Archive for June, 2012

Steyr SSG-69 PI

June 28, 2012


Steyr SSG-69 PI
Caliber: 7.62x51mm NATO (.308 Win) or .243 Winchester
Barrel: Medium Contour, 4 Lands & Grooves, Cold Hammer Forged
Barrel Length: 25.6″ (650mm)
Twist: RH 1:12″
Weight (Rifle only): 8.8 lbs (4.0 kg) – rifle only
Overall Length: 45.3″ (1150mm)
Magazine: Detachable 5 or 10 round rotary magazines
Trigger: Two Stage set at 4.0 lbs
Stock: Steyr Fiberglass
Metal Finish: Parkerized
Price: About $1900 (2012 prices)


Back in the mid 1960’s when sniping once again came to the forefront of military leaders, the Austrian Army decided it needed to prepare their own snipers and properly equip them. The search for a proper weapon system was begun at that time and in 1969, Austrian based Steyr began building the new rifle which was paired with a Kahles ZF69 fixed 6x scope, Kahles also being an Austrian based company. The SSG-69, as it was designated, became the standard sniper rifle of the Austrian armed forces. The SSG-69 was also available on the civilian market where it is also commonly known as the PI (Roman numeral one) and it quickly became known as a very accurate rifle, even winning several prominent international competitions. Later a second version, the PII, was developed that included a heavier barrel without any iron sites and it was tailored toward the law enforcement community. A short version, known as the PIV, was also created and was designed for urban style operations and was setup to accept a suppressor.

Here at Sniper Central we have shot several SSG-69’s over the years and had always been impressed with the performance Steyr gets out of their rifles, but we had never ran one through a full series of tests or conducted a full write-up. One of the things we like to do is introduce readers to some of these less common sniper rifles that have played an integral part in sniper rifle development over the years and then see just what type of capability these rifles had in their day as well as compare them to today’s breed of sniper rifles. The SSG-69 series of rifles is still in production from Steyr, but the design is over 40 years old and really nothing much has changed over those years. So we thought we would pick one up and give it the full evaluation to see just what it could do. Since we tend to prefer function over beauty, we elected to pick up the original PI version since it was what the Austrians came up with as their desired combat sniper rifle in 1969. Now it was time to see what this old classic could do compared with today’s rifles.

One of the first things someone notices about the PI is that it looks somewhat like a sporter rifle, especially when there is no optics mounted. This is somewhat reaffirmed when you pick up the rifle, as it is quite light when compared to the modern custom built sniper rifles available today. The empty weight of the rifle, without optics, is only 8.8 lbs which is very similar to many modern hunting rifles on the market. The auxiliary iron sights also give the impression that this is more of a hunting rifle than a tactical sniper rifle. Though the colors of the rifle are certainly very business-like with the synthetic stock being green and all the metal parts are finished in a matte black color that offers no reflection.

The stock itself is made of fiberglass type of material and if one recalls, back in 1969 this was very much a revolutionary thing. All sniper rifles at the time were still using wood stocks, and this included the recently adopted M40 being used by the USMC, the US Army M21, German SP66, and all the others. While this may not have been the first ever use of a synthetic material for a rifle stock, the fact that Steyr was using them as standard on the SSG-69 was certainly pioneering. The stock does feel somewhat like a generic piece of hard plastic, similar to a M16A1 buttstock, and the molded fiberglass itself is smooth and slippery, especially when combined with sweat and other things such as face paint, and getting a solid cheek weld in all conditions can be tough. The buttstock is hollow which helps with keeping the weight down, and the shape of the stock is not bad. The stock may not have a modern vertical pistol grip with palm swell, but it does sweep down to a vertical position and there are serrations on the grip area to help with getting a firm grip. These same serrations are found on the forearm area as well. The forearm area also has a flat underside that is 2″ wide at the magazine and tapers down to 1.5″ wide at the front. This flat area provides a good solid platform when shooting from sandbags or other rests. There is also a standard accessory rail on the bottom of the forearm to allow mounting sling studs and bipods. The stock also has an integrated sling attachment point on the left hand side of the buttstock and when combined with the front sling attachment that is at the very front of the forearm and swivels, it allows the rifle to lay flat on its side against the operators back when it is slung. When the rifle must be slung, either when utilizing a different weapon or needing both hands free for such things as climbing and/or repelling, this is a preferred way of slinging the rifle. The buttstock also has a spacer system that allows for adjusting the length of pull by adding or removing spacers.

The Steyr SSG action is fairly long and thick and this was done to strengthen and stiffen the action to help improved accuracy. The forward part of the action is longer than most others as the barrel threads much deeper into the action than a typical modern bolt action rifle. This also was done to help strengthen the barrel to action mounting and to increase the stiffness of the entire barreled action as a whole. The top of the action has milled groves in it to accommodate Steyr scope mounting rings. Back in 1969 there was no standardized Picatinny rail as there is today and there is no means of mounting any sort of rail as the action is not drilled and tapped.

The SSG action is a closed top design with a decently sized ejection port. The closed top does add additional stiffness to the action, though it can limit accessibility to the interior of the action if that is ever needed. If it is not obvious yet, Steyr pulled out all the tricks known at that particular time to stiffen and strengthen the barreled action in an effort to improve accuracy and durability of the rifle. There is a safety on the right hand side of the action toward the rear. It is a fairly large thumb switch that has two positions. Forward is fire and then pull it to the rear using the thumb and the rifle is on safe. When the safety is activated the bolt is locked and the trigger mechanism is deactivated. With the detachable box magazine, it is easy and safe to unload the rifle with the bolt locked in this manner.

The SSG bolt is a fairly unique design, certainly different than the standard American made rifles such as Remington 700s, Savage 10s and 12s, Winchester 70s and others. The bolt has six lugs at the rear of the bolt instead of the standard two at the front. This arrangement allows for a short bolt throw, in the neighborhood of 60 degrees, which does allow for quick cycling of the action without fear of interference with the scope. The bolt handle itself is somewhat short and has what some would call a “butter knife handle”. While it is not a large bolt knob design like what is popular today, the shape is contoured to fit the natural grip of the hand and works well with and without gloves on. The bolt also has a little protrusion that extends from the rear of the bolt shroud providing a visual cue that the rifle is cocked and ready to fire. The extractor is a nice M-16 style extractor that provides positive clamping power onto the case of the cartridge. The operation of the bolt is smooth and short and works well for a combat sniper rifle.

The trigger guard is made of a hard plastic and the opening is oversized to allow the use of a gloved trigger finger with no problem. The hard plastic raises a concern of durability but it feels strong and there have been minimal reports of durability issues with the rifle as a whole. The large trigger guard is also able to accommodate a double set trigger which is optional, if not more common, on these rifles. The double set triggers are typically only suitable for accurate range work as the second trigger is extremely light for competition shooting. For tactical duty the single two-stage trigger is preferred and is what is present on this test rifle. The trigger shoe is ribbed to help with trigger feel and the trigger itself has a nice light first stage. The amount of takeup of the first stage is fairly short, under a quarter of an inch, and the second stage is heavier and brakes very clean at 4 lbs with minimal over travel. This is a bit heavier trigger pull than a typical precision rifle today, but the SSG was designed as a combat rifle and as such, it makes a good fit, especially with the nice clean trigger break.

In front of the trigger guard is the flush fitting detachable box magazine. The magazine itself is unique by today’s standards as it is not a single or double stack magazine but rather a rotary magazine. As the rounds are loaded into the magazine they feed in a rotary fashion. The standard flush fitting magazine holds five rounds and the rear wall of the magazine is made of a clear plastic that allows for easy identification of how many rounds are loaded. The magazine is releases by squeezing the two magazine release buttons on either side of the magazine. This is the same way that the standard Remington 700 DBM works, though the Steyr implementation operates better than the Remington. The magazines snap in with a good positive click and with minimal effort. When inserting a magazine, it is easy to find the mag well and perform rapid magazine changes. For a while Steyr also made a ten round magazine that protruded down below the rifle but these are very hard to come by and in high demand which drives the prices up.

As was mentioned earlier, the barrel on the Steyr SSG threads very deeply into the forward action for added strength and stiffness. The barrel itself is a lighter weight barrel than the typical sniper rifle today. The contour is what would be considered a medium to heavy weight sporter contour, with the barrel being just a bit heavier and thicker than a normal sporting rifle today. The diameter of the barrel at the muzzle is .715″ (18.2 mm). The barrel is cold hammer forged and has a measure rate of twist of 1:12″. The outside perimeter of the barrel is finished in a spiral pattern that adds a high quality finished look to the barrel and the crown is recessed as well to protect it during operations. The barrel is listed at 25.6″ in length, but that is measured from the start of the barrel inside of the receiver, so the length of the barrel from the front of the receiver to the muzzle is only 23.4″. On the SSG69 PI there is a set of open sights that work well as backup auxiliary sights for those times when Murphy’s laws of combat come into play and your primary scope goes belly up.

Overall the rifle is a compact and lighter weight rifle than what is typically considered for sniper use today. All of the correct parts are there in terms of a synthetic stock, durable and matte color metal finish, detachable magazine, solid action, short bolt throw, two stage trigger, larger trigger guard, bolt handle designed for gloved hands, but yet the rifle is still light weight and fairly compact. The real question now stood as to whether the rifle can perform to modern standards for combat sniper rifles.

One down side to the rifle being designed in the 1960’s was the concept of a picatinny rail was not the standard and there was no standardized way to mount a scope. The Steyr in this case utilized notched grooves in the top of the receiver and some specially designed rings to be used with a scope. These Steyr designed rings are a quick release style that incorporates features that keep things tightly in place during recoil. Typically we are not a fan of quick release style rings and we would even caution away from using them if you have a choice but in this case, the receiver is not drilled and tapped for any type of scope mounts, so the Steyr QR rings were the only option. In fairness, it should be mentioned that we did not run into any problems at all during the entire review process. The rings held tight and the rifle stayed zeroed. It also needs to be pointed out that the rings are specifically setup to go on one way and one way only. There is a forward and a rear ring and if they are flip-flopped the scope has a severe downward cant, upwards of 60 MOA. Also, the quick release lever must be on the right hand side of the action, else there is a severe right cant. Do not ask us how we know…

Sniper Central acquired this rifle with the intention of using it for many different write-ups and evaluations, so we wanted a scope that would match the rifle and we could leave mounted. What better scope fits that bill than one that was intended for use on the SSG69 PI? Originally the mated scope was a Kahles ZF69, which is a fixed 6x40mm scope with Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) calibrated for the 7.62x51mm 168gr ammo. This scope and rifle combination made for an effective sniper weapon system out to 600 meters and perhaps a bit beyond. As time progressed, it was determined a more powerful scope would be beneficial so the Kahles ZF84 was adopted. The ZF84 is a fixed 10x40mm with the same BDC as the ZF69 and this combination extended the range of the rifle to 800+ meters. This was the scope that we chose for the Sniper Central SSG69 PI. A nice sample had to be found on the used market as these scopes do not appear to be available any longer. With the scope selected and purchased, it was mounted using the Steyr rings and the shooting portion of the evaluation begun.

We did not known which ammo would perform best in the SSG so for our 100 yard accuracy tests we decided to try several different loads and bullets to see if there was one the rifle preferred over the others. The summary of the results can be seen in the table below.

Ammo Average Best
HSM 155gr HPBT VLD Match 1.47″ 1.17″
Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr HPBT .87″ .734″
HSM 168gr HPBT Match .77″ .557″
HSM 168gr AMAX Match .40″ .322″

As you can see the rifle performed well, and the HSM 168gr AMAX did exceptionally well. The shooting was conducted over several different shooting sessions which ranged from 40 degrees in temperature up to 75. The four pound trigger does make it more difficult to get the most out of the rifle so focusing on a good consistent trigger squeeze is critical for getting the best performance. Because the barrel is a thinner profile, it does heat up quicker but no change in performance or shift of impact was noticed.

It is obvious when operating the rifle that the action was designed to feed from a magazine since it was very smooth with no feeding problems experienced at all. Though it is not possible to just drop a single round in the action and easily chamber it, like one can do with a Remington. It was also noticed that occasionally during bolt manipulation; the extracted shell would flip out but bounce back into the chamber during extraction. This was odd and it happened several times. Obviously this would cause a problem during combat operations and some adjusting may be needed to the bolt or extractor.

The accessory rail on the forearm came in handy to mount a Harris bipod to and the stock itself was comfortable to use, though the material is a smooth and can be a bit slippery. A strap-on cheek pad would probably be desirable to help with the cheek weld. Because of the short bolt through, rapid follow-up shots are fairly easy.

For our long range evaluations we initially started off with the HSM 168gr AMAX load because it performed so well at 100 yards. We shot the rifle on one of our Unknown distance courses for one of our classes and we engaged targets out to 750 yards (686 meters) with very good success, but only after we got the scope dialed in correctly. The problem was that the BDC dial on the scope was indicating 550 yards in order to hit the 750 yard target, which obviously was way off. The rifle performed very well, but we were wanting to get a deadly sniper weapon system combination from this package so the next time out we took the Steyr to the known distance range and decided to see what was going on from 100-800 yards, and this time around we used decided to use the HSM 168gr HPBT ammo which uses the Sierra Match King at an even 2600 fps, exactly the load the BDC was designed for, and we also determined that the BDC marks were probably calibrated in meters, not yards. The 168gr AMAX bullet has a BDC of .475 vs. .447 for the 168gr Sierra Match King, which would also explain why the BDC was so far off. So with the Steyr rezeroed with the new ammo we started logging the data at each 100 yard increment. Lo and behold, the BDC was dead on through 400 yards (366 meters) and then started to be slightly off from 500 yards (458 meters) thorugh 800 yards (732 meters). The data was just slightly off, again the bullet striking higher than the BDC marks which we attributed to the higher elevation (5000+ feet above sea level) and warmer temps than standard atmospheric conditions.

With everything figured out and dialed in on the scope, the rifle performs very well with it holding sub MOA through 800 yards. Even after running a good number of rounds through the rifle in a single session, it continued to perform well and to hold its accuracy. We did not try the auxiliary sights this time around, but perhaps we will another time, though we have no reason to believe they would not work as designed.

So where does that leave this ‘classic’ sniper rifle in the grand scheme of things? In our eyes, it stacks up well, especially for its intended purpose as a combat style sniper rifle capable of effective 100-800 meter engagements. The light weight is surprising when compared to modern sniper rifles and it is quite handy to use in the field. In the hands of the right team with utilizing good fieldcraft, it would be extremely effective. If we look at the requirements for our DM/S project rifle we see the following:

  • 7.62×51 NATO (308 Win)
  • 1 MOA with M118LR or commercial match ammo.
  • 1.5 MOA with M80 NATO ball
  • Overall length, less suppressor, 40″
  • 8 lb weight, unloaded, no suppressor, with optics
  • Break down capability for easy transportation (optional)
  • Semi-auto or Bolt Action
  • Detachable Box Magazine (DBM)
  • Suppressor capable
  • Durable, synthetic stock
  • Adjustable Stock (optional)
  • Scope with at least 8x magnification
  • BDC located on the elevation dial
  • Illuminated reticle
  • Picatinny rail
  • Night vision capable (optional)

The SSG69 PI fits this role extremely well. The only areas it fails in are the overall length and capability to use a suppressor. The rest of the short comings can be addressed with a different scope. (Well, it misses a bit on the weight as well, but so did our specially built rifle). Needless to say we were impressed with the SSG package as a whole and we can see why it is still being offered unchanged over 40 years after its introduction. Yes, it certainly has flaws, such as not being able to use standard scope mounting equipment, and a trigger that is a bit heavy, and perhaps a tweaked extractor, but the rifle can shoot well and holds that performance at long range as well. If only all of us could look and perform as good as the SSG-69 after being in rugged use for 40 years!

US and Israel behind computer virus that hit Iran, say sources

June 26, 2012

Flame virus code segment
Flame, a sophisticated computer malware that was detected last month in computers belonging to the Iranian National Oil Company and Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, was created by Israel and the United States, according to a leading American newspaper. Quoting “officials familiar with US cyber-operations”, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the malware, which is said to be “massive in size”, is part of a wider covert program codenamed OLYMPIC GAMES. The paper said that the US portion of the program is spearheaded by the National Security Agency, which specializes in cyberespionage, and the CIA’s Information Operations Center. The Post further claims that OLYMPIC GAMES has a three-fold mission: to delay the development of the Iranian nuclear program; to discourage Israeli and American officials from resorting to a conventional military attack on Iran; and to buy time for those officials who favor addressing the Iranian nuclear stalemate with diplomatic pressures coupled with sanctions. According to one “former intelligence official” quoted in The Post, the scale of OLYMPIC GAMES “is proportionate to the problem that’s trying to be resolved”. Russian antivirus company Kaspersky Lab, which first spotted the Flame virus in May, said that it is “one of the most complex threats ever discovered”. It is over 20 megabytes in size, consisting of 650,000 lines of code. In comparison, Stuxnet, a computer super-virus that was detected by experts in 2010, and caused unprecedented waves of panic among Iranian cybersecurity experts, was 500 kilobytes in size. Flame is so complex that it would take programming analysts around a decade to fully comprehend, according to Kaspersky Lab. The two are linked in terms of their target: Stuxnet, the most complex sabotaging malware ever discovered, and Flame, the world’s most powerful cyberespionage tool ever detected by computer security experts, both have been primarily directed at Iranian government computers. Earlier this month, Kaspersky Lab researchers said that they were “100 percent sure” that Stuxnet and Flame had been created “by the same group or groups”.

Russian professors jailed for passing military secrets to China

June 26, 2012

The R-30 Bulava
Two Russian professors were convicted yesterday of handing over to Chinese government agents highly classified technical details about one of Russia’s most secretive military projects. Svyatoslav Bobyshev and Yevgeny Afanasyev, both employees of the military-affiliated Baltic State Technological University in St. Petersburg, had been arrested in March 2010 on suspicion of spying for a foreign government. The two have now been sentenced by the St. Petersburg City Court to 12 and 12 ½ years in prison respectively, after having been found guilty of treason. According to the court documents, Bobyshev and Afanasyev traveled to China in 2009, where they passed on to Chinese military intelligence officers highly secret technical details about Russia’s R-30 Bulava ballistic missile. Specifically, the two professors are accused of sharing information relating to Bulava’s underwater launch specifications. Additionally, the Russian government prosecutor said that the two were preparing to provide the Chinese with information about two of Russia’s land-based missile systems, the Topol-M and Iskander. The R-30 Bulava (the Russian word for “mace”) is the name for Moscow’s latest-generation submarine-based ballistic missile technology. It is widely considered to be one of the future cornerstones of Russia’s nuclear weapons capability, and is thought to be the most expensive weapons project currently being developed in the country. The missile was approved for production last year, and is expected to come to service this coming October, when it will begin to replace Russia’s Soviet-era stock of submarine-launched nuclear missiles. The program is strongly linked to the country’s Borei-class ballistic-missile-capable nuclear submarines, which are expected to be able to launch the R-30 Bulava while underwater and in motion. Only last month, the Russian government charged an engineer working at a top-secret military facility in the Urals with espionage, accusing him of passing classified information about Russian ballistic missiles to “agents of a foreign government”. Neither the name of the engineer nor of the country for which he has been accused of spying have been disclosed.

Intelligence News YOU may have missed

June 26, 2012

Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics
►►Dutch media reportedly spied on China. Dutch media participated in a clandestine intelligence collection effort on behalf of the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. According to Dutch sources, at least seven reporters attending the Olympics were coaxed into, and were paid for, collecting information and taking photos of targeted Chinese officials interested in speaking with Dutch company and industry representatives. The AIVD did not comment on the allegations but did remark that Dutch law allows them to contact anyone who could provide or has access to intelligence.
►►Nicaragua arrests Colombian national for espionage. According to the Spanish-language weekly newspaper Semana, General Julio Cesar Aviles, the head of Nicaragua’s Army, announced the arrest of Colombian national Luis Felipe Rios, for seeking to “obtain Nicaraguan state documents about defense and national security”. The 34-year old Rios was apparently captured in Managua on Tuesday after having been under the surveillance of Nicaraguan counterintelligence officials for over a year. Rios was in Nicaragua under the guise of being a Spanish national working for a media outlet. The lead prosecutor in Nicaragua, Armando Juarez, claimed that there was “sufficient proof” to prosecute Rios. Colombian officials, including President Juan Manuel Santos, have stated they are investigating the matter.
►►Neo-Nazi linked to 1972 Munich Olympic terrorists. Recently released files by Germany’s security service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), links neo-Nazi Willi Pohl to forged passports provided to Black September terrorists who perpetrated the 1972 attack at the Munich Olympics. The attack resulted in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes. According to German magazine Der Spiegel, over 2,000 documents were released in which the BfV asserts that Pohl assisted and even chauffeured one Black September member around Germany in the weeks leading up to the attack. German police arrested Pohl in 1972 for “unauthorized possession of firearms” and sentenced him to two years’ incarceration for possessing grenades and weapons. He was released only a few days after his conviction and he fled the country, ending up in Lebanon.

Michael Hayden
►►US lawmakers probe China companies over spy concerns. In letters sent last week to Chinese communications hardware firms Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation, a group of senior members of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee have outlined concerns about the companies’ ties with the Chinese government, including the role of a “party committee” at Huawei. The lawmakers have also asked about Huawei’s relationships with five US consulting firms and requested an expansive collection of documents, including the contracts between the firms and Huawei.
►►Lone Senator resists Bush/Obama NSA wiretapping plan. The Obama administration wanted a quick, no-questions-asked-or-answered renewal of broad electronic eavesdropping powers that largely legalized the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. That’s despite President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to revisit and revise the rules to protect Americans’ rights. Everything seemed to be going to plan after a Senate committee approved the re-authorization in secret last month. But Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has stepped in to stop the bill because the government refuses to say how often the spy powers are being used.
►►What did Hayden tell Obama in January 2009? In December of 2008, a meeting took place between the incoming US Presiden Barack Obama and the departing CIA Director Michael Hayden. Several days later, on January 15, Hayden told journalists that Obama had privately assured him that “no plans to launch a legal inquiry” into the CIA’s use of controversial interrogation methods during the Bush administration. Now, several years later, Salon has published an insider’s account of what was said in that meeting between Obama and Hayden, as well as during the days that followed.

Mohammed Dahabi
►►Why did CIA Director secretly visit Czech Republic? The CIA Director, David Petraeus, is known to make frequent secret trips to places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq. But why was his recent trip to the Czech Republic kept secret? Photographs published in a Czech daily paper showed the CIA director and his team boarding a military plane at Prague’s Ruzyne Airport, headed for their next destination, Sofia, Bulgaria. But neither the US Embassy in Prague, nor the CIA will respond to questions by Czech media about Petraeus’ secretive visit to the former Soviet Bloc nation.
►►Jordan’s ex-spy chief on trial for corruption. Jordan’s former spy chief, General , who headed the General Intelligence Department (GID) from 2005 to 2009, has gone on trial in Amman on charges of corruption, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. In a case highlighting corruption in the country’s vaunted intelligence community, the prosecutor said Dahabi’s wealth had quadrupled during his years in office, reaching almost $40 million by the end of 2011. The money, he said, was held in several foreign currency accounts in a leading domestic bank.
►►CIA still refuses to comment on Predator drone attacks. The Central Intelligence Agency continues to refuse to confirm or deny the covert military use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas. This is despite numerous public comments on the CIA’s drone attacks in far-flung locales such as Yemen from various government officials, including former CIA Director Leon Panetta and US President Barack Obama. The development comes as 26 members of Congress asked Obama, in a letter, to consider the consequences of drone killing and to explain the necessity of the program.

NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraft
►►US spy agency launches new satellite. The US National Reconnaissance Office, the agency tasked with overseeing America’s intelligence satellites, successfully placed a new spy satellite into orbit. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite launch, sitting atop an Atlas 5 rocket, was streamed live via Webcast for several minutes before being terminated due to national security restrictions and the classified nature of the mission. Particulars regarding the capabilities or specific purpose of the spy satellite were not provided. However, just a few days before, the US Air Force’s highly classified space plane known as the  AX-37B returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
►►FBI takes on larger domestic intelligence role. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation, under a newly devised action plan, will be afforded a greater role in domestic intelligence efforts in the US, according to a recent Washington Post article.  Senior level field agents at the bureau are expected to serve as representatives for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the agency created after 9/11 to oversee activities of all US intelligence efforts. The Post quotes CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood, who —remarkably, considering CIA/ODNI relations in recent years— said that the agency has not opposed the ODNI’s move to elevate FBI agents in the US, and that “the program is working well”.
►►CIA declassifies 9/11 documents. The CIA released this past week hundreds of pages of declassified documents related to the September 11, 2001, attacks, which detail the agency’s budgetary woes leading up to the deadly strikes and its attempts to track al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The National Security Archive at George Washington University says it obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents are heavily redacted and offer little new information about what the US knew about the al-Qaeda plot before 2001.

Western spy agencies ‘sharing intelligence’ with Syrian rebels

June 26, 2012

Robert Mood
A British newspaper has cited defense sources claiming that British and American intelligence agencies are passing vital information to Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the country’s government. British tabloid The Daily Star quoted “a British defense source” who said that most of the raw intelligence on Syria is picked up by sophisticated British and American satellites monitoring Syrian communications. Once gathered and assessed by intelligence analysts in Washington and London, the information is passed on to operatives of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6, who are allegedly operating on the ground in Syria. They in turn communicate actionable intelligence to rebel leaders in Syria, who are fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to the British tabloid, information passed on to rebel leaders includes detailed satellite imagery of Syrian pro-government troop movements around the country, as well as the contents of intercepted communications between senior Syrian military commanders and their subordinates in the field. The Star quotes one unnamed British government source who claims that the satellites are so sophisticated that they allow British and American eavesdroppers to identify the individuals whose voices are heard in the intercepted communications, with the aid of advanced voice recognition systems. The intelligence has reportedly enabled rebel commanders to evacuate locations targeted by government forces, and may also have allowed the rebels to organize successful counterstrikes in response to offensives conducted by troops loyal to Damascus. Washington-based publication The Hill contacted the CIA and the White House but their spokespersons refused to comment on what they called “an ongoing intelligence operation” in Syria. A spokesman from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office would only tell The Star that “all actions remain on the table”.  In a related development, Syrian media reported yesterday that a Jordanian United Nations observer has accused the head of the United Nations Surveillance Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) of engaging in espionage. According to the reports, which appeared in several pro-government Syrian newspapers, the unnamed Jordanian official said that General Robert Mood, of the Norwegian Army, appears to be “gathering critical coordinates” of Syrian government installations and has been “visiting military bases for his own purposes”. There had been no reaction from the UN or the Norwegian armed forces by the time of writing this report.

CIA helping Turkey, Saudi Arabia, smuggle weapons into Syria: sources

June 26, 2012

Turkish-Syrian border
A growing team of United States Central Intelligence Agency personnel is currently in Turkey overseeing a multinational effort to secretly deliver weapons to Syrian anti-government rebels, according to The New York Times. Quoting “American officials and Arab intelligence officers”, the paper said last week that the weapons are being smuggled into Syria primarily through the Turkish border. The financial cost of smuggling into Syria such weapons as antitank explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic rifles, has so far been covered by the governments of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to the article. The funds are partly required to bribe members of what The Times describes as “a shadowy network of intermediaries”, which reportedly includes forces loyal to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The latter is a Sunni group that is widely viewed as the most dominant of the anti-government factions that make up the rebel side in the ongoing Syrian uprising. The paper quotes an “Arab intelligence official”, who says the CIA contingent in Turkey “is trying to make new sources and recruit people” along the porous Turkish-Syrian border. But its presence in the volatile region, which has been constant for “several weeks”, according to The Times, is also aimed at keeping the smuggled weapons out of the reach of Syrian anti-government forces that are allied with militant Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. The article notes that American support for the Syrian rebels has been minimal, when compared with that in Libya in 2011, mostly because of staunch Russian support for the government forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, even though the administration of US President Barack Obama has considered sending CIA officers into Syria to “help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service”, it has apparently held back due to Moscow’s intervention in the Arab country, and “no decisions have been made”. The Times says that it contacted the White House, the Department of State, and the CIA, but none would comment on “ongoing intelligence operations”. Wired magazine asked the US Department of Defense whether US weapons are being funneled to the hands of Syrian rebels, and was told by Pentagon, spokesman George Little that the DoD is “not providing lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition”. However, he refused to deny that other US government agencies might be.

Yes, That’s a Tampon in My Mouth: The Swiss Army Survival Tampon — 10 Survival Uses

June 25, 2012


Do me a favor for the next five minutes.  Try to forget everything you know about tampons.  I know, it’s hard.  But pretend that this is the first time you have ever seen or heard of the item below, and it is a new survival product on the market: the Tactical Adventure Medical Preparedness Outdoors Necessity (T.A.M.P.O.N.).

All kidding aside, a tampon really does have a ton of uses to a survivor.  One could even argue for including a couple in your survival kit.  Ultimately, I’ll let you be the judge.

Before I get into the details of this post, a brief history of the tampon might surprise you.

The tampon is actually regulated in the US by the Food & Drug Administration as a Class II Medical Device.  The word “tampon” is a derivative of the French word tapon which means “a little plug or stopper.” My research indicates that tampons were used as early as the 19th century as battle dressings to plug bullet holes.  There are even accounts of tampons being used as wound plugs in modern warfare.   A friend of mine told me that it’s not uncommon for Army Medics to carry tampons in their med kits.  They are also the perfect product for a bloody nose.  There seem to be mixed accounts of whether the tampon was used as a feminine product before or after its use on the battlefield.

Regardless of intended use, the common tampon has many practical survival uses.  I’ve highlighted a few survival uses below

TAMPON Survival Use #1: Medical Bandage

Tampons are sterile, come very well-packaged in their own waterproof sleeves,  and are designed to be ultra-absorbent — making them the perfect first aid bandage.  They can be opened and then taped or tied over a wound as an improvised dressing.  And, as I’ve already mentioned, they can be used to plug a bullet hole until more sophisticated medical attention can be administered.  Accounts of this use date back to World War I.  Many items in modern society were first developed as a facet of military research — tampons may very well be one of these products

TAMPON Survival Use #2: Crude Water Filter

Another excellent tampon survival use is as a crude water filter.  While it will not filter out biological, chemical, or heavy metal threats, it can certainly be used to filter out sediments and floating particulates.  This would be considered a 1st Phase Filter, which can drastically increase the life and efficacy of your main water filter.  You can also use a filter like this before boiling to filter out larger particulates.  In this example, I’ve pushed a tampon into the neck of an empty water bottle.  I poked a small hole in the cap and then poured in dirty water to filter through the tampon and into the container below.

The water dripped out nearly crystal clear.

TAMPON Survival Use #3: Fire Tinder

Nearly everyone knows that cotton makes excellent fire tinder.  When the dry cotton fibers of a tampon are pulled apart and hit with a spark or flame, they will burst into a nice steady fire.  If you’ve done the right amount of fire prep work, you can easily split 1 tampon into 3 or 4 fire-starting tinder bundles.  Add in some chapstick or petroleum jelly, and you’ve got an even better fire-starting tinder.

TAMPON Survival Use #4: Crude Survival Straw Filter

Yes, I have a tampon in my mouth — don’t laugh! As a last ditch water filter, you can make an improvised Survival Straw from the plastic housing and cotton from a tampon.  As you can see in the photos below, just tear off a bit of the cotton and stuff it into the plastic housing.  I find it better to leave a little bit sticking out to make the housing pieces wedge tightly together.

Again, this filter will not PURIFY your water by removing biological, chemical, or heavy metal threats, but it will filter out sediments and particulates.  This would be a last ditch effort if no methods of water purification were available.

TAMPON Survival Use #5: Wick for Improvised Candle

In the photo above I used the string on a tampon as a wick in an improvised candle which I made from rendered animal fat and a fresh water mussel shell I found down by the creek at Willow Haven.  After the string soaked up some of the fat, this candle burned solid for 20 minutes while I took the photos and still had plenty of wick left.  Pine sap would have also worked as a fuel.

TAMPON Survival Use #6: Cordage

The string attached to a tampon is a cotton twisted cord typically made up of several 4-6″ pieces of twine.  Though it’s not much, it is usable cordage.  This amount of cordage could easily be used to make a Paiute Deadfall Trap.

I’m sure there are also numerous other uses for small amounts of quality cordage.  For example, I also use this cordage in the next Survival Use below…

TAMPON Survival Use #7: Blow Dart Fletching

The blow gun certainly has its place in survival history.  From Native Americans to tribes in New Guinea, the Blow Gun and primitive darts have put food on the table for thousands of years.  They are silent and deadly hunting tools, especially for small game.  Oftentimes, especially here in the US, natural cotton was used as blow dart fletching.  Thus, the cotton from a tampon is a perfect candidate to make cotton-fletched blow darts.  I used the string on the tampon to lash it into place on this bamboo skewer.

Watch out birds and lizards — you may get shot by a tampon-fletched blow dart!

TAMPON Survival Use #8: Blow Tube for Coal Burning Containers

Yes, I have a tampon in my mouth — again.  This time, though, I’m blowing instead of sucking.  Wow…this section is off to a really weird start.  In a survival scenario, a simple container can make the difference between life and death.  A water-tight container can be used to carry water, boil water, and cook meals.  Natural water-tight containers aren’t easy to make or find.  A very practical and useful improvised container can be made by using hot coals to burn out a cavity in a log or stump.  A blow-tube (in this case the plastic tampon applicator) can be used to intensify the hot coals to burn the cavity.

Using the tampon applicator blow-tube, it took me about 30 minutes to coal burn a cavity large enough to hold 2 cups of water.  If necessary, I could then boil and purify this water by adding in several red hot stones that had been heated in a fire.

TAMPON Survival Use #9: Waterproof Match & Fire Tinder Case

In wet and damp conditions, keeping fire-starting tools such as matches and tinder dry can be a challenge.   The waterproof tampon package/sleeve makes an excellent improvised “dry-sack” for any items that are moisture sensitive.  Just fold over the top 2-3 times and tie it off with the tampon string and you’ve got a great waterproof match case.

TAMPON Survival Use #10: Survival Fishing Bobber

Fishing with hook and bobber is an incredibly effective method — especially when using live bait such as grubs and worms.  A thorn hook, some natural braided line, and a tampon bobber make the perfect combination for a survival fishing rig.  Watch out Blue-Gill!

Make the bobber with the tampon package/sleeve by folding over and tying off the top to create a little bubble that will float your bait.  If the package isn’t water-tight, just put some of the cotton inside and it will float just fine.  Then, simply tie it to your fishing line.


I am a huge fan of multi-functional products that can serve double or even triple survival duty.  For the size, weight, and cost, a tampon has an impressive list of survival functions.  If nothing else, this post is another lesson in the importance of looking at everyday products through the eyes of a survivalist.  Creativity and innovation are critical.

So what did you decide?  Are you manly enough to include a tampon or two in your survival kit?

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

How to Use a [BUSTED] Cell Phone to Meet 5 Basic Survival Needs

June 25, 2012

This content series is brought to you by Dockers. Take the adventure of a lifetime! What’s this?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Creek Stewart.

Last week we talked about the many survival uses of the tampon. But unless he specifically packed one in a bag or car, a man’s unlikely to have one on him in a pinch. So today we’re going to explore the survival uses of an everyday item you’re much more likely to have with you in an emergency: your cell phone.

Ever leave home without your cell phone? For most of us, the answer these days is no. I think I’d be more comfortable leaving home without my pants on.  I feel more naked with no cell phone.  The cell phone has become our portal to the world and we pretty much have one with us at all times.  They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Whether in a boat, on a plane, traveling through Africa, taking a road trip, or backpacking the Rockies, our cell phone has become a regular piece of Every Day Carry (EDC).  I think it’s pretty safe to say that we will probably have our cell phone with us if ever faced with a tragic survival situation.  It’s also not hard to imagine that it might not be working.  Regardless of the reason, a broken or busted cell phone is STILL an amazing collection of pieces and parts that, with a little insight and creativity, can be used to help meet a surprising number of basic survival needs.  How do I know this?  I busted open a handful of cell phones to find out.

Survival Signal Mirror

Each of the cell phones I cracked open had metallic, mirror-like layers of material behind the screens.  These can function as a perfect survival signal mirror.  The reflection from a mirror can be seen for miles by land, air, or water rescue crews.  This has saved the lives of many survivors in history.  You can even use the reflection from a bright moon to make a flash at night.  I made a more workable signal mirror by “gluing” the reflective pieces to a hunk of bark with some pine sap.

Aiming an improvised signal mirror requires a little finesse.  Simply hold up your peace sign and place your target (the rescue crew) in-between your fingers.  Then, flash the sun’s reflection across your fingers.  You can see the reflection on your fingers which ensures you are also flashing your target.


Most speakers (if not all of them) contain a magnet.  All of the cell phones I opened contained a magnet with the speaker portion of the phone.  All of the phones also contained MANY little pieces of wire that I could magnetize; it must be a ferrous metal wire – copper will not work.  With these two items you can make a very accurate improvised compass.

Sweep the magnet across the metal wire in the SAME direction 10 or so times.  Make a mental note of the direction you are sweeping the magnet.  This is the end of the wire that will point NORTH.  You can then FLOAT this metal wire in a small pool of water on a small leaf or shaving of wood.  It must be a completely undisturbed pool of water with no current so as to not affect the results.  The wire will align itself with the NORTH-SOUTH line with the end you noted above pointing north (in the Northern Hemisphere).  Right of North is East and Left of North is West.  Now you know direction.

Spear Points & Cutting Tools

Each cell phone also had a circuit board.  I used the circuit board from a SmartPhone to make two very useful items to a survivor.  I noticed that when I abraded the edge of the circuit board against a smooth rock it actually ground down to a fairly decent cutting edge.  I used half of the circuit board to make a useful cutting tool which I used to gather and cut some natural bark cordage and also scrape a pile of very fine fire tinder shavings from a dried Mullein stalk.  Both of these items are incredibly useful to a survivor.  This crude cutting tool can be used for a variety of other survival chores as well.

I then shaped the other half of the circuit board into an “arrowhead” spear point which I lashed onto the end of a willow shaft using the natural cordage I gathered.  I abraded the edges of this point against the stone to sharpen it.  I’ve made many make-shift gigs and spears in my life, and I have no doubt that this point can do some serious damage – either in self-defense or in food procurement.

I was also able to make a back-up gig by folding and pounding (using two rocks) a small, thin piece of metal into another arrowhead-shaped point.  This is crazy sharp and is very similar to a make-shift broad head.

And Then He Made Fire

Probably the most valuable piece of a broken cell phone to a survivor is the battery.  Almost any battery can be short-circuited to generate either a spark or a hot enough wire to ignite flammable tinder.  Fire can be used in a survival situation to signal for help, boil water, regulate core body temperature, make tools, fend off predators, and cook food.

Everyone has seen the old steel wool trick.  Steel wool ignites very quickly when brushed across the positive and negative terminals on a cell phone battery.  But, when’s the last time you saw a wild steel wool tree?  I seriously doubt you are going to have some steel wool on-hand in a survival situation.

However, I used thin wire that I found inside a cell phone to connect (and short circuit) the cell phone battery.  It almost instantly turned red hot when I touch it simultaneously to the + and – terminals.  I had to peel off the battery’s outer coating to do this.  Make sure you have your fire tinder ready because it doesn’t last long and is almost certainly a one shot chance.  This red hot wire can be used to ignite natural found tinder such as the below seed pod or a spare SURVIVAL TAMPON..

I also tried to magnify the sun’s rays using the lens from a phone’s camera but was unable to get anything to smoke or ignite.  I was pretty stoked about this possibility but couldn’t get it to work:

Fishing Lures

As I looked at the pile of cell phone parts in front of me, some looked surprisingly similar to fish tackle lures, so I went to work and quickly created these four fishing lures.

The most basic lure is the one marked GORGE.  This is a classic survival fishing hook and rather than hooking a fish, it “gorges” itself in the fish’s throat.  It must be baited in parallel with the fish line as shown below.  Once the fish swallows the bait and the line is pulled taught, the gorge pivots on the line and “gorges” in the throat.  I counted as many as 20 gorge lures in one phone.  With enough cordage you could set out several fishing lines to work for you.

Survival Small Game Snare

Do you use wired headphones with your phone?

If so, this use might come in handy.  A small game survival snare can be made using the wire from a pair of headphones.  This wire can also be used for a variety of other projects that might require cordage.  Setting snares allows you to focus on other survival priorities while they hunt for you.

Instead of the headphones silently playing your music, let them silently hunt for you.


It goes without saying that your cell phone should only be dismantled as an absolute last resort option in a survival scenario.  Even when there seems to be no signal, your phone might be able to register a ping from nearby cell phone towers which can be used by first responders to track your general location.  But, if it’s already busted, one of these tricks just might save your life.  What other survival uses can you think of for a busted cell phone?

Tactics 101: Light-Heavy Operations

June 25, 2012

Light-Heavy Operations

“Figure out how to do things so that you can get the
maximum effect and the least bloodshed.”

Sun Tzu

The light infantry battalion was ordered to attack an enemy motorized rifle company consisting of 10 BMP’s, 3 T72 tanks and 70 plus infantrymen. Although they were defending in a relatively densely wooded area, their position was dug in astride an open area that over-watched a 4-way road intersection. The division needed to control the intersection to continue the offensive. The task of the light battalion was to control the intersection. Their purpose was to facilitate the continuation of the division attack.

The enemy was dug in deeply and they were surrounded by a dense and complex system of obstacles. The strongpoint was oriented on dominating the road. The light battalion assigned to destroy the defenders was augmented by the brigade commander. He attached an armor company consisting of 10 M1A1 Abrams Tanks. It was a significant addition of combat power. Of course, it is only combat power if it is utilized and utilized efficiently.

The mission was training; the commander was new; and the location was Fort Benning, Georgia. He was an old fashioned infantryman, who didn’t think he needed tanks to help his ‘light fighters’ execute and accomplish the mission. He planned to leave the tanks in an assembly area behind the line of departure. He designated them as his reserve and would only call on them if he got in trouble. He was sure that call would not be needed.

This didn’t sit well with his evaluator for exercise. We’ll come back to this shortly.


In our last article, we begin our series on the integration of heavy and light forces on the battlefield. The article keyed on the augmentation of a heavy force with a smaller force (Heavy-Light Operations). In our discussion, we addressed the following: 1) Definition of Heavy-Light Operations 2) Why we use heavy-light 3) A concise assessment of heavy forces 4) A concise assessment of light forces 5) When would light forces benefit heavy forces 6) The challenges light forces bring to a heavy force headquarters. In addition to the above, we wove a war story throughout that provided a great example on how the heavy-light mix should be utilized.

This month’s article will shift the emphasis and focus on Light-Heavy Operations. In this relationship, a smaller unit of mechanized vehicles (tanks and/or infantry fighting vehicles) augments a larger light infantry unit. Our discussion will focus on the following: 1) Why light-heavy operations. 2) What heavy forces bring to light forces. 3) What are the challenges of heavy forces. 4) The safety concerns of heavy forces working with light forces. 5) Planning considerations of heavy forces. We also conclude the article with the rest of the story from the attack we highlighted above. LET’S MOVE OUT!

Light-Heavy Operations
Light-Heavy operations are missions conducted by a task force or team consisting of infantry, mechanized infantry, motorized, or armored forces under a light infantry headquarters. So why put tanks or infantry fighting vehicles (IFV’s) under a light infantry command? The answer is found in the idea that each force has strengths and weaknesses that balance, compliment and mitigate one another. Armor can support infantry by providing accurate long-range fires; day or night, stationary and on the move. They can suppress or destroy enemy vehicles in support of the infantry. They can fix enemy forces as the infantry breaches obstacles or maneuvers to an enemy weak point.

The Elements of Combat Power
The way to determine when, why, and how to mix heavy and light forces is to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses based on the four elements of combat power: maneuver, firepower, protection and leadership. We assessed light and heavy forces in the last article so, this time, we’ll focus on what ‘heavy’ assets bring to the light heavy fight.

Tanks. The most obvious attachment to the light task force is the tank. The M1Abrams tank provides speed and mobility; comes with excellent protection and lethal fires. As history has proven, it is most effective in open terrain with extended fields of fire.

Capabilities. The M1 can move quickly either on or off road. It can cross ditches; ford streams and shallow rivers; and push through small trees, vegetation, and limited obstructions. Tanks move effectively in multiple types of terrain while delivering firepower and shock effect against the enemy.

Limitations. Tanks are noisy—you’re not going to sneak up on anybody in an M1! In cold weather and when thermal night-sights and/or radios are used, tanks must run their engines about 30 minutes every 2 hours to keep the batteries charged. Tanks can only cross bodies of water less than 4 feet deep without bridging. Another significant limitation is that the M1 guzzles fuel! You will find no economy versions of M1. It’s not miles per gallon; it’s gallons per mile!

Capabilities. The M1’s 120mm main gun is accurate and lethal at ranges out to 3 kilometers. The gun is stabilized which allows effective fires even when the tank is moving cross-country. M1 tanks pack a formidable array of machine guns; the tank commander’s 50 cal, the loader’s 7.62-mm coax machine gun and the 7.62-mm machine gun. These provide a high volume of suppressive fires for self-defense and supporting fires for the infantry. The tank’s on board target acquisition system exceeds the capabilities found in a light infantry battalion.

Limitations. The tank’s top, rear, and flank are vulnerable to antitank weapons. The top is also vulnerable to precision-guided artillery or air-delivered munitions. Antitank mines can destroy or disable the M1. Tanks fight with their hatches closed which reduces the crew visibility.

Capabilities. M1 armor provides excellent protection. Across the frontal 60-degree arc, the tank is safe from all weapons except heavy antitank missiles or guns and the main gun on enemy tanks. When fighting with the hatches closed, the crew is safe from small-arms fire, artillery (except direct hits), and antipersonnel mines. The tank’s smoke grenade launcher provides rapid concealment from non-thermal observation.

Limitations. Tanks are vulnerable from the flanks, top, and rear to light antitank weapons. The top is vulnerable to precision-guided munitions while antitank mines can disable the vehicle. Again, fighting with hatches closed reduces crew visibility.

Infantry Fighting Vehicle. The M2/M3 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV or BFV) provides mobility and protection against small arms fire and shrapnel. They deliver excellent firepower. IFV’s operate best on open terrain for mounted maneuver. To best employ IFVs, commanders must consider their limited protection. Each IFV can carry a 9-man squad.

Capabilities. The M2/M3 was designed to partner with the M1 and thus, has mobility similar to the tank. The Bradley has the added capability, not resident in the M1, to swim across large bodies of water, with moderate currents, where entry and exit points are available. They can carry soldiers inside and outside while swimming. (Having swum on a Bradley many times, we can vouch that yes it can swim).

Limitations. Bradley’s use lots of fuel (although obviously less than an M1), and consumption obviously increases during offensive or fast-paced missions. Like tanks, IFVs are noisy and in cold weather or when using thermal night-sights or radios are used, IFV’s must run their engines to keep the batteries charged. The noise, smoke, dust, and heat generated by IFVs make surprise difficult.

Capabilities. The Bradley packs a 25-mm chain gun as its’ main weapon. It also has a TOW missile launcher and a coaxially-mounted machine gun. The chain gun is accurate and lethal against lightly armored vehicles, bunkers, trench lines, and troops out to 2 kilometers. It also has stability which allows for accurate fire on the move. The TOW provides a lethal anti-tank capability able to kill enemy tanks or other point targets out to 3,750 meters. The 7.62-mm coax machine gun provides a high volume of suppressive and supporting fires for the infantry. The stabilized turret, thermal sights, high volume of fire, coupled with a diverse mix of weapons and ammunition (TOW missiles, 25-mm APDS and HEI-T, and 7.62-mm) makes the Bradley an excellent fire support platform in support of an infantry assault. The IFV can acquire targets better than other infantry battalion systems. The thermal sight allows the crew to observe, recon, and control fires and can be used during the day to identify heat sources through light vegetation and other concealment.

Limitations. The Bradley thermal sight, when operated with the vehicle’s engine off, clicks loudly enough to be heard at a good distance from the vehicle. Of course at night, that sound seems to carry forever. Logistical resupply of fuel and ammo may be difficult and usually requires external support not resident within a light infantry unit.

Capabilities. The IFV provides good armor protection. When fighting with the hatches closed, the crew is safe from small-arms fire, fragmentation munitions, and anti-personnel mines. The vehicle’s smoke grenade launcher and smoke generator provide rapid concealment from observation from everything, but thermal sights.

Limitations. The IFV is vulnerable from all directions to anti-tank weapons and is especially vulnerable to enemy tanks. Anti-tank mines can destroy or disable the Bradley. When operating with open hatches, the crew is vulnerable to small-arms fire and sniper fire.

The Challenge—Safety.

Infantry leaders need to take safety precautions when operating with armored vehicles. This is especially important for infantry units with little training or experience with armored vehicles. All personnel must know the precautions to take and must remain alert during light-heavy operations.

Tank and Bradley crews are blind to infantry soldiers near their vehicle. This limitation is worse during limited visibility or when the hatches are closed. This causes the crew to focus on the enemy or on potential enemy locations rather than on infantry moving close to the vehicle. Therefore, the infantry soldiers must remain alert and must maintain a safe position relative to the vehicle.

Infantry moving next to armored vehicles will be exposed to fire directed against the vehicles. They will not be able to avoid detection when near the armor. Troops on the ground should maintain enough distance to avoid enemy fires even when they are providing security or close support to them. Likewise, the armor-piercing discarding sabot round fired by the tank main gun and the Bradley 25-mm gun can injure soldiers in close proximity to the vehicle.

M1’s exhaust can reach 1,700 degrees or more. Soldiers behind a tank must be to the side of the exhaust grill and should not move directly behind it. Soldiers riding on the vehicle trade the speed of mounted movement for stealth; you’ll be detected more easily so be careful when ground troops ride and when they walk. Infantry should ride on vehicles only when the risk of enemy contact is low or the need for speed is great.

Don’t ride on the lead vehicle; it’s the most likely one to make contact and can react quicker without soldiers on top. Infantry leaders should ride with the armored leaders. Contingency plans for chance contact and danger areas must be planned and rehearsed since vehicles and soldiers react differently. The infantry should dismount and clear choke points and danger areas with the armor providing suppressive fire and overwatch.

Air guards and sectors of responsibility for observation will be assigned and alert methods must be agreed upon. The infantry will probably spot enemy air sooner than vehicle crews will and they must have a means for alerting them. Infantry must be alert and ready to dismount quickly. In the event of contact, the armored crew reacts to protect their vehicle and the infantry on top are responsible for their own safety. They should rehearse rapid dismount and leaders should consider leaving rucksacks and extra gear on the vehicles while having the soldiers move on more suitable terrain near the vehicles.

Support of Light Infantry.

Light infantry can attack independently and link up afterwards. They can precede armor through an air or airborne insertion or by infiltration. Light infantry may ride on vehicles (see above) to exploit their mobility and armor can use on-board smoke to provide obscuration. Armor can also provide long-range observation and target detection, especially at night. Armor can also help with casualty evacuation and by hauling extra gear and resupply.

Tanks can lead movement, using firepower, mobility, and protection to quickly develop the situation upon making contact. Tanks can also follow the infantry to the objective after lanes through obstacles have been cleared and can lead, or provide suppressive fires for, the assault on the objective. They can also provide protection when the enemy antitank capability is limited and, of course, tanks can be used to destroy enemy armored vehicles—especially tanks.

Never underestimate the psychological impact tanks can have on the enemy. Having been on both sides of this, we can vouch for what the sight of tanks in formation can do to the mind of a soldier. When a soldier sees tanks accompanying infantry (when he is expecting a pure light fight) the pucker factor goes sky high.

Infantry supports armor by clearing or breaching obstacles and marking lanes in minefields to allow the armor to use its speed and mobility. Infantry can destroy, suppress, or neutralize anti-tank weapons and destroy enemy bunkers. They can follow an armored assault closely to protect the rear and flanks of the tanks and can clear the objective or reduce bypassed enemy forces. They can secure or clear choke points such as towns, forests, stream crossings, and narrow defiles and can provide close security at nighttime or in restrictive terrain. Lastly, infantry is always well suited to conduct reconnaissance in support of planned armored maneuver.


The light infantry staff must study and prepare for light-heavy operations since they are not typically versed in them. An officer from the armored unit should be attached to the light unit headquarters where he can advise and assist in planning and execution. The commander of the armored unit should be asked for his recommendation on how to employ his forces although, the light commander has the final say. The light unit staff must know the abilities, limitations, and requirements of the armored force and must plan for them. Let’s address some of the key planning considerations below in the areas of intelligence, maneuver, combat service support, and command and control.


  • Reconnaissance and surveillance that integrates the heavy force should be developed.
  • Commanders should use the light force’s night vision and dismounted movement and the heavy force’s thermal imagery and long-range night vision capabilities.
  • The heavy force should be allowed to provide input into reconnaissance planning.
  • An excellent counter- recon plan uses the infantry as the screening force that finds the enemy and the armored force to destroy the enemy.


  • Infantry units often conduct operations during limited visibility to gain surprise and reduce vulnerability.
  • The difference in mobility between heavy and light units should be taken into account when terrain is assigned.
  • The timing for every operation must be planned to avoid leaving either force, especially the light force, exposed.
  • The strengths of both heavy and light units should be used to advantage with appropriate tasks assigned, fighting each in a manner that capitalizes on the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses.
  • Each force should compensate for the limitations of the other throughout the operation.
  • The tactical signature of each should be considered. The heavy force will be more easily detected and, as a result, accompanying infantry maybe targeted even if not detected. If infantry with the heavy force can effectively accomplish the mission from a more secure location, they should do so.
  • Armor and infantry can provide mutual support without being co-located.
  • The characteristics of heavy forces must be considered to prevent friendly casualties by employing and rehearsing fire control measures.

Combat Service Support.

  • Light-heavy operations significantly increase the logistics requirements for the light unit.
  • It is preferable if the armored unit brings along a supply specialist to aid the light logistics planners.
  • The light unit must ensure that the attached logistics can provide sufficient support to the heavy unit and, if not, must then request additional support from the heavy force’s parent unit.
  • The light unit logistics officer must integrate the heavy unit’s logistics support into the light unit’s overall logistical plans. He must also ensure that the heavy unit knows the situation and that all logistical actions are coordinated, to include:

­ —Routes, locations, and timings to be used for conducting the heavy force re-supply
­ —Casualty evacuation plan
­ —Vehicle evacuation plan

Command and Control.

  • The heavy force is usually placed under the operational control (OPCON) of the light force because the light force typically cannot logistically sustain the heavy force for very long. The heavy force can be attached for a short time when it brings enough logistical support to sustain itself.
  • Both forces must exchange the frequencies and call signs.
  • The commander should consider the following when task-organizing a heavy force into the light force:

­ —Allow the heavy force commander to retain control of most of his unit to use his expertise
­ —Tanks are most effective when used in mass
­ —Task organizing should occur at platoon level or above to ensure an effective chain of command and to allow the heavy unit to fight as trained.
­ —Task organizing tanks and/or Bradleys by section may be the right answer for urban operations. However tanks and Bradleys should not be task organized on an individual basis ever—keep them in pairs; they need a ‘wingman’ to maneuver with mutual support

Complimentary effects—back to Benning.

The battalion commander was a student in the infantry pre-command course. He was firm in his conviction that his battalion of light fighters had no need for a bunch of tankers. His staff, a group of advanced course students headed for company command, was stumped. They had been trained to task organize in order to exploit strengths and mitigate weaknesses. Who would leave 10 Abrams tanks in an assembly area when attacking a dug in enemy company reinforced by mines, wire, artillery and a reserve tank platoon?

The mentor asked the commander for his reasoning. He listed the tanks deficiencies:

—They’re noisy
­ —They’re road bound
­ —They’d be blocked by the obstacles
­ —The plan relies on stealth

The mentor responded:

—They’re noisy—so are the enemies tanks and IFV’s
­ —They’re road bound—not really, an M1 can push over a tree 12 inches in diameter
­ —They’d be blocked by the obstacles—they have their own smoke, suppression, and one tank plow per platoon
­ —The plan relies on stealth—doesn’t a diversion aid stealth; if nothing else, the tanks could stop 2 kilometers from the enemy and pummel them with 120mm fires

The commander didn’t know the tanks main gun range nor did he know about its multiple machine guns and on board smoke. He also had no idea that tank platoons had mine plows. Lastly, he thought off-road movement was impossible. In spite of the new information that had been passed on to him, he attacked without the armor … and won at a cost of 50+% casualties.

The senior evaluator, a full Colonel in the infantry, made him plan a new mission, this time using the tanks.

The infantry companies infiltrated through the woods at nighttime, as before. This time, the tank company launched a diversionary attack up the road and into the obstacles at the intersection. They blanketed the enemy company with 120mm main gun and machinegun fire while blanketing the entire intersection with smoke. The battalion mortars added their fires to the armored assault.

The defenders responded to the tank attack by repositioning towards and calling up their reserve tank platoon. The new plan anticipated the move of reserves. They were waiting for them with a light infantry anti-tank ambush which destroyed one tank and immobilized the other two.

This was the trigger for the light assault from the wood-line to the defenders rear. The enemy company was completely focused on the Abrams tanks at the road and were blindsided by the swarms of infantry. When the enemy armor vehicles tried to move from their forward positions in response to the infantry attack, they were destroyed by the M1’s over-watching from the road. The infantry rapidly over-ran the enemy position while M1’s lifted and shifted their fires away on order from the commander.

Once the objective was secure, the tanks provided an armed escort to the light battalion trains and then provided perimeter security during consolidation and reorganization. The mission took half the time and suffered two-thirds fewer casualties. The evidence was conclusive: the light-heavy team attack was vastly superior to the infantry pure attack. Usually, if your boss gives you additional combat power, he’s doing it for a reason.


Tanks and Infantry Fighting Vehicles have operated in support of light infantry since WWI. The US has a long and proud history of such operations however; they are never to be embarked upon lightly and without detailed planning, preparation and rehearsal. Failure to closely adhere to the troop leading procedures when mixing and matching these disparate forces can lead to disaster and unnecessary casualties. We have many different types of forces in order to execute many different types of missions and the ‘teaming ‘of these various forces can be incredibly potent. In fact, to avoid light-heavy or heavy-light operations when the conditions call for it is to miss an opportunity for decisive success.

In our next article, we will begin a series of articles tied to security operations. We will begin the series addressing the basics of security operations. Following this introduction, we will dissect the three primary security operations. These are screen, guard, and cover. As always, we will delve into the planning, preparation, and execution of each of these operations. Security operations set the conditions for a unit’s execution of their primary mission (be it an offense or defense). A poor performance in security operations is a recipe for disaster.

The Color Code of Awareness: Developing a Combat Mindset

June 20, 2012

Used by soldiers and CIA agents alike, The Color Code of Awareness will help you see danger before it strikes and may just save your life.



In this article I describe a mindset used by our soldiers, special agents, and law-enforcement personnel that heightens your awareness and allows you to see potential threats to your safety ahead of time — providing a window of opportunity to prepare for or prevent potential conflict.

The Need to Pay Attention

Unfortunately there are not a lot of areas left in our world where you are immune to threats to your personal safety. With increases in crime such as theft, rape, and assault, it is in our best interest to pay attention.

In nature, predators seek out easy targets — the weak and the sick ones. Similar to the animal kingdom, human predators also seek out targets of opportunity — especially those who are unaware and oblivious to what’s around them. For this reason, it’s necessary to take on a state of mind that can help you stay alert to potential threats at all times and be able to intelligently react should you be faced with one. There’s no better metaphor for this state of mind than the Color Code of Awareness.

The Color Code of Awareness

The Color Code of Awareness has its origins in the U.S. Military but the adaptation as given here was originally put forth by the late Jeff Cooper, USMC(ret) and founder of Gunsite. This is not to be confused with the government’s form of color code which corresponds to the amount of danger to which you are exposed to at a given time. Instead, this refers to your current state of mind and willingness to take action regardless of real or imagined threats.

Condition White: the Unaware Masses

The Unaware

The next time you’re out and about take a look at the people around you. What are they doing and what do they notice? What you’ll begin to see is that most people are completely oblivious to their surroundings. This is Condition White. Whether they are sitting on a park bench completely engrossed in a book or walking with their gaze focused on the ground three feet in front of them, their attention is drawn somewhere else and they lose sight to what’s around them.

The Addiction of Thought

In fact the biggest monopolizer of your attention is your thoughts. Most people are addicted to thinking. You become a slave to the incessant ramblings of your own involuntary internal dialogue. In fact, the only difference between you and those ‘crazy’ people you see muttering to themselves on the street is that you are not muttering out loud.

The mind is a powerful and necessary tool when used in the right context. But like with any tool, we need to be able to put it down – or in this case shut it off – when we no longer need it. This is especially true in order to be aware and safe in our immediate environment. It’s those who are caught up in their thoughts that make perfect targets for potential predators.

Absolute Vulnerability

Condition White is where you will get surprised by your friends or a stranger that “happens upon you”. In white you are unready to take action to prevent injury or death. And it’s in this state that the only way you’ll survive a lethal attack is if your attacker is completely inept. Avoid this state at all times.

Condition Yellow: Relaxed Alertness

Learn to Always be Aware

Condition Yellow should be your normal everyday state of awareness. It’s in this state that you’ve accepted the fact that your life may be in danger at any time and you may have to do something about it. There is no specific threat but you are alert to any possibility.

You are relaxed and alert. You walk down the street with your head up and you’re looking around. You notice the late model blue Chevy pickup turning the corner, with an older gentleman driving. Your aware of the group of teenagers talking in a tight circle in front of the convenience store. You see a young couple crossing the street, heading your direction holding hands. When you leave for work in the morning you look around the neighborhood noticing anything out of the ordinary.

Lose Your Mind and Come to Your Senses

Most of all, your not caught up in your thoughts. Your mind is in the moment and although yellow is a relaxed state and you could stay in it indefinitely, it is still an active level of awareness — very different than white. You are actively taking mental notes of those things around you. In yellow you are aware of your surroundings and your mindset is such that “I may have to defend myself today”.

Condition Orange: Focused Alertness

Noticing a Potential Predator

If during Condition Yellow, something or someone triggers your attention indicating a potential threat you would immediately enter into Condition Orange. It doesn’t mean there is a threat only that there could potentially be one. The only real difference between the orange state and the yellow state is you now have a specific point of focus.

For example, you’re manning a store and in walks a guy who slips his hands in his inner coat pocket — your radar goes up, you enter Condition Orange. Or your heading to your car in the mall parking garage and you notice someone standing by a column up ahead instead of heading to his car or the mall entrance, you now have a point of focus and you are in an orange state. It need not only be a person that triggers this, it could be any indicator that is out of context with what is expected, such as a light being off that you know was previously on, or an environmental choke point such as a corner block or an upcoming side alleyway.

Perform Evasive Maneuvers to Determine Intention

When you’ve entered Condition Orange, you begin to make evasive maneuvers if possible. If someone in a car behind you triggered orange, you would simply turn at the next light. It’s as simple as that. If they are still behind you try turning at the next left. Then right again. If they are still behind you it is a strong indication that you’re being followed. In the case of the man next to the parking column, you would change your trajectory or give him wide berth. If it’s a dark alley up ahead, try to keep your distance.

Create a Mental Trigger and Formulate Your Tactical Plan

As you are performing your evasive maneuvers you’ll want to quickly set up a mental trigger and formulate a tactical plan. “If he does x I will do the following”, or “If x happens when I reach that alleyway, I’ll do this”. That ‘x’ is the mental trigger that springs you into action. Your tactical plan could be anything from more extreme evasive maneuvers to drawing your weapon on someone to a lethal response. If the trigger never comes (either because that person or indicator is not a threat) or because of your awareness they decided they better not do anything — you would deescalate to yellow again. Remember, most predators want to have the element of surprise. When they catch on that you’ve caught on to them, they generally seek easier prey.

Condition Red: Ready to Act

Locked and Ready

In Condition Red you’ve determined that the threat is real and although you may or may not be in the middle of a conflict you are READY TO ACT. You’re mentally prepared to carry out your plan.

The difference between Condition Red and Condition Yellow may at first seem unclear. In Condition Red, not only have you determined that the threat is very real, but more importantly you’ve made a mental decision to act if the trigger from Condition Yellow is tripped. It’s a very subtle but important difference. You not only have a plan on what to do and when to act (Condition Yellow) but you are prepared to carry out that act. This is especially important when the decision that you made requires a lethal response. Let me give you an example that illustrates the difference:

The Two Officers

There are two police officers on duty. Someone approaches them stating that around the corner there is some crazy guy waving around a gun. As they quickly move to the corner and yell “Drop your weapon!” in a flash the man begins to draw his gun on them and the first officer shoots him right away while the other is standing there looking surprised. What happened?

The difference is that the first officer mentally tells himself, “I’ll tell the guy to drop his weapon and show us his hands. If he complies we’ll arrest him, if he begins to draw his gun on us, I’m shooting him. End of story.” This officer is in Condition Red. The second officer makes a similar plan but is not quite certain of his decision to act on it. The plan was made, but the decision to act on that plan wasn’t set in his mind and therefore he was susceptible to suprise and hesitation. He was still in Condition Orange.

Condition Red is all about knowing that if your opponent steps over that mental line in the sand (your trigger) you know what to do and YOU WILL DO IT. No hesitation. No questions asked.

A Personal Experience

To illustrate the color code in action I want to share a personal experience. During my college days I would work the summers at my best friends pizza store as a delivery driver. Sometimes we were called to deliver pizza to certain “project” areas that were notorious for crime. Whenever I worked in those areas I would always be in Condition Yellow. On one particular evening I was called to run an order there.

After delivering the pizza to the house I was sent to, I was walking back to my car with the empty pizza bag. Now mind you, at that time we had these lit up signs that were attached to the roof of our cars for advertisement which stood out as a perfect invitation for warm food and lots of cash for the shadier elements of our society. Anyways, as I was heading back I noticed in the distance two guys walking toward me, barely illuminated by the poor street lighting. I entered Condition Orange.

I began to make a small trajectory change in my direction of travel that would lead me around them. They also corrected their trajectory so that we were again heading on a collision course. At that moment the transition from yellow to orange to red was very quick. I made a plan, by wrapping the pizza bag around my arm to act as a shield if they were carrying knives and I subtly pulled my knife out of my back pocket, flipped it open and hid it behind me. I had made the decision that if they jumped me I would stab them both, violently and quickly.

As they were nearly on me, I recognized the taller of the two in the light of the street lamp. Someone that I went to Junior High with. I said, “Jameal, is that you?” They both immediately stopped in their tracks, and Jameal recognized me exclaming, “Erich! You’re so lucky! We were going to jump you and take your money.” At that moment I showed them my knife and what I was intending to do. They were both even more surprised. The condition immediately went back down to yellow.


Because of the threats to our safety so prevalent in our day, the need to pay attention is huge. Martial skill is only half of the equation. Because if you’re not mentally prepared, you’ll be stuck flatfooted when required to act.

How do you win in combat? By being mentally prepared to win. And the Color Code of Awareness is the perfect tool to gaining a winning combat mindset.