a split lip.

My father soon received an angry phone call from the boy’s mother. She berated my dad and demanded that we pay for the glasses. She threatened to sue.

Dad knew this kid had been giving me a hard time. He laughed at her and said “Go ahead. And send your husband over here to collect payment for the glasses.”

The fellow never showed up. It was probably for the best. Dad, the product of a rough edged working class family, would have beaten the shit out of him.

He never said a word to me, and I’m pretty sure he bought me a fudge sundae at McDonalds. I wore my fat lip to school with pride, and that asshole kid never bothered me again.

Yeah, it’s a minor childhood incident. But it left a strong impression.

When someone gives you or someone you care about a problem, you do what you need to do.

The woman in the photo above? I’m sure she’d rather be doing something other than laying in the mud with an AK-74 in her hands. But she’s doing what she needs to do. She is a true warrior, who has chosen to stand for the people. Maybe she’s dead. If so, she has earned her place in Valhalla. Every generation has those who will dare to answer that terrible call to the colors. God bless them.

There is such a thing as a good fight.

Fully Operational Death Star

Guys, this has been a long time coming.

I finally got off the dime and purchased a dedicated laptop for my work. For years, I have shared a computer with the fam, and it’s been OK most of the time. However, over the course of the past year demand for the old workhorse increased, and I’ve been pressed to squeeze keyboard time in with others to write my books.

This had to stop.

Also, something that happened with regularity was that screenshots from retail outfits would magically appear on what I was trying to use as a workspace, and at times I would leave a file open and somehow it disappeared. Little things. But they added up, like water torture. The desktop was littered with files, and I like to keep things tidy.


Not so much, with a laptop used by at least three adults, occasionally four. I got by, but it was a PITA.

Then Black Friday happened, and there was a tremendous deal on a shiny new MacBook Air.

799 bucks, all I had to do was click a button. My spouse was cool with it.

Was it the latest, greatest M2 chip badassmobile? No. However, it seemed to be a solid workhorse with more than enough power for me.

Of course I clicked the yellow button on Amazon. Within two days, the plain brown box arrived and I ripped it open. Within an hour, I had it all set up. This included downloading Word (an industry standard), and importing my files.

Now, I’m not a guy who asks a lot out of a machine. I don’t spend hours gaming, I don’t really do video editing or anything else crazy. I just need a computer to make books. This MacBook fits the bill.

The pure luxury of a near empty desktop. A bookmarks page that doesn’t have a thousand icons. No more disappearing documents.

This has made a profound difference. I find that it’s much easier to write without the knowledge that others are waiting on screen time. Or that I can leave a doc open, and no one will victimize it. That I can organize and store files as I see fit. The list goes on.

The new MacBook has been everything that I hoped for.

It is my fully operational Death Star.

The Haunted Courtyard

I don’t closely follow the news out of the ghastly war in Ukraine.

I can’t do it. It’s pretty bad over there, a war to the knife. Killing and fighting on a World War Two scale. Refugees, atrocities, very bad stuff.

However, one can’t escape the news cycle. Not even when I open my email, the information is right there. You can’t ignore it entirely.

This article caught my eye, I had to read it. It was pretty bad. A terrible situation that illustrates what is known as “the prisoner’s dilemma,” a well-known factor in infantry combat.

It’s hard to surrender. Every grunt knows this. When you lay down your arms after battle, anything can happen to you before you are processed and taken to the rear. There are so many factors in the decision to give up. A big one is the reputation of the opposing side. Do they treat their prisoners well? Another is how many people you just killed. Are the other guys going to even consider taking prisoners after you just gunned down their friends? Is someone going to just accept your surrender when you have a smoking machine gun next to you, with a big pile of expended brass beneath it?

I look at some of the commentary in this article, and I shake my head. These people have clearly never been in a fight. They come up with all this lawyerly bullsh*t, and they’ve never spent one day on the line. Hell, they’ve never spent a day in uniform, let alone been in infantry combat.

There was a reason the insurgents took very few prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all knew that our chances of living were pretty slim if taken. Most likely, we’d end up on one of those horrible videos where people were tortured and then beheaded. Plus, we usually won our engagements.

I can personally attest that the US Army goes out of its way to treat its captives fairly and humanely.

I’ve seen the process first-hand. I took prisoners after a vicious little firefight on the morning of the 28th of September, 2011. This was not without personal risk. My guys had taken casualties, and emotions ran high. There I stood, in a shitty little field choked with marijuana plants, shrouded by the red smog from a smoke grenade that I tossed into some weeds. Medevac was inbound, and the fight was kind of over. The wounded were screaming and writhing. My medic was a very busy man.

My Afghans wanted to kill my prisoners. I told these dangerous men to f**k off in no uncertain terms. The prisoners were under my care, custody, and control. Things were tense, to say the least. There was still gunfire, 2nd Rifle Company was engaged in clearing the village. It was very, very bad news.

After a couple of chancy moments, it ended up working out all right. The Afghans stood down, my medic saved a couple of guys’ lives, the prisoners were loaded onto an ambulance, and our guys took a bird.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but to think on that morning. What if one of the wounded or surrendering insurgents had went for a weapon, or had concealed one, as seems to be the case in this episode in Ukraine?

I don’t doubt that none of them would have lived. It would have happened in the blink of an eye. As soon as one of the prisoners morphed into a deadly threat, they would have all been shot.

This could have happened to me. Easily.

War is an atrocity. You are licensed to engage in that most dreadful activity, taking another’s life. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. They give you shiny medals and financial incentives to kill. They train you in such a way as to dehumanize your opponent to make pulling the trigger easier. This starts in the very beginning. The first time you step onto a firing range, the targets have a human silhouette for a reason- they found out in WW2 that the traditional circular targets don’t mentally prepare the shooter for killing people. So, they switched it up, and these days the E-type silhouette is ubiquitous.

Therefore, I think it’s crazy to compare grunts under fire in a bad situation to characters who chuck women down wells and set up torture rooms.

The former is an ugly combat incident, a haunted courtyard that will probably live in the combatant’s dreams for many years to come. The latter is a deliberate policy enacted by sadistic NKVD types who want to relive their grandpa’s dark fantasies of Soviet power.

This. This is why you don’t start a war. Because wars are disgusting. Let’s just face the fact that war means killing, the waste of lives and resources. The biggest butchers aren’t the besmirched and defiled fellows with the well-worn guns. The ones who end up drinking themselves to death. No, the real butchers wear Saville Row suits. They circulate with diplomatic immunity and have fancy yachts. They die of old age in comfy beds, like Josef f**king Stalin. They give a few orders, and millions die.

Why don’t we put those guys on trial? Why don’t they face justice?

Sometimes this happens. Nuremberg. The Hague.

But something tells me Vladimir Putin will never sit before a tribunal, although his sins are legion.

Ultimately, he is to blame. This terrible situation would have never happened if he hadn’t given the order to roll the tanks into a neighboring nation that just wanted to be left alone.

He created a situation where millions with battle rifles and killing implements were unleashed upon each other in a land that has seen more than its share of apocalyptic violence.

This haunted courtyard. The soldiers twisted in unlovely death.

This is on him.

More garbage to carry

Image courtesy Army Times- a Ranger using the new IVAS system, or the Integrated Visual Augmentation System.

Hey all. As you know, a long-standing theme of mine is to take the lessons of the modern battlefield and imagine how all the recent technological developments are going to play out going forward.

Well, I’ve never worn them, so I don’t really know, but I can speculate that the new multi-billion dollar IVAS system, as seen above, really sucks to wear and use. It looks like a rubber squid perched upon the user’s face, and I’ll bet there are real issues with them steaming up or restricting the soldier’s breathing. Plus, how effective are they during inclement conditions?

Yeah, they provide (in theory) data links, thermal and NVG capabilities and targeting info, maybe great navigation aids, but how would they hold up in combat?

Imagine this scenario- you already have about forty kilos of shit you have to carry, plus a weapon, and you have one of these rubber gadgets on your face. It’s hot and steamy, maybe some rain, and now you have to move twenty miles to your objective. These goggles would really suck. Maybe you’d only put them on at the Objective Rally Point (ORP), but still. Weren’t they supposed to be on your face the whole time? Doesn’t this kind of defeat the purpose?

I’d be a lot more impressed with these goggles if they were the size of a beefy pair of GI glasses, like the old BCG’s (Birth Control Glasses). But they are not. They are like the shitty dust goggles we had in the desert, but way worse. Heavier, with annoying cords that can get hung up on branches and stuff, and probably stupid battery packs.

Of course, I am out of the game, so I don’t know. Maybe the guys love these things for their capabilities. But me? On a patrol, I’d travel as light as possible, and these goggles don’t seem to fit the bill very well. Not to mention that the software is made by Microsoft, of all organizations. So, they are guaranteed to be buggy and not particularly user-friendly. Hi-tech gear that crashes when you need it most is a Microsoft hallmark.

As an observer, I’d take a hard pass on this junk until the Army can field something glasses-sized.

But what do I know? I’m just a dummy sitting behind a laptop and speculating. I speculate, though, that this is stupid. We are weighing down a heavily loaded infantryman with more heavy and awkward shit. Who designs this crap? How will it assist the soldier in combat?

As longtime readers know, I am a bit obsessed with the idea of an armored fighting suit (such as I describe in my first trilogy)- a powered, armored exoskeleton augmented by AI that gives the soldier a simple, easy-to-use HUD so he can concentrate on the mission. Something that will look like this:

Yes, this is from the old-school cartoon Robotech. This version of the armored fighting suit was a motorcycle that transformed into body armor, which is a really cool idea, but it’s probably unfeasible. However, the idea of powered armor is not.

Think about it. The soldier dons the powered armor, which has all the cool stuff in those stupid goggles integrated into a simple HUD in the helmet. The soldier can move quickly, he/she is heavily armed, and the soldier is protected in an NBC environment as well. This is the essence of move, shoot, and communicate on the modern battlefield. No need to worry about excessive fatigue because the suit assists you. The suit keeps you at a constant seventy degrees F, so a lot of the suck factor is removed. Your leaders can track you in real-time, and the suit’s AI assists them on the fly.

Right now, I can tell you that all those gadgets can drive you nuts, and you have to carry them with your fallible knees and back. Let me list all of the shit I had to carry in battle.

A PLB, a personnel locator beacon. An IR strobe. A DAGR, a cool little GPS thing that gave me a grid. A Harris or MBITR radio. A VS-17 panel. Seven magazines, plus spares in my ruck. My weapons. Grenades. 40mm grenades of various types. Body armor, a plate carrier on my last tour. Helmet. Medical stuff. Water (CamelBak). Food stuffed here and there. Cigarettes. A little nine-line card as a memory aid. A notebook. Keffiyeh and muffin hat. Maps. Knife. Weapons maintenance stuff. NVG’s. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, the list goes on.

But you get the idea. You carry a lot of shit.

The powered suit could combine all of those things into one power-augmented package to give the infantryman a decisive edge.

But no. We are wasting the research money on rubber squid things that sit on our guy’s faces. Yes, that is as gross and awkward as that sounds, but imagine you have to wear one of these stupid IVAS gadgets on a long march through the desert, or a steamy jungle, with a bad situation at the end.

Also, let’s consider some recent developments in Ukraine. There is a lot of drone use, plus liberal amounts of artillery being thrown back and forth. The guys are dying on a World War Two scale. Don’t we owe our soldiers maximum protection against flying steel? Isn’t it a matter of time before someone weaponizes drone swarms to overwhelm traditional infantry positions?

What do I mean by drone swarms.

Here’s a great article by The Atlantic. Drone warfare will transform the battlefield as we know it. It’s happening right now.

Here’s a scenario with mini drones, such as seen below.

These drones are cheap, and the Chinese are masters at producing them.

My scenario follows, which I do not believe to be far-fetched.

Alright, a group of traditional infantry dudes is holding a position somewhere. They have these rubber squid things they’re supposed to be wearing, but they don’t because they suck to wear. So most of the expensive goggles are hanging out in their MOLLE larges. It’s raining and shitty. Every now and then, some happy asshole shoots them up with arty or a burst of machine gun fire. The suck factor is huge. Everyone is covered in mud, and the day before, a mortar round landed on someone’s head, so things are tense.

Right around midnight, the guy on sentry duty hears an odd buzzing. It’s the last thing he/she hears.

A cute little drone with thermals drops onto his head. It’s not a very smart drone. It can do only a couple of things well. It flies, it looks for heat, then it lands on the heat source. When it lands, a micro switch initiates a small charge of Semtex. The drone explodes with some degree of violence. So does the sentry’s head. Dozens of other drones seek dudes curled up in their sleeping bags or racked out behind trees.

Scratch one position.

The bad guys roll in and finish whoever is left.

This is going to happen.

Now give these same poor bastards the infantry fighting suit of my imagination. They are dispersed, and they are suited up. The suit masks their thermal signatures, and they are shielded from blast and shrapnel. They cannot be gassed, as the suit acts as an NBC-protected, temperature and cabin-controlled environment. They are in constant communication with command, and an AI controls their positions for optimum interlinking of fires. They are perfectly comfortable in the pouring rain and 40-degree temperatures. Their watch shifts are regulated by the AI, and set by their platoon sergeant. Their suits regulate and report their medical status. The suit makes it easy to stay sharp; everyone can see a god-like view of their sector on the map on their HUD. They control their own drones.

When that same drone swarm comes in, no one cares. Most of the little shits fly on because they can’t get a target lock. The ones that do detect something with their little dumb killer brains land on a few people and detonate harmlessly. Someone swears, her nap disturbed.

But that’s about it.

Completely different outcomes.

You can extend this to ships and aircraft. But that’s really a separate post. Let me say it no longer makes sense to field insanely expensive big-ticket expendable items. Yes, fighter jets and ships are expendable. But we no longer treat them that way. Stupid! Look at the modern battlefield in Ukraine- it’s a graveyard of armored vehicles, aircraft, and ships like the Moskva. All done with relatively cheap smart munitions.

Have we learned nothing from that war?

Guess not.

Too many people are invested in those big-ticket and soon-to-be useless items. The carrier group. The 100 million dollar manned fighter jet. The ultimate tank.

The military-industrial complex is screwing up. They are producing white elephants and rubber face-squids, when they should be drawing lessons from the battlefield and developing weapons for tomorrow’s war which can be seen in broad outlines today.

Simplicity and mobility are what is needed. Not stupid, heavy, and buggy rubber goggles that Joe will jam into his ruck, never to be seen again.

But what the hell do I know. I’m sure some blimpish general in TRADOC knows far more than me, and he’s eying a job with Raytheon when he punches out.

It’s not a matter of money. It’s how the money is spent.

Give our grunts a chance. Not stupid toys.