6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MOVIES

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Despite the creation of the United States Space Force, we’re still a long way off from building blasters like ones in the Star Wars universe and defeating our enemies with intense bolts of plasma energy. That’s right, they’re not lasers. In the Star Wars universe, ranged weapons are primarily powered by an energy-rich gas that is converted to a glowing particle beam. A far cry from jacketed lead ammunition propelled by gunpowder, or slugthrowers as they’re known in Star Wars, many of the blasters used in a galaxy far, far away are actually built from real-life firearms that are more familiar to us.

With a very tight budget of $11 million, or just under $50 million today adjusted for inflation, George Lucas and his film crew elected to modify real-life surplus weapons rather than create futuristic weapons from scratch. Weaponry and prop supplier Bapty & Co was contracted to provide Star Wars with modified surplus firearms to serve as space-age blasters. However, because of the aforementioned budget, many of the props could only be rented for the film. As a result, modifications were light and we can easily recognize the base weapons today.
6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

The left-side magazine, large breastplate, and restricted arm movement in their armor forced Stormtrooper actors to hold their E-11s left-handed (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

1. BlasTech E-11 blaster rifle

The standard issue weapon of Imperial stormtroopers, the E-11 was a light, handy, and lethal blaster. The debate about Stormtrooper accuracy aside, the blaster was very effective on the battlefield and even featured three power settings: lethal, stun, and sting. It also came equipped with a telescopic sight and a folding three-position stock, a carryover from the real-life weapon it is based on.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

British soldiers of 2 PARA armed with Sterlings (Ministry of Defence)

The Sterling L2A3 submachine gun is a British firearm designed at the end of WWII to replace the famed Sten submachine gun. Firing the 9x19mm Parabellum round, the Sterling was a favorite of special forces units for its excellent reliability and good accuracy. The Star Wars conversions used a cut-down version of the Sterling’s stick magazine as their power cell.

2. BlasTech A280 blaster rifle

The favored small arm of the Rebel Alliance, the BlasTech A280 was highly effective at piercing armor and provided more power than other standard infantry blasters at long range. Two variants of the A280 existed. The A280C was the preferred weapon of Rebel commandos. The A280-CFE (Covert Field Edition) was a modular weapon system that could be converted from its core heavy pistol to an assault rifle or sniper rifle.

The standard A280 is an amalgamation of an AR-15 receiver with a cut-down magazine and the front of a German StG 44, again with a cut-down magazine. Original StG 44s are extremely rare and expensive, so the ones cut apart to make the A280 were rubber props previously used by Bapty Co. The A280C is based largely on the StG 44; the only notable changes being the alteration of the stock, removal of the magazine, and the addition of a scope and handguard. The A280-CFE is more akin to the base A280, featuring an AR-15 as its core heavy pistol. The assault rifle and sniper rifle conversions feature the addition of the StG 44 front end.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Did Han shoot first? (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

3. BlasTech DL-44 heavy blaster pistol

Considered one of the most powerful blaster pistols in the galaxy, the DL-44 delivers massive close-range damage at the expense of overheating quickly under sustained fire. A carbine variation with an extended barrel and an attachable stock also exists. This version was used by Tobias Beckett on Mimban before he deconstructed it and gave it Han Solo. Solo further modified the weapon to make his iconic sidearm. After all, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

The Waffen-SS soldier on the right shoulders an M712, an automatic variant of the C96 (Bundesarchiv)

The DL-44 is modified from the Mauser C96 pistol, easily identifiable by its rectangular internal magazine and broomhandle grip. Originally produced in Germany beginning in 1896, unlicensed copies were also produced in Spain and China throughout the first half of the 20th century. With the popularity of Han Solo’s DL-44, Star Wars enthusiasts have been known to purchase and modify increasingly rare original C96s to make replicas, much to the dismay of gun collectors.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Though small in stature, the Defender could still put down an Imperial trooper (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

4. DDC Defender sporting blaster pistol

On the other end of the spectrum, the Defender blaster pistol was a low-powered weapon meant for civilian defense and small-game hunting. It was also popular amongst the nobility of the Star Wars universe who used it in honor duels. The weapon was the sidearm of choice for Princess Leia Organa who wielded it against Imperial Stormtroopers during the boarding of the Tantive IV and the attack on the Endor shield generator bunker.

The Defender is based on the Margolin or MCM practice shooting pistol. The Soviet-made .22lr pistol is used primarily for competitive target shooting in the 25m Standard Pistol class. The weapon was chosen for its diminutive size to keep the prop gun from looking bulky and unwieldy in Carrie Fisher’s hands during filming.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Death troopers used vocal scramblers that could only be understood by other death troopers (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

5. BlasTech DLT-19 heavy blaster rifle

The DLT-19 was used heavily by Imperial forces as well as bounty hunters and even some Rebel heavy troopers. Although it was not a crew-served weapon, its high rate of fire meant that it could be used to suppress and cut down enemies at long range. The DLT-19D variant, which featured a scope and an under barrel glow rod (flashlight), was used by the elite Imperial death troopers. The DLT-19x targeting blaster was another variant. It featured a scope with greater magnification than the D variant and released all of its power in one shot, making it an extremely accurate and deadly long-range precision weapon.

Very little was changed on the MG 34 to make it into the DLT-19. Introduced in 1934, the German machine gun could be belt-fed or utilize a drum magazine; neither of which were used on the DLT-19. The MG 34 was designed under the new concept of a universal machine gun and is generally considered to be the world’s first general-purpose machine gun. It was the mainstay of German support weapons until it was replaced by the MG 42 in 1942. Even then, because the MG 34’s barrel could be changed out more easily inside of a vehicle than the MG 42, it remained the primary armored vehicle defensive weapon throughout the entirety of the war.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

You can never have too much suppressive fire (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

6. BlasTech T-21 light repeating blaster

If you couldn’t tell, the nationalization of BlasTech industries meant that it was the premier military-grade arms manufacturer in the galaxy. The T-21 was a rarer sight than their more common E-11 or A280 blasters though. It was issued to more elite units like stormtroopers, magma troopers, and shadow troopers. However, its high rate of fire and long-range accuracy were limited by its power capacity of just 30 shots. To remedy this limitation, the T-21 could be hooked up to a power generator to provide sustained fire. The T-21B variant added an optic to increase its lethality at long range.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Australian soldiers drill with Lewis guns in France (Public Domain)

The Lewis light machine gun was designed in America, but built in Britain and fielded by the British Empire during WWI. It featured a distinctive barrel cooling shroud and a top-mounted pan magazine. Like the magazine of the MG 34, the Lewis gun’s magazine was omitted for its use in the Star Wars universe. It was often used as an aircraft machine gun and served to the end of the Korean War.


Articles

The first flying Scorpion carried nuclear rockets

The upcoming OA-X fly-off features the Textron Scorpion as one of the major contenders. This plane has been the subject of some hype since it first flew in 2013. However, if it wins the OA-X flyoff, it won’t be the first Scorpion to have flown for the United States.


In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States was looking to acquire interceptors to stop a horde of Soviet bombers. The big problem — the guns were just not packing enough punch. One answer to this was the F-89 Scorpion from Northrop.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
Three Northrop F-89 Scorpions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The first definitive version of the Scorpion to achieve widespread service, the F-89D, addressed that problem by using air-to-air “Mighty Mouse” rockets. The Scorpions carried 104 of them, and had the option of firing all of them at once, or in up to three salvos. The F-89 Scorpion also had a lethal ground-attack capability, being able to carry 16 five-inch rockets and up to 3,200 pounds of bombs.

But the “Mighty Mouse” rockets proved to be more mouse than mighty, and the Scorpion’s armament was soon the subject of an upgrade. The F-89J was a F-89D modified to carry the AIR-2 Genie rocket — which carried a small nuclear warhead. The plane could also carry four AIM-4 Falcon missiles. The Genie had a warhead equivalent to 250 tons of TNT, and it had a range of six miles and a top speed of Mach 3. Early versions of the AIM-4 had a range of six miles, but later versions could go 7 miles. Most Falcons were heat-seekers, but some were radar-guided missiles.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
A F-89 Scorpion firing an AIR-2 Genie rocket. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The F-89 was eventually retired in favor of faster interceptors with more modern radars and missiles, but for most of two decades, it helped guard America’s airspace from Soviet aggression. Below is a video put out by the Air Force’s Air Defense Command about this plane.

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5 little reasons why getting married on active duty sucks

When I was a young, motivated recruit at Parris Island, my drill instructor stood behind a stack of foot lockers assembled into a podium. “This is the most important period of instruction of your life,” he said with a thousand-yard stare. What were we talking about?

“Marriage.”

For an unknown amount of time, we sat there, listening to passionate warnings from our most-feared mentor. He recited romantic tragedies that gave Greek myths a run for their money. Afterwards, he gave the obligatory lesson on the administrative process of enrolling your new family for benefits.

Today, I pass those words of traumatic wisdom onto you, the young, love-struck recruit.


6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
Happens in every branch. (Mark Baker)

1. Deployments don’t get easier, you get tougher

Marines are tough — and they need an equally tough spouse to weather the storm of deployments. We’re the tip of the spear, and you need to make sure that’s what your spouse bargained for.

Some deployments are shorter than others and they involve varying degrees of danger — but they don’t easier. You need someone that, when the going gets tough, they get tougher. But it’ll always suck.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
“But you said you wanted to travel, babe!” (Julie L. Negron)

 

2. You’re not getting out of work, you’re doing different work

Some troops use their marriage as a way to get out of work, and there’s nothing single troops can do but watch them put on those already-sharp skates and get out of dodge — but it’s not all free time and rainbows on the other side.

I had a master gunnery sergeant who referred to his wife as the ‘sergeant major’ of the house. When you’re single, can you just pack your stuff in your car and hit the road. Married Marines, however, have much more red tape to navigate.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
At least you don’t have to police call at 0530 now.
(Terminal Lance)

3. You’ll miss being a degenerate

Gone are the days of actionable intel from the Lance Corporal Underground, last-minute trips to a bar crawl, and the spontaneous brawls between Alpha company and Charlie company.

Sure, you might not miss the part where the Big Green Weenie conducts acts of terror. You won’t miss random formations, the duty needing something or drunk people breaking your stuff, but you will miss time with the boys.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

4. Everyone knows your secrets

Your spouse needs friends. Naturally, the spouses of your friends are the first round draft picks. They can keep each other informed on what your unit is doing, important dates and if you’re being delayed.

In a way, it’s convenient. Even if you haven’t had the opportunity to speak with your loved one, he or she knows why, and won’t worry. However, that’s not the only thing they’ll talk about. Assume nothing is sacred. Susie and Kelly know your secrets in and out of the bedroom. OPSEC or the whole unit will know your search history, too.

5. Contract marriages are, uh… flimsy

A contract marriage is when two people fall in love — for money. The Big Green Weenie and the law’s blue version will hold hands while they unceremoniously wreck your life. Not only is it illegal to marry someone for the increased pay and benefits, but your spouse will inevitably betray you.

Before your first deployment is over, your house will be sold, your truck will be gone, and they’ll upload a video wearing your favorite shirt that can’t be shown on YouTube.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This vet crash-landed a 767 on a race track on family day

Air Canada Flight 143 was supposed to be routine. The crew took possession of their airplane from the departing crew, reloaded on fuel, grabbed the passengers, and headed out of Montreal bound for Edmonton at 41,000 feet.

But then they got a fuel pressure warning. “No big deal,” they may have thought. Pumps fail all the time and gravity can feed these engines, “turn off the alarm.” But then a second one went off. What they would later learn was that the ground crew had entered their fuel measurement using formulas for pounds — but the systems had been converted to work with kilograms.

Shortly after dinner service, the plane ran out of gas.


6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

The “Gimli Glider” was crash-landed on a race track as families watched in horror and fascination after it ran out of gas thousands of feet in the air.

(Aero Icarus, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The crew heard a long warning noise that none of the members had ever heard before, even in the simulators. The warning signaled a total loss of both engines. The plane had ran out of gas. This is an even bigger problem than it would be in your Chevy since the plane needs engine power to run a host of systems, including the hydraulics

Suddenly, the crew was piloting a massive glider with nearly no power, no hydraulics, and limited instruments — and they were still over 1,000 miles from their destination. To make matters worse, air traffic control suddenly had their own issues guiding the flight since the plane’s radio transponders were powered by, you guessed it, the engines.

Luckily, the pilot often flew and towed gliders for fun, and the first officer, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, was intimately familiar with the airspace and landing strips nearby from his time in the service. The two men tapped into their respective skill banks to save the flight and get all 69 people on the plane down safely, eventually netting them awards for their flying in what would later be known as the “Gimli Glider” incident.

This video from Today I Found Out shows how it all went down:

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An earlier version of this story referred to the race track as a “go-kart track.” The track was being used by small sports cars on the day of the landing, not go-karts.

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This collection of graffiti tells the real story of what modern war is like

Wisdom and truth (not to mention humor and satire) is found in the most unlikely places in theater. Here’s a sampling of graffiti that captures some of what it takes to keep your sanity when deployed:


 

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

War is awful. At least the graffiti keeps a sense of humor. 

NOW: 9 examples of the military’s dark humor

OR: Here’s the way-funnier version of what the Marine PFT is really like

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How to use thermoplasic to make tools for your gun

While working on a completely different project I discovered something curious on Amazon. That product was moldable thermoplastic pellets.

Shaped in balls like smaller-than-usual airsoft pellets, moldable thermoplastic melts at just 140F, can be formed like clay, and then increases in hardness as it approaches room temperature.

There are seemingly endless uses for this product, but I had a pet one in mind for the test: a US Optics turret tool.


6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

(RECOILweb)

With most scopes (several of them being US Optics) a simple hex wrench can be used to float turrets back to zero after obtaining a physical zero.

But no, not the case with the USO BT-10.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

(RECOILweb)

While official instructions say to press down with your palm on the top and rotate, the reality meant several friends and I tried in vain to accomplish this for about an hour.

And once you get it, it has to be pushed back in the same way.

Either way you cut it, it sucked on both ends.

So, a US Optics BT-10 tool it would be.

Firstly, you heat up some water at a medium temperature. Then drop some thermoplastic in place. Once it’s clear, then it’s pliable.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

(RECOILweb)

Then all you have to do is mold it around an object. I have found that it does not stick to treated metal but may to plastics (so use a release agent like PAM). As it comes to temperature, it becomes opaque again.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

(RECOILweb)

[Note that I did attempt to add texture which is why it looks so rough]

Does it work?

Hell. Yes.

The extra area and easier grip makes floating turrets a HELLUVA lot easier with this scope.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

(RECOILweb)

The best part is, if you muck it up it can be re-melted and reused.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Swiss vets can keep their rifle after leaving the service

After troops from various militaries around the world finish their time in service, they turn their gear in, finalize their paperwork, and hang up their uniform for good. Swiss soldiers, however, can skip that last visit to the arms room and walk out with their service weapon in tow.

Surprised? To the Swiss, this is just a part of the culture.


This is a part of Switzerland’s Aggressive Neutrality Policy. Despite being a nation whose name has become synonymous with neutrality, Switzerland has kept the peace by letting the world know that it will not hesitate to defend itself by any means necessary.

It’s an open secret that the country hosts a huge amount of heavily fortified bunkers, ready-to-blow roadways, and the world’s 38th largest military despite the fact that the country is just shy of half the size of South Carolina. No, really — all of this information is readily available on Google.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
Very picturesque, even after realizing there’s enough TNT hidden on that thing to blow it to Hell.
(Photo by Oma Toes)

Another way for the Swiss to keep outside threats on edge is by pairing conscription with a gun culture that’s on par with Texas’. Every able-bodied male citizen is required to join the military in some fashion and the women are strongly encouraged. Culturally, conscription isn’t seen as a negative thing and recruits aren’t dragged in kicking and screaming.

In fact, it’s just an ordinary part of life and the Swiss are proud to join. In 2013, a referendum was drawn up to abolish conscription, but it failed miserably — 73% of citizens strongly favored conscription.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
The Swiss love their army. And their Army Knives…
(Courtesy Photo)

All of this is important to understanding the mindset of the Swiss people, their military, and their veterans. Nearly everyone in Switzerland has served in the military in some capacity and they keep the peace by tiptoeing while carrying a large friggin’ stick. If there should ever come a time where Switzerland is invaded, a well-armed and well-trained population is ready to rise up.

Now, this isn’t to say that rifles are handed over freely, even though that would make for the greatest VA system in the world. Most times, Swiss veterans pay out of pocket to keep the firearm they trained on. The ammunition isn’t for sale, though. Swiss vets need to get that on their own.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
u200bI have one, plausible, idea why that might be…

MIGHTY CULTURE

March is Marine Infantry Month, here’s how to celebrate

Okay, okay. Marines are arrogant; we get it. So, maybe we don’t need to dedicate an entire month to one of the finest fighting forces on the planet. Maybe doing so will simply add fuel to their egotistical fire. But the fact is that Infantry Marines are some of the best, most badass creatures on the planet, and we’re going celebrate them however we damn-well want.

Luckily, for the celebratory folks among us, the Marine Corps’ MOS codes have given us a pretty easy-to-follow structure. So, we’re officially declaring that March be Marine Infantry Month, and we’re marking the following days on our calendars to celebrate each of the many Marine Corps Infantry sub-cultures.


6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

It should be noted that, on this day, if you wish to express your anger, just yell, “but I have a college degree!”

(U.S. Marine Corps)

March 1st — Infantry Officers Day (0301)

While many may not feel like celebrating it, infantry officers are certainly something you can appreciate. Each year, we’ll start this day off with a land navigation course during which you purposely get lost before you find yourself on a beach, sipping on expensive alcohol with lance corporals cooking on grills (not in the barracks, though).

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

See how much fun this one’s having? That could be you.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brendan Custer)

March 11th — Day of the Rifleman (0311)

The most populous of the infantry jobs, on March 11, start your celebration with a long-distance run or a patrol into a densely wooded area nearby. Once you’re there, eat some MREs — but save that poundcake! You’ll need it for the ceremonial field birthday cake: an MRE pound cake with a burning cigarette in the center.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

This is a day of stillness. Don’t you move, boot.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Israel Chincio)

March 17th — Day of the Snipers (0317)

When you wake up on the 17th, paint your face in camouflage, crawl a few miles, and then lay there for the rest of the day. When the sun starts to set, shoot a rifle at something really far away, and then crawl home.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

A fun day at the beach, right?

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christian Ayers)

March 21st — Day of Reconnaissance (0321)

On the 21st, take a boat out from the shore before paddling it back in. What you do after you’ve landed is completely up to you, but no matter what, you can’t tell anyone what happened.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Also, make that dumb crunchy dig your fighting hole then take it over!

(U.S. Marine Corps)

March 31st – Weapons Day (0331, 0341, 0351, 0352…)

Because there are a lot of MOS codes out there that end in numbers bigger than 31, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover at the end of the month. Not exactly optimal — each job really deserves their own day — but hey, we didn’t make the universe.

Here’s how a celebration might go: You sit back and watch as the riflemen do all the work and only help them when they call up the proper radio report. Then maybe you help them. Otherwise, you’ve got an avenue of approach to keep an eye on, right?

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Armistice Day became Veterans Day

Growing up, learning about World War I usually involved learning about three things: trench foot, poison gas, and bloody stalemate. Right before the history teacher moves on to World War II, we learn the old mnemonic device — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, ‘The War to End All Wars’ ended with an armistice.


Then, there was one kickass, worldwide party.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns
And then…u00a0the sequel.

Obviously, glossing over one of the deadliest, most expensive, and most avoidable wars in American history does the Doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force an injustice. We need to remember that World War I was more than just a prelude to World War II. The horrors of WWI led to the annual recognition of those the who had to fight it. The day The Great War ended came to be remembered thereafter as Armistice Day.

But, when the 11th day of the 11 month rolls around, we all celebrate Veterans Day. What happened?

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

This is what Armistice Day 1938 looked like in Omaha, Nebraska.

The first public celebration of Armistice Day came in November, 1920. Much like how we celebrate Veterans Day today, the occasion was marked by speeches, parades, and exchange of drinks and stories between veterans of the war. The exception came when that 11th hour rolled around. For a moment, there was a pause in all activities across the country.

In that moment, mere years ago, millions of armed men stopped butchering each other over control of several yards of No Man’s Land.

In 1926, Congress made Armistice Day official, resolving that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations.” In 1938, Armistice Day became a Federal Holiday.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Literally.

As we all know, the “War to End All Wars” didn’t actually end all wars — or any wars. It actually led very directly to the next war, World War II. Which led to the next war, the Korean War, which was part of a greater war, the Cold War. You get the point. By the time the Korean War ended, there was a whole new generation of war veterans who felt deserving of recognition for a job well done.

Veterans of those war lobbied Congress to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, in order to honor veterans of every war. Congress agreed and President Eisenhower signed on to it, too.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Gerald Ford, the voice of reason.

In 1968, Congress acted again. This time, they wanted to give federal employees a couple of three-day weekends throughout the year, so they changed the dates of some major holidays to fall on certain Mondays. Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Washington’s Birthday were all given Mondays. And Veterans Day was moved from the historic date of November 11 to “the fourth Monday in October.”

The states rightly thought that was a stupid idea and refused to recognize the movement of Veterans Day until President Ford changed it back in 1975.

Veterans Day is currently celebrated nationally on November 11, as it has been for decades. When the day was originally changed to Veterans Day in 1954, it was just in time for then-104-year old Albert Woolson, the last surviving veteran of the Civil War, to celebrate it. With him were two veterans of the Plains Wars, veterans of the Spanish-American War, and vets from the Philippines War.

States, local municipalities, and other governments have declared their own Veterans Days, some dating as far back as the end of World War II, recognizing the courage and sacrifices of every U.S. citizen who answered the country’s call to arms.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The word ‘deadline’ has a horrible origin in Civil War prisons

Have you got a project due that you should be working on? A paper, a PowerPoint presentation, a briefing to the commander? If so, you are probably on a deadline. But missing a deadline in our modern world is typically just a problem of professional conduct, or maybe they’ll be some sort of financial penalty. But for Civil War prisoners, it was a matter of life and death.


6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Anderson prisoner of war tents run right up to the deadline demarked by the low fencing. Prisoners who crossed this line could be shot by prison guards.

(Library of Congress)

That’s because the original deadlines existed in Civil War prisons, most famously at Camp Sumter, the prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia. Most Civil War prisons weren’t like Alcatraz Island, where prison cells and buildings were used to keep prisoners confined. Instead, officers would build rough wooden fences 10-20 feet high to contain the prisoners.

But, of course, a healthy man can typically climb a 10-foot fence. And, working as teams, troops could fairly easily clamber over 20-foot fences as well. So prison commanders built positions for sentries to watch the prisoner population, and the sentries typically had orders to kill any man attempting to escape.

Well, to ensure that the sentry would have time to shoot a man or raise the alarm before the prisoner got away, the camps put in something called a “deadline.” This was a line, usually literally made on the ground with fencing or some type of marking, that prisoners would be killed for crossing.

In the case of Andersonville, the line was marked with low fencing and sat up to 19 feet from the tall wooden walls of the prison. If a prisoner even reached over this wall, guards were allowed to shoot him. And the guards were well positioned to do so. The prison incorporated “pigeon roosts” every 90 feet along the wall. These were guard posts that sat above the wall and gave the guards great lines of sight to fire onto the deadline.

If the prisoners ever attempted to rush the line en masse, the guards could drop back to a series of small artillery positions around the fort and blow the Union prisoners apart. These artillery positions also served to protect the prison from outside attack.

The bulk of the nation found out about this deadline in the trial of Confederate officer Henry Wirz, the commander of Fort Sumter. Because of overcrowding and a massive shortage of supplies at Andersonville and Fort Sumter, Union prisoner deaths there numbered approximately 13,000, and an angry Union public wanted justice.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

A reconstruction of the wall at Fort Sumter at Andersonville, Georgia. The low fencing near the wall was the dead line.

(Bubba73 CC BY-SA 3.0)

During the prosecution of Wirz, the deadline around the camp was described and reported across the nation, and it helped to seal Wirz fate even though the practice occurred in other places. Wirz was sentenced to death and executed on October 31, 1865.

It was in the 1920s that the word morphed into its current usage, becoming “deadline” and describing a looming time or date by which something must be completed.

So, yeah, deadlines in the Civil War meant a lot more than they do today. The term has been watered down to mean something completely different.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

A Green Beret’s thoughts on the Great Debate: 5.56mm vs. 6.8mm SPC

The Department of Defense is conducting trials for a new general-purpose 6.8mm round, something that I think is long overdue. Anytime a new caliber comes up, we see much gnashing of teeth from two separate camps. On the one side is the “good enough for grandpappy at Khe San” crew, who will deride the waste of tax money and preach shot placement.


And on the other will be the “I knew 5.56 was an underpowered poodle shooter round, we should all have 300 Winchester Magnum carbines.” Often accompanied by stories of shooting a bad guy 50 times, but he still ran off with the guidon. But just for a moment, let’s get our underwear out of a bunch, and take a critical look at 5.56 as a caliber.

The first thing we need to understand is how we got here. Most people already know the story of how the M-16, and its new 5.56 bullet, were first adopted by the Air Force for security forces at airfields. Painful as it is to admit, the Air Force is often smarter than the rest of us. The Army and Marine Corps were having none of it, sticking to the traditional obsession with a .30 caliber bullet. The M1 Garand, chambered in 30.06, won WW2.

New technology in the 1950’s allowed the development of .308 Winchester (aka 7.62×51), which in layman’s terms is ballistically identical to 30.06, in a shorter case. Add to that the idea of a detachable magazine, and you get the M-14.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

The resemblance of an M-14 to an M1 Garand isn’t coincidental. John Garand designed the M1, and actually started working on its perceived shortcomings in 1944. Eventually, the M-14 would emerge, which is essentially a .308 caliber, magazine-fed, M1 Garand.

It was everything the Army and Marine Corps ever wanted, while notably, allies such as NATO did not. (The British were pushing hard for a .280, which we will address further in a bit.) In 1957 it was announced the M-14 would replace the M1. And this is what set the stage for the great 7.62 vs. 5.56 showdown.

5.56 Strengths

Though it is not the iconic weapon of the war, the M-14 was the standard service rifle when Vietnam started. The Air Force was fielding the M-16 in 1962, but everyone else had some good old wood and steel. But the jungle is an entirely different environment. Special Forces, with those abnormal acquisition channels and mustaches, saw the M-16 as solving multiple problems and became early adopters.

The M-16, fully loaded, was two pounds lighter than a loaded M14. Per hundred rounds, 5.56 also weighs around half as much as .308. This matters for a couple of reasons. First, in Special Forces terms, it made sense for our allies. One of the principle jobs of Special Forces in Vietnam was training and fighting with South Vietnamese and Montagnard soldiers. Both of whom, on average, are far smaller in stature than the average American. The Montagnard’s, in particular, would be nicknamed “the little people.” The M-16 was much easier for them to handle, and became very popular with these brothers in arms.

Second, the same weight per bullet made sense for everyone. While Vietnam has a wide variety of geography, a lot of it is jungle. Fighting in dense jungle vegetation presents unique problems. While I am much too young to have been in Vietnam, I have spent some time in other jungles. And I distinctly remember how claustrophobic it feels when you are new to it. You often can’t see ten feet in front of you, which may be the case when a firefight breaks out. Jungle foliage is also notoriously thin, which means bullets zip right through it.

A lot of people are shocked to find out US troops fired around 50,000 bullets per enemy killed during Vietnam. That, in my opinion, is not a reflection on “poor marksmanship” of U.S. forces at the time. Far from it. But it is likely a reflection of how the terrain influences how you fight.

Imagine, for a moment, you are in the middle of a patrol in that same jungle. (Some of you reading this may actually have been. Give us young bucks a minute to catch up.)

You know where your guys are, because you know the direction of march. You can likely see the man in front of you, and the one behind, but that is all. All of a sudden, automatic weapons fire is shredding the jungle around you. Leaves and vines are falling like rain, dirt is kicking up all around you, and you spot the tell-tale muzzle flash of an AK-47 through the veil of green. It isn’t steady, but it gives you a vague idea of where the enemy is.

Are you going to carefully line up your irons sights, and wait for a distinct helmet (actually camouflaged perfectly with foliage, and quite possibly dug in) to appear while you slowly squeeze the trigger like you learned on the range? Or are you going to dump a magazine and hope for the best? Me too. I’ve been in a couple of gunfights where I am absolutely positive I shot at nothing, and I don’t regret it a bit.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

So while early M-16’s had some teething problems with reliability, Vietnam showed the value of having lots of lightweight bullets. The lethality out of a 20-inch barrel was fantastic, and 5.56 would gain popularity around the world as a military caliber.

5.56 Weaknesses

While some diehards would still never accept 5.56 because it isn’t .30 caliber, it did do pretty well in the original design. But when we started chopping the barrel down to 14.5 inches for the M-4, and 10.5 inches for some Special Operations variants, we started running into trouble.

As far back as the Battle of Mogadishu, if you look carefully enough, you can find reports of 5.56 being unreliable in lethality terms from the short barrels. (SFC Randy Shughart, one of the men posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor from that battle, was notably carrying an M-14.)

5.56 does most of its damage through spalling, kind of a happy accident of design. Above a certain velocity threshold, the bullet positively comes apart in tissue. Even the much maligned “green tip” M855 steel penetrator round shatters into three pieces. This is well known, and backed up by research from giants such as Dr. Martin Fackler, founder and head of the Wound Ballistics Laboratory. But, velocity threshold is the key point here. And 5.56 sheds velocity at every inch of barrel below 20.

Now, as a GWOT era soldier, don’t think I am completely negating the 5.56 round. In the last 20 years, ballistics have done a lot for improving the round. While it isn’t ideal out of something like a 10-inch barrel, it is still much improved over even the bullets used Oct 3, 1993. Since 9/11, it has put a lot of bad guys in the ground.

And even among troops that have options about what to carry, the debate still rages of 5.56 vs. 7.62. I’ve used both, and both have merits. But so do a monster truck and Prius. My point isn’t that one is better, or both aren’t good in certain roles. My point is that both are old, and maybe it is time to evolve.

6.8 as a caliber was first tried at the beginning of the GWOT. A special project between the Army and commercial manufactures yielded the 6.8 SPC round back in 2002. It wasn’t quite ready for prime time, but did catch on with the civilian market. Remember the British .280 caliber bullet from way back at the top of this article? 6.8 SPC is remarkably similar.
6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

While we don’t know exactly the new bullet parameters the DOD has specified, we do know it has to be 6.8mm. And therefore, 6.8 SPC at least gives us a starting point for understanding. How would, in a hypothetical shoot off, commercial 6.8 SPC fair against 7.62×51 and 5.56×45?

Overall, it would seem to be a pretty good compromise. With barrel, bolt, and magazine changes, it fits in the standard M-4. While it does get crushed at long range compared to 7.62×51, it is also significantly lighter. While it does weigh slightly more than 5.56, it delivers more energy on target at 100-300 meters, and leaves a bigger hole, if we are counting on that.

While on paper, a specialized 5.56 round like Mk262 77 grain will outperform it at longer ranges, that 77 grain bullet is still behind in terms of energy. From shorter barrels designed for CQB, 6.8 SPC will absolutely stomp on 5.56, and at a minimally increased amount of recoil.

So will our troops soon be outfitted with some variant of 6.8 mm rifles? Only time will tell. We spent 12 years and three tests to decide on a new pistol. But at least we are looking. Currently, SIG SAUER, Textron Systems, and General Dynamics are still in the running. Little is known about how things are going, though clues do occasionally pop up.

And some of what we see is borderline science fiction. General Dynamics entry uses a proprietary polymer case design, that would be a huge weight savings. Textron Systems is said to be fielding a cased telescoped round, which wouldn’t look out of place in the HALO franchise. And SIG has won so many DOD contracts as of late that only a fool would count them out.

All in all, this is going to be exciting to watch. Weapons evolve, whether we like it or not. If we always settled for good enough, we would still be using musket balls and cannons. Our guys deserve the best option available, whatever the price. If we can afford F-22 Raptors, we can certainly afford new rifles for the ground pounders. Get out the popcorn; it is going to be an interesting year.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are the major lessons I learned from carrying the M27

Following the rulebook isn’t always a necessity. Well, that’s how the Marine Corps infantry feels about doctrine, anyway. Sure, there are hundreds of people who put their great minds together to come up with standard procedures for everything relating to warfare, but even still, us grunts take those “procedures” as suggestions. Why? Simple. We recognize that what may work for one unit doesn’t work for everyone.

This is the case with the fire team billet of “automatic rifleman.” The position is supposed to be held by the team leader’s second in command, usually a trusted advisor who can help run the team. But, over the years, Marines thought of a better person to hold the billet: boots. New guys. The FNGs. While some higher-ups might see this as hazing, the down-and-dirty, crayon-eating grunts disagree.

We argue that being an automatic rifleman teaches you these valuable lessons:


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Accuracy is key. Pay attention and you might even score higher on the next qualification range.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Emmanuel Ramos)

Accuracy

Some battalions have what’s called a “Squad-Level Advanced Marksmanship Course,” which is a fancy, Marine Corps way of saying, “automatic rifleman course.” That’s essentially what it is. But the focus is, as the name suggests, on marksmanship. Why? Because to be a good automatic rifleman, you must first be a good rifleman.

Learning how to engage accurately with an automatic weapon also teaches you how to be a substantially more effective rifleman. After all, you’re firing a high volume of bullets and, the more accurate you are, the more devastating to the enemy you are.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

You’ll want to let the rounds fly, but each one is important. Always be mindful of that.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders)

Ammo conservation

It’s no secret that you get a lot of ammo as an automatic rifleman — around 18-22 magazines, to be exact, most of which you’ll be responsible for lugging around. But while learning about accuracy, you might also learn about conserving ammo.

The idea is this: You need to have enough ammo at the end of the fight to move on to the next fight. Especially if you’re the automatic rifleman, your fire team needs you.

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

This lesson of control can even help you as a leader, telling your automatic rifleman what you want them to do.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Henson)

Control

Quickly, you’ll learn that an automatic rifleman shouldn’t just unleash a barrage of bullets. You’ll learn when it’s appropriate to fire on full auto and when it’s appropriate to fire in 5-6 round bursts into large groups of enemies. This is important because, as you move up in rank and experience, you’ll be able to teach the next automatic rifleman about control.

This same control will help you with ammo conservation. More importantly, all these lessons will follow you into other fire team positions. In fact, if you become a squad leader, knowing how to use your automatic riflemen will be easier if you’ve been one.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

The family of a U.S. citizen being held by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) over suspected spying says he is innocent and was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

Paul Whelan, a retired Marine, was last heard from on Dec. 28, 2018, according to a statement from his family, obtained by RFE/RL on Jan. 1, 2019.

His failure to contact his family “was very much out of character for him,” the statement said.


“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” it added.

Whelan, 48, could face between 10 to 20 years in prison if found guilty. Russian officials did not disclose any details of his alleged involvement in espionage.

David Whelan told RFE/RL in a direct message via Twitter that his brother “has a corporate security role” with BorgWarner, a U.S.-based supplier of automotive parts and components.

Brother of accused spy speaks out

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BorgWarner said in a statement sent to RFE/RL on Jan. 1, 2019, that Paul Whelan was the company’s global security director. It added that he is responsible for overseeing the company’s facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan, “and at other company locations around the world.”

BorgWarner has 60 manufacturing sites in 18 countries, but none of them are listed as being in Russia.

A spokeswoman for BorgWarner told RFE/RL that the company “does not have any facilities in Russia.”

Russia’s state-owned conglomerate Rostec said in 2013 that its truckmaker, KamAz, had a long record of collaboration with a subsidiary of BorgWarner known as BorgWarnerTurboSystems.

David Whelan told AP in a Jan. 1, 2019 interview that his brother had been to Russia “several times” before and was helping a former U.S. Marine friend of his plan a wedding with a Russian woman.

On the morning of the day he was detained, Paul Whelan had given a tour of the Kremlin museums to a group of wedding guests, his brother said. He failed to show up for the wedding on the evening of Dec. 28, 2018.

David Whelan said his absence led the family to fear he had been in a car accident or perhaps mugged, and were searching the Internet for news about “dead Americans in Moscow.”

The U.S. State Department has said it knows about “the detention of a U.S. citizen by Russian authorities” and had been formally notified by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The State Department said on Dec. 31, 2018, that it had requested consular access to Paul Whelan and expected “Russian authorities to provide it.”

David Whelan said in the AP interview that his family was told by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that it has been unable to speak with Paul Whelan.

David Whelan said his brother had previously worked for Kelly Services, an international office-staffing company that does have offices in Moscow, and had been to Russia on business and to visit friends he had met on social-media networks.

Paul Whelan reportedly had a page on the Russian social-media site VKontakte on which he writes messages in basic Russian.

David Whelan said his brother was stationed in Iraq several times with the U.S. Marines and has been living in Novi, Michigan.

The announcement of Whelan’s detainment came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow remains open to dialogue with Washington in a New Year’s greeting to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Relations between the United States and Russia remain strained over a raft of issues including Russia’s role in wars in Syria and eastern Ukraine, its alleged meddling in elections in the United States and elsewhere, and the poisoning of a Russian double agent in Britain.

At the end of November 2018, Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina, citing tensions after Russian forces opened fire on Ukrainian Navy boats before seizing them and capturing 24 Ukrainian sailors.

The detention of Whelan comes weeks after Russian Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin.

The Kremlin has denied that Butina is a Russian agent and has organized a social-media campaign to secure her release.

In the past, Russia has arrested foreigners with the aim of trading prisoners with other countries.

In his annual year-end news conference on Dec. 20, 2018, Putin said Russia would “not arrest innocent people simply to exchange them for someone else later on.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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