27 July 2015

FWS Book Review: ENGINES OF EXTINCTION: Episode I " The End & The Means"By Chris Martin (2015)

There is no one rubric to judge military science fiction. At times, it is more apparent with starships, laser blasters, powered armored heroes, and nasty alien bugs bent on killing all humans. Then at other times, an creator will blend the very near future with our world today into a seamless work of military science fiction that is closer to COD: AW, Jack Murphy and Dalton Fury than John Scalzi and myself. With every book review that FWS does, my ideas about what is military sci-fi deepen and gets redefined. The Engines of Extinction series by Chris Martin is such a work that blends both contemporary military fiction, real-world modern warfare, and the possibilities of military sci-fi to a work that pushes the borders and boundaries of the genre. In this installment of the ongoing book review series, we will be reviewing Episode I of Engines of Extinction and discussing the novel with author Chris Martin.

The Setting of Engines of Extinction
The world of EoE is very much set in the playing field of today in the sense of geopolitics, threats, and operations. All of it is here, pocket conflicts, private military companies, off-the-books SMU operations, and the rise of threats in the east. Real-world units like ST6, DELTA, and other OGAs are featured with operations in real-world locations that you hear about from the news. The world of Engines of Extinction is also a planet on the edge of advanced high-level game changing technology like molecular manufacturing, that can be used for the most evil of purposes against the homeland and even the human race. As with novels like this, the heroes are ones from the blackest parts of Special Operations, trained to be the force-of-change, and trained to remain in the shadows.

The Spoiler-Free Review of Engines of Extinction: Episode One
Given that this is a spoiler-free review and it is the first installment of a series, this will shorter than most on FWS Book Reviews.
In Star Wars: Episode I, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn says "Your focus determines your reality", and the professional life of author/journalist Chris Martin shaped the setting, the focus, the dialog, and the very structure of the world of his story. His focus on penning articles and books on Special Operations units for outlets like SOFREP.com allows him the foundation to craft the world of EoE, and that focus (and knowledge) bleeds through the page (and the screen). For those that have themselves explore the shadowy world of Special Operations and their activities during the GWOT, Chris Martin's words ring with a types of truth and honestly not found in many fictionalized novels of SOF operations, especially in the genre of military science fiction. I am one of those readers that has deeply explored the world of SOF activities in the GWOT, and I cannot name another military sci-fi novel that has "gotten it right" to this degree as seen in EoE. From the dialog, the missions, their culture, and the weaponry, all of it is just spot on, and it only pulls you deeper into the shadowy world of former-CAG operator Jared Baxter. However, Episode One: "The End & Means" does take sometime to settle the reader into the world of EoE, and if you are not committed and engaged, you could simply be turned off by the unconventional structure and style that does open the novelette like an printed-out email. There is also less dialog than in most novels, but this level of narration is normal in most military novels I've read. In place of the words, is visuals, links, informational packets, and a level of embedded features for the novelette that I've not seen before, making EoE Episode One: "The End & Means" an more interactive experienceThis episode is just the lobby in a wider story that will be deliciously complex and hard-edged. In short, commit to the task, and hold on with this read because Engines of Extinction is more more than just a military sci-fi novelette serial, it is also a techo-thriller and a crash-course education on near-future technology that could be a game-charger for our world. I look forward to what the future holds for EoE and Chris Martin.

The Interview with author Chris Martin

1. Tell me about the genesis of Engines of Extinction.
It's a bit convoluted, but the seed of the idea was planted just over a decade ago while driving home to Chicago from San Diego after covering an AMA Supermoto Championship race (I also happen to cover motorsports). I was actually so energized by the idea that it powered the trip home. Stopping only for gas as I went, I continued to iterate the idea the entire way home. Previously, I never really aspired to write fiction, but this particular concept really excited me. Once I made it back to my place (and caught some much needed sleep) I cranked out dozens and dozens of pages of notes.

It's evolved dramatically in the time since, so I don't know how much any of the original notes would still line up, but that was the origin of Engines of Extinction.

Beyond that -- whenever I watch a movie or television show or read a book, I can't help but consider how I might approach things differently -- just mentally work out what my take on a particular concept would be. After a while, I noticed a lot of those thought experiments started to take a very similar shape, even when the base properties were quite different. That basic design played heavily into EoE as it was molded over the years.

2. Why did you choose “Engines of Extinction” as the title?

A very key reason will become plainly evident to the readers as the series develops. But another reason that some may have already picked up on is that it's a nod to the title of K. Eric Drexler's seminal and controversial book about molecular nanotechnology, Engines of Creation (which turns 30 next year!)

3. Given your level of expertise within the shadowy world of Special Operations, did this influence your outlook on writing a military fiction novel? Did it also make the process of writing more difficult or easier, given your knowledge?

Well, whatever level of expertise I may have in that area, I would say most certainly yes and in a huge way. One of my primary goals in creating EoE was to really hit that sweet spot in terms of suspension of disbelief -- at least for me personally. I often find I love sci-fi in concept but only like it in terms of execution, and usually that's because the leaps of logic most stories demand of its audience are just to a bit too great for me navigate comfortably. That also ties back into my earlier answer about considering how I might address those (perceived) shortcomings had I been steering the ship.

Ultimately, I can only really get inside my own head, so effectively, I am creating this for myself while hoping there are like-minded people out there who will also enjoy the ride. I've spent a great deal of effort focused on delivering solid grounding along with a certain level of authenticity, plausibility, and accuracy concerning the sorts of details people can check, that way they'll be more willing to accept the claims they can't.

As far as making the writing more difficult or easier -- I wish I could say it meant I had already done much of the homework ahead of time through my prior nonfiction projects, therefore reducing the amount required for this, but that has most certainly not proven to be the case. In fact, my latest nonfiction book, Modern American Snipers (St. Martin's Press), in large part grew out of the research I had done specifically for Engines of Extinction. I don't know if it's a first, but I can't imagine there have been too many instances of self-published sci-fi series spawning major publisher nonfiction spinoffs!

4. Do you consider Engines of Extinction a military science fiction novel at its heart?

Without a doubt. It is blatantly, unabashedly military science fiction. That will become very evident as the series progresses. Episode I was very much about laying a real-world foundation along with a means and impetus to support the rapid introduction of all varieties of mil sci-fi toys and concepts that will take center stage moving forward. Trust me, there should be much for devoted readers of this website to love in the episodes to come.

5. What is your opinion about the genre of military science fiction?

Love it. Especially now that genuine military development is rapidly encroaching upon -- and in some cases surpassing -- any number of the tropes of the genre, it's an especially fun and exciting arena in which to operate. That's actually a rather significant goal of mine -- to present some real-world advancements as if they were science fiction, and, on the flip-side, portray various fictional advancements as if they already exist. I really hope to blur that line so readers aren't always sure what's legitimately possible today and what's not.

As for my history with military science fiction -- as was the case for so many others -- when I was a kid, ALIENS was a real game changer. All of my friends in my neighborhood were armed with wooden M41A Pulse Rifles. In fact, mine still resides in my office. (And just how awesome is the ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, right?)

A significant percentage of my favorite books, television series, movies, and video games could at least loosely be categorized as military science fiction. That's probably been true since elementary school (and maybe even earlier) if you want to include properties like G.I. Joe, Star Wars, The Centurions, and so on. That said, by design, EoE tends to lean more heavily toward nonfiction, at least in terms of direct inspiration.

6. Your novel stands out when it comes to portraying of SOF units and personnel, was this born out of your knowledge or an attempt to “get it right”?

Thanks, I appreciate you saying that. And I'd say equal parts of both. The granular details matter to me -- it's the kind of stuff I find extremely interesting. Hopefully it adds a sense of authenticity. I sort of figured it would be an area where the series could really stand out from the crowd, so I'm glad to hear you feel that it does.

7. The physical layout of the novel itself is unique, unconventional, and unlike any other novel I’ve read.  Why did you design the novel this way? Was everything created for the novel?

It was never intended to be a conventional novel, even from the very beginning. However its shape did change pretty radically over the years. At one point, I envisioned it as a really text-and-document-heavy comic book/graphic novel. I guess, format-wise, it might not have been that far off what Jonathan Hickman might have produced back in the day, although I was not aware of his work at the time. In that guise, every single image of the comic would have been "captured" in some manner -- security camera footage, satellite imagery, etc. And I planned on doing everything myself, but eventually the project became paralyzed simply due to how massive it would have been to attempt to complete by one person. And even if that wasn't a problem, the format still didn't ideally lend itself toward relaying the depth of detail I wanted to convey.

Somehow, the current email format grew out of that original idea. I can't remember exactly how or when it hit me, but when it did, I immediately knew the series would become a reality.

At that point, I realized I wanted to partner with a professional artist to really maximize the quality. I started researching artists heavily and assembled a long wishlist of talented individuals, anyone of whom I would have been thrilled to work with to bring EoE to life. I assumed I'd have to work my way well down that list before I found a taker, but fortunately, the search started and ended with the #1 name on the list: Ben Mauro. Readers might be familiar with his design work from Chappie, Elysium, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, The Hobbit, Lucy, Man of Steel, Dr0ne, etc.

And yes, everything in Episode I was created specifically for the series, and let me assure you, "you ain't seen nothing yet". That was a very small tease of the sort of work that will be featured going forward. We're really going to elevate the production values from here on out and really show off Ben's talents.

I also play a number of roles in the series' creation beyond the writing. For example, I do the bulk of the work designing and creating documents, logos, etc. Going back to the comic book idea -- even as recently as college I considered pursuing a career as a comic book artist, so I have some ability in that area as well. What Ben is capable of is very different from that and well beyond my capabilities, but having some artistic background myself is pretty helpful, I think. If I'm having difficultly adequately explaining a particular idea to him, I can simply sketch it out, which streamlines the process. That's pretty rare though, because for the most part, I prefer to stay out of his way. He needs to know certain things so the designs fit the fiction, but beyond that, I want to unleash his creativity and sensibilities.

8. I am always curious about why authors chose names for organization and characters. What made you chose InPraxis, Jared Baxter and some of the codenames for the team members?

Again, Episode I was a small tease. The number of characters and organizations really opens up from Episode II on. The majority of the names, codenames, and acronyms of importance have at least some meaning attached to them, rather than just being slapped together. Some are clues, some are Easter eggs, and some are simply inside references or jokes. A number of them refer to historical analogues and things along those lines, while others foreshadow what's to come. And some even have multiple connections -- for example, a surface-level reference that will be explicitly addressed in the text along with a deeper one that is there for readers to discover (or not) for themselves.

As for the less important names -- especially when they really start to add up -- you just come up with them any way you can. I try to avoid making them sound too "constructed." Fictional characters often have names that are meant to sound cool or dashing or devious, or whatever, and as a result, they end up sounding like something from a soap opera. As in the real world, ultimately, the character will give its name a feel, not the other way around. If you think about it, "Michael Jordan" and "Jason Bourne" are both rather mundane names in a vacuum.
I don't want to spoil too many of the meanings behind the names just yet, but we have a massive series bible, lots of concept art, etc. Once the entire series has been published, if there's any interest in that sort of material, I may release it in some form or another. And if it comes to that, I'll open up about all of those sorts of hidden details.
But just to hit on a couple you mentioned… While Baxter's codename ("Greyhound") has a back story (or two -- it depends who you ask), he was originally supposed to be Jared "Taxman" Baxter… right up until I saw the first episode of True Detective and had my stomach churn when I discovered that Matthew McConaughey's Rusty Cohle character had already laid claim to that nickname.
As for "InPraxis Solutions," I'll lay that one open because there's not a ton of depth there. It's just supposed to reflect the sort of buzzword-laden, meaningless names that defense contractors like to utilize in order to mask the true nature of their work. It's basically a fictional equivalent of names like Xe Services LLC/Academi, DynCorp International, G4S Risk Management, and so on. The word praxis means "practical application of a theory," and I ran with that. InPraxis like "in practice." To grab a couple more off the top of my head, examples like "Synergism Logistics" or "DeepDive Innovations" would have worked as well. (That is if they don't actually exist. I didn't bother to Google check them

9. I was deeply impressed by the insight to the near future of technology, and it made me wonder about the future of human beings on the battlefield. Do you think that technology will render humans obsolete?
I hate to do this again, but that is a topic that will be addressed in a major way as the series develops, so I don't want to spoil too much.

But separate from the story itself, I'll say I think that sort of extreme case is probably still a rather long way off -- far enough at least that accurate predictions are pretty much impossible to make at this point. However, unmanned systems already constitute a major aspect of the USA's global military activities, and they will only become increasingly more important as time marches on. As a result, there may be a gradual, nearly invisible transformation to that state (or something resembling it).

Just think -- the fact that the United States has flying robots that routinely rain down death on the other side of the planet barely even merits a mention in the newspaper these days. The future is rendered mundane really quick after it finally hits and becomes ubiquitous. Consider smartphones and the internet…These are borderline sci-fi crazy innovations that my 15-year-old self would hardly believe could possibly exist, but already they are viewed as boring goods and services that we take for granted. Boring goods and services our grandmothers take for granted!

Anyway, back to the question, I think where things get really interesting is the big push is to make these unmanned systems more and more autonomous. Right now, the major limitations are of a technical nature. But when that's no longer the case, how will we proceed? Where will the line be drawn?

10. This novel paints a picture of how different the next big war could be. Was this novel written as a warning?

That wasn't the primary goal, at least not the way it is with something like Ghost Fleet. However, if Engines of Extinction makes people think about these sorts of things, that's great. And I do think there will be more in later episodes that could get people to reconsider how the future of military and intelligence activities could take shape strategically, tactically, and technologically.

However, my biggest motivation is simply to tell a really cool story about the sort of things I find interesting. And upping the plausibility and believability is the way I am hoping to achieve that. It's only natural that attempt makes it pretty closely tied to real-world trends, at least in some respects.

11. What do you hope that the reader will take away from Engine of Extinction?

I'm hoping readers will find themselves immersed in this sprawling present-day science fiction thriller and allow them to feel like it could actually be real, even when it slams up against the boundaries of feasibility. It hits on quite a few topics regarding technology, politics, psychology, and the nature of perpetual shadow wars, but really, I just hope readers are entertained.

Like I said earlier, I'm merely attempting to write the perfect fiction to suit my own particular tastes and sensibilities, but I really hope others dig it too.

12. Why did you choose to release Engines of Extinction as a serial?

Hmm… It just always has been. I guess it goes back to its comic book roots. Additionally, the format allows me the room to pull off some tricks that wouldn't otherwise be possible. For example, the story starts off discussing events that took place in the recent past, but it will eventually catch up to the present -- and our narrator's understanding of events shifts as that happens. At a certain point, he's not sure what's going to happen next and discovering things out only shortly before you do.

13. The scene about when a CAG operator leaves and joins an PMC strikes me as very realistic. Where did the inspiration come from for that scene?
The particulars of the scene just naturally grew out of the story. But as to why I centered the story around an ex-Unit operator who had put in his time as a OGA contractor, well, it's because I find it interesting that the actions of individuals (sometimes the exact same actions conducted by the exact same individuals) can be met by wildly divergent reactions depending on how they are presented. For example, if a CIA operative did X in Pakistan, it may be reported as heroic. However, if the same thing was done by a Blackwater contractor, it might be reported as a scandal. The thing most people don't realize is, at least in some cases, the Blackwater contractor is the CIA operative. And I guess that is its own story. During my research for some earlier nonfiction projects, I was able to piece together specific examples of this, and it wasn't really an understood or reported phenomena at the time.
Also, I took note of the very different attitudes with which the general public and media view military contractors compared to how actual operators felt about them. In the field, special operators, CIA staffers, and contractors are often blended together in small teams. And if a contractor happens to be the most senior, experienced, and/or respected member of a team, they are treated as such when it comes time to dole out authority and responsibility. That's just something I don't think most people understand very well. So for that reason, I wanted to give Jared Baxter that sort of background so that I could delve into those topics.
And there are some other fairly major reasons that will become more obvious as the story unfolds (sorry, I did it again!).

14. Your book may contain one of the best explanations of why Special Operations members join the ranks of the Private Military Companies. It was also interesting to read the defense of this trend, instead of normal tar-and-feather indictment of the PMCs. Were you attempting to tell that angle of the operator's post-military life or to enlighten the reader on a different POV on the PMC?

I do my best to put myself in Baxter's headspace. And like you, he's picked up on that standard tar-and-feather indictment of PMCs. Indeed, he's extremely sensitive to it. That sort of coverage greatly oversimplifies a nuanced issue that is in no way black-and-white and largely misunderstood. Not to mention, the default line of thinking vilifies not only his efforts, but those of his friends and comrades who he considers to be some of the most genuine patriots to exist -- people who have risked so much in defense of their nation. From his point of view, it's insulting and he just can't help but go off on a tangent when it's really not central to the message he's attempting to deliver.

I'm not Jared Baxter. We don't 100% agree on everything, but parts of me are definitely in him. And while Baxter has a stronger opinion on the topic at hand, in this particular case, we were pretty unified in wanting to enlighten the reader so they'd at least understand his perspective.

15. Is Jared Baxter based on a real member of CAG or DEVGRU?

"All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental." That's what I'm supposed to say here, right?

Okay, with that out of the way, to be honest, Jared Baxter has been inspired by a variety of people, including both fictional characters and real people (historical and contemporary). The same is true of a number of the characters.

But yes, there are some aspects of Baxter that have been inspired by actual Unit operators.

16. What is the future of the series and will there be any more military sci-fi projects in your future?

Right now we are working hard behind the scenes to prepare Episodes II-VI. The original plan was to release them all monthly like a comic book series, but it quickly became evident that was going to prove nearly impossible, especially considering the extremely ambitious plans we have for the visuals. So we had to shift gears a little bit.

Once the entire series is completed and good to go, we'll relaunch it and put them out at pretty brisk pace -- mostly likely biweekly or one episode every three weeks. The exact schedule is still to be decided at this point. But all of the release dates will be set in stone once we relaunch, so stay tuned for updates regarding that at www.enginesofextinction.com.

Beyond that, I really, really hope to continue working in this universe. I already have two future EoE projects mapped out to follow up the initial series -- projects I would like to release concurrently. Both are considerably different in terms of format compared to the current series (and one another). However, whether they prove viable or not really depends on the success of the initial six-episode offering and the existence of readers out there who want more Engines of Extinction. Fingers crossed.

Be Sure to Pickup a Copy of EoE: Episode One!

Check Out Chris Martin's Work on SOFREP.com:

Next Time on FWS...
Mildly Military is one of the pandemic trope-plague that sweeps across the genre of military science fiction, and even I am guilty of using this trope. In the next FWS blogpost, we will be looking at the widespread military sci-fi trope of "mildly military" and some prime examples. May the Lords of Kobol have mercy on me for this one

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22 July 2015

FWS Armory: Belt Fed

When continues and rapid power are needed it's time to drop your carbine and open fresh box of ammunition belt. This string of deadly pearls had been feeding machine guns from late 19th century till nowadays. From the Maxim guns mowing charging infantry in the trenches of WW1 to the modern SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) in the hands of infantrymen in the streets of Fallujah or Rafah, those belt feds have been an active player in all of humanity conflicts in the 20th ; But will they be with us in the future? In this new FWS Armory article we'll examine the ammo belt from top to bottom and separate the fiction out of the SF.    

Advantages of belt over magazine

Round capacity
While most rifle magazines are limited to 30-40 rounds the ammo belts usually contains more than a 100 rounds for the smaller ammo boxes and doubled, tripled or more for the bigger one.
Having a bigger 'gas tank' means your gun can fire more rapid fire and longer time between one reload to another.

Continues fire
Unlike magazine that opens from one end the belt is 'opened' from both sides, holding the stick from both ends if you will… While one end was inserted to the gun the other end can be coupled to fresh belt, practically extending the belt length without replacing the belt currently in the gun. One of the coolest aspects of this ability is that the belt could extend while the gun is firing! Medium & heavy machineguns are operated using more than one operator. When one operator aim & shoot the other/s provide fresh belts either to reload the gun with new belt or to coupled new belt to the old one.    

Clear ammo status indication
Magazines are usually opaque metal boxes and the shooter can't usually see when is magazine is near to "draw its last breath". With belt the shooter can clearly observe his/her ammo status cause the path of the belt from the box to the gun is usually expose and when the belt is nearly all consumed the remaining rounds are visibly indicates it's time to reload.

Disadvantages of belt over magazine

Complexity of the belt
The complexity & fragility of the belt links is the Achilles heel of the belt fed gun. As they say "the chain is as strong as its weakest link" – 300 rounds belt have a 299 potential weak links, add to that the rough conditions those guns usually endure and you relies that problems are always an issue. The common malfunction is breaking of one link in the belt result in (according to Murphy's Law) machinegun surprisingly runs dry when you list want it to stop!      

Complexity of the gun
Unlike most magazines which have the mechanism to constantly drive rounds to chambering position, belts needs to be drag into the gun by the gun itself.
Usually a moving cam on the feeding tray cover moves and pushes-pulls the belt to chambering position. The additional parts adding to gun complexity - lowering reliability, increasing gun weight & price etc.

Longer reloading time
As any video game warrior will know, reloading new belt to the gun is far slower than pulling empty mag and inserting new one. This leaves you and your team lacking the suppressive fire, and during the reloading, enemy troops could be using this time to close in on your position. More on the reloading is in the Loading process section.

Handling & guiding the dangling belt(s)
The belt usually requires some sort of guiding from the box to the gun either by the shooter or someone of the machinegun crew members. If the belt is from Non-disintegrating type the operator/s need to handle with two belts from both sides of the gun. How ever, there is the possibility of an "Loose gun"
Most machine guns fires from 'open bolt' so there is a danger of wear-off of the trigger unit result in a gun continue to fire even after a trigger been released. Pop quiz, hotshot: when the gun is magazine fed the shooter simply remove the mag, but when it with belt fed gun, what do U do? Read the Dealing with loose machinegun section to find out!

Belting types

Non-disintegrating belts
The earliest belt feds were fed using non-disintegrating belts where rounds 'sits' on a belt that enter the gun with cartridges and leave from the other side empty. The belt itself doesn't break to links by the gun mechanism. The empty casing usually eject from different ejecting port from where the belt is leaving. The non-disintegrating belts are more reliable but reducing the gun maneuverability.
The non-disintegrating belts are for multi time use and new cartridges can be placed inside the empty belt after the battle.There are two sub-types of non-disintegrating belts: a single flexible strip made from canvas and belt made from metallic links connected to each other.
These can be seen in use during the first and second world wars. There two types of metallic non-disintegrating belts: Close loop belt and Open loop belt. In close loop belts, the cartridges are held by a ring-like links and the close loop belt have the advantage is that the belt itself is more durable. However, the disadvantage of the close loop belt is the gun can only chamber the rounds using the pull & push method. Open loop belt has cartridges are held by hook like grips and they have the advantage that the machine gun can chamber the rounds using the push-through method.While the disadvantage is that the belt is weaker than the close loop type.

Disintegrating belts
The most common belts type now days are the disintegrated one. Every link in the belt hold two sequential rounds and the links are designed such that previous & later links could hold those rounds as well. A machine gun fed from disintegrating belt will eject empty casing and single links, usually from two separate ejecting ports/windows. Disintegrating belts guns are easier to carry and charge with but the dangers of jamming or link breaking are higher. There are two types of links of disintegrating belts: The close loop link and the open loop link. The close loop link has both cartridges held by the one link are grabbed inside a full loop. This has the advantage is that the belt is overall more durable, but the disadvantage is the gun can only chamber the rounds using the pull & push method (the LSAT LMG is probably the only exception to that rule). The open loop link has cartridges are held by hook like grips. The open loop link has advantage is the gun can chamber the rounds using the push-through method. While the disadvantage is that the belt is weaker than the close loop type.

Linkless feed belt
Also called conveyor belt feed, this is a closed loop non-disintegrating belt. Unlike the two previous types this belt served more as transmission belt than a storage device, such belt is common in aircrafts, gunships, remotely control turrets etc. where the belt drive rounds from some automatic system that reloads fresh rounds to the belt and carry them to the gun to be fired.

The Mystery Belt of LMG11

During the 80's H&K develop a family of weapons around the concept of caseless ammunition. One of those guns was the LMG11 Light Machine-Gun.The gun housed enigmatic loading system, inside the gun stock lays a rectangular cassette of 300 rounds; the rounds are perpendicular to the barrel; some unknown loading system is able to move the rounds from the cassette rotates them 90 degrees and chamber them to 3 rounds' rotating chamber. There is little know about this loading system and how can it accomplish such complicate task. Some sources claim that H&K never proceed beyond mock-up model; other claim there was a belt mechanism of some sort.I have tried to figure it out but so far I can't understand how this thing worked (if it did), The rounds numbering in the cassette do not resemble belt arrangement…So far the best explaining to how this think could work I found in H&K Pro website: "The Cartridges chamber themselves for the glory of the Fatherland!"

Chambering methods

The simplest method of chambering is pushing forward the cartridge from the belt into the barrel. Only cartridges with rebated rims could be chambered this way because rimmed cartridge can't slide forward thru the links due to their rims. When using push-through method the belt links can only be open loop type.

\Pull & Push
When rimmed cartridges are involved the machinegun loads the rounds with two-stage method: the bolt backward pull cartridge from the belt then chambering the round to the barrel while moving forward. When using Pull & Push method the belt links can be open or close loop type.

Guns like the Minigun 134 have more complex loading, different from the two previous methods. The cartridges aren't strip out of the belt directly to the barrels but thorough system of what can best be described as an array of rotating rammers & bolts.  

Loading process
When it comes to loading or reloading belt fed gun those guns sucks compares to the loading process of the magazine fed. Generally speaking there are two different loading processes, one for push-through the other to pull & push. Since most of the belt feds firing from open bolt the loading explaining will refer to those guns.

This loading process is generally simpler than the push & pull.

  • The operator retracts the charging handle and the bolt moves backward and held by the  trigger unit.
  • The operator opens the feed tray cover, pull belt out of the box, place the first cartridges at the tray and close the tray.
  •  The gun is ready to fire.
Pull & Push
Pull & push (also known as two-stage loading) requires longer loading time.

  • The operator retracts the charging handle and the bolt moves backward and held by the  trigger unit.
  • The operator opens the feed tray cover, pull belt out of the box, place the first cartridges at the tray and close the tray.
  • The operator pull the trigger and the bolt return to forward position.
  • The operator retracts the charging handle again, the bolt strapping round from the belt which the gun mechanism aligns with the barrel.
  • The gun is ready to fire.
Starter tab – Shorting the reloading time
For simplify the loading process some belts equipped with a starter tab in the beginning of the belt. Instead of opening the feeding tray and carefully place the belt before closing the tray the operator push the tab through the feeding window till the tab emerge from the ejection side, and then pull the tab, placing the first round in the chambering position.  

Dual Feeding

Belt & Magazine
When asked "what you prefer, magazine fed or belt fed?" The correct answer should be BOTH! Several light machineguns were designed with both belt tray & magazine housing.
In the realm of LMG it is common to find such guns with the ability to be fed from both magazine and belt. The magazine can be pan, drum or box magazine.Nowadays, modern SAW like FM Minimi & IWI Negev are a prime example of this type of LMG that doesn't require any field conversion and replacing ammo belt with magazine and vice-versa is few seconds long.
Unfortunately, to date there are now LMG with 'feed mode selector'; either the magazine sleeve is empty of magazine or the belt feed tray is empty. Trying to place both types simultaneously will jam the gun. In order to avoid that jam the FM Minimi was designed with magazine housing at 45 degrees, and with the combination of the dust cover mechanically prevents the possibility of simultaneous dual feed. The IWI Negev don't have such mechanism because the magazine house pointing downward. On the positive side with a magazine the gun perform like regular carbine. An open bolt rapid fire carbine that is…

Two belts
On the other side of the hill there are the heavy machineguns; several of those models, particularly those that been designed for mounted as a twin gun for naval or anti-air purpose, have the ability to be belt fed from both sides.Those guns, like the M2 Browning, are mounted in pairs one beside the other and need to be fed from different directions. Instead of manufacture two models of the same gun, each a mirror image of the other, those guns can be field converted to been fed from right or left according to the need. Empty cases and links fall through bottom ejection port.Taking the concept of dual belt feeding further are the experimental Belgian FN BRG-15 and the in-service Singaporean CIS 50. Those guns have 'feed mode selector' and with two belts placed in the feed tray simultaneous from both sides. With a switch of a bottom the gun change the loading side and the belt used. The ability to be fed from both sides allows two things: Double the gun ammo capacity, when one ammo box dried out the gunner switch to the reserve box. Flexibility dealing different threats, one belt could be regular cartridges while the other armor-piercing bullets or incendiary bullets.
Belt & Electric battery
As we all know – nothing in life is free, and what true to dishwasher electric bill is true to gun automatic cycle. Pushing massive bolt & bolt carrier against compression spring and friction require energy. In regular machinegun the chemical energy of the burning propellant that drives the bullet down the barrel also cycles the gun and its feeding mechanism.
As stated, noting is free, the energy the gun use for cycling is taken out of the muzzle energy the bullet could have. As the gun fire rate increases so is the fraction of propellant energy taken to operate the gun. With miniguns and their rotating multi-barrel structure the demand for energy increase even more. To avoid this problem the more rapid fire guns using external power source, almost always to gun is power from electric source and cycled using electric motor.
Giving that all of those externally powered guns (miniguns & chainguns) are mounted on vehicles the likely power source is the vehicle's alternator or its auxiliary generator.    

One belt & two barrels
Gryazev-Shipunov GSH-23 is the most beautiful ugly unicorn of the machineguns world!
This one of kind soviet auto-cannon is mounted on jetfighters and gunship helicopters and constructs of twin barrel. The gun fed from a single belt and the gun's two bolts cycles and chamber rounds from position no. 1 & 2 on the belt before the gun lever drag the belt two places forward. The gun use alternate fire and have crossed gas system, each fire cycles the other bolt. The result is a gun well balance, when one bolt moves forward the other move backward and vice versa. Having a balanced gun reduce the vibrations and reduce gun wear-off and the danger of fatigue can cause to the aircraft structure.

Dealing with "Loose" Machine Gun
Most belt fed guns fires from open bolt so there's a danger the gun will run wild even if the trigger isn't pulled. When dealing with loose belt fed the operator can’t simple retract the charging handle to restrain the bolt movement or open the feed tray cover, the only answer is to 'starve' to gun, denied it from its ammo.
There are three methods for cut the food supply:
  • Tear the belt
  • This method is more useful for disintegrating belts, the operator saber the belt manually.

Fold the Belt

The belt feds are designed to draw their belts in a straight line, from the belt box to the gun, the operator can fold the belt to opposite side above the close feed tray cover to choke the feeding.

Stab the belt with screwdriver!
Tactical Screwdriver
Machine gun operators sometimes carry a small screwdriver in their one of the pockets.These screwdriver usually used in the process of dismantle and clean the gun. In the case of a loose gun the screwdriver can be pushed to the belt between two rounds and when the gun pulls the belt in the screwdriver will block it. As a testament to this unique method, SEAL Team 6 LMG Operator Neil Roberts, who was killed during the March 2002 Battle of Takur Ghar, wore a screw driver on this tactical gear to service his SAW LMG.

Flexible Feed Chute
Also known as Ammo Feed Chute or Flex Chute this device act as the sleeve of work shirt protects your arms from the surroundings.The Flexible Feed Chute is usually made from metallic links unclosing the ammo belt from most or all direction; some of the designs include softer cover material around the chute to avoid sand & dirt entering the chute. The chute supposed to achieve the following:

  •  Protect the belt from elements that can saber it or carried with the belt into the gun.
  • Though flexible, the chute more rigid than the belt. The chute keeps the belt won't bend or twist too far.
  • The chute stronger than the belt and can stands more bending and pulling forces then the belt can
The problem with Flexible Feed Chute is that of double edge sword, while the chute reduces the chances of failure in the belt it also reduces the ability of the operator to fix the failure if it accrues. The operator may not even able to detect where the jamming or disconnecting of the belt is and even if finding is possible, fixing it will be a pain in the ass.It worth to note that while the tactics needed to stop a loose belt fed gun relays basically on initiated belt jamming it could be nearly impossible to do so with a good feed chute since belt jamming is what the chute is to prevent…    

Tracers' Ratio
Aiming machine guns not always requires sights, one method of aiming is simply fires at the target general directions and observes where the bullets hits by the dust clouds or water sparks of their impact, and then simply correct right/left/up/down the gun accordingly.
Such a backup loop isn't always possible; and firing at night or against aerial targets there aren't clear visible indicators for firing correctness.To solve to problems there are the tracers, tracers are cartridges with bullets fill with illuminate compound. When fired the bullets leave a glowing trail enabling the shooter to correct is aiming. Since tracers have lower ballistic properties and more expensive than regular cartridges most militaries don't use all tracers belts. Most tracers' belts consist of one tracer to several regular. The common ratio is the "1 to 4 ratio" meaning one tracer to four regulars.

Ammo belt box sizes
The different types of belt boxes can be categorized to three groups depend on the place the box is rest/mount while the gun is firing:

Assault box
The smallest and lightest type is the assault box, mounted directly under the machinegun and carry with it. The box usually contains small number of rounds and is latch to gun in a similar way a magazine is connected to gun. In machine guns like the Negev with its magazine housing the upper side of the assault box is shaped as the upper part of STANG magazine so coupling/decoupling is quick as standard STANG magazine.The material those boxes are made of is usually soft material rather than rigid metal or plastic, the reason- reduce the damage those wide boxes can cause when hitting the soldier's ribs when walking or running. Assault boxes provide the maneuverability of magazine fed gun to a belt fed.

Regular box
The regular belt box is a suitcase shaped box with upper opening and upper handle. Firing is done from while the box is rest on the ground next to the gun. Those boxes have larger rounds capacity than the assault boxes but lack their maneuverability, the gun is basically stationary.When the gun is lying in tripod the ammo box sits inside a 'nest' beside the gun. Same is true about tripod as part of vehicle turret – the turret contains place to put the box next to the gun.    

The backpack! It seems to be ultimate solution to all of life problems…Maneuverability of an assault box without the load on the gun and the operator hands and with capacity that dwarf those square regular ammo box, what could go wrong? The idea of this limitless belt box isn't new; the Navy Seals carried a specialized stockless M-60 fed from backpack during raids in Vietnam. That specialized gun developed by China Lake research center and known as "ambush gun". Recently two models been presented & tested by the US Army: Ironman Ammunition Pack System & TYR tactical by Huron™ MICO.
So, what's the problem? Why not equipped every machine gunner with such backpack? The main problem as always is the reliability; ammo belts are vulnerable for jamming & tearing. When those problems happens in the other types of boxes where both gun & box are in front of the gunner it's easier to fix the problem, when to box is on your back... good luck sir! Try to imagine scratching your back, know replace the scratch with delicate manual labor and add to it doing that under fire!


Arrangement of rounds in the box
Whether it a disintegrating belts or non-disintegrating belts, those belt needs to be folded inside the box; there two ways to folds the belt:

The rectangular ammo box stores their rounds in a layers formation, the single belt is folded back and forward and stacked on itself.

The drum like ammo boxes holds the rounds in a spiral path


Current Development and Trends of Ammo Belt

LSAT project
The LSAT (Lightweight Small Arms Technologies) as initiated in 2004 and founded by the U.S. Joint Service Small Arms Program, The goal was to resource and develops new technologies and concepts to reduce weight & volume of both gun and ammo. One of the offspring of the program is the LSAT LMG, developed and manufacture by a group of 8 companies led by AAI Corporation.The LSAT LMG appeared to be regular LMG; belt fed from left side, changeable barrels etc.But when it comes to its ammo and interior there is nothing regular about this sweet eye candy… at all!
There two models of this gun, one for firing telescoped polymer cased rounds (CT) the other fires caseless rounds (CS). Both models are fed from disintegrating belts composed of closed loop polymer links.
The belt loaded to the gun as other regular belt. When the gun cycle the 'bolt' moves forward and push cartridge out of the link into a swinging firing chamber, then the firing chamber swing from chambering position to firing position aligning the chamber with the barrel and the gun is ready to fire. When the next cycle repeat the firing chamber swing back to chambering position and the 'bolt' pushes fresh cartridge to the chamber that push the spent cartridge (in the case of CT) or misfire cartridge (in the case of CS) out of the chamber and into front ejection port.
The links are ejected from other ejection port. A short charging handle on the right side of the gun connect to a rammer enable to eject the last round from the chamber after all belt rounds been fired. This irregular chambering system remained me very much the G11 operation… and for no coincidence. Like the G11 the LSAT LMG has to load fragile caseless rounds in simple forward movement without any longitudinal movements or shocks, like G11 it need the ability to clear the chamber out of fragments or unburned propellant. So the unfixed firing chamber concept is used with both guns.The LSAT LMG reached its goals of reducing weight & volume and appears will be the founding father of the next generation of machine guns in years to come.

The Future of Ammo Belts
Other then the LSAT program there is little known about any promising next-gen technologies for the old ammo belt. Not too helpful are the SF movies and computer games, even when belt fed gun is not poorly portrayed the result on screen isn't very imaginary or intriguing. This section, "the future of", will be mostly speculative on my behalf.  

The Near Future:

Combustible strip ammunition belt

The LSAT LMG program is the clear induction of the way to come, and while the LSAT's cartridges are caseless their belt's links aren't.A fully 'caseless' belt will have combustible strip embedded inside the caseless round's propellant along the longitudinal axis of each round.The gun's bolt or bolt carrier will have some sort of "box cutter" to saber the belt and separate leading round from the belt before chamber it to firing chamber. The ignition of the propellant will consume the strip inside of the round.

Integral ammo box and batter
With the introduction of better and lighter electric batteries and electric motors in the following decades the option of placing chainguns in the hands of infantry will become plausible, not to mention extremely cool! Like their modern cosines, the handheld ones will be fed by both belt and external battery. For simplicity in reloading and supplying those two elements will be integrated in to one unit – an ammo box with a built in battery (boxttery??). With assault box the electric connectors of the box and gun are mated by simply plugging the box into the gun.With the bigger box types there be an extended cord pulled from the box to the gun's connector, like the belt is pulled out of the box into the gun. If the box has Flexible Feed Chute the cord will be integrated within the chute. Other than cycle the gun, the battery can power electric ignition for caseless rounds (ALIENS M56 smart gun?) or optics and such…  

Double-barrel machinegun
The concept of alternate fire machinegun like the Gryazev-Shipunov GSH-23 is something that may one day could been scale down to a handheld version.Currently several of the next-gen AK-like guns developed in Russia have a counter mass that moves opposite the bolt when gun is firing. This agreement results in balanced assault rifle which is very controllable under auto fire. A scale down GSH-23 will give machine gunner controllable rapid rate of fire.

The Far Future:

Belt of disposable power cells or Gauss/Railgun/Plasma bullets or cartridges
In my previous article 'The Magazine' I explore the different types of far future magazines.
The future ammunition may come as some type of discrete units: disposable one-shot power cell, Gaussgun slugs, ampoules of hydrogen slush or something else we can't even guess. Such discrete units can be stacked inside a magazine, and they can also chain to each other in a belt. In such scenario it is stand to reason that the 'rifles' will be fed from magazines loaded with that future ammo while the LMGs feds from belts of the same ammo type.

Integral ammo box with battery
Similar to the boxttery powering the chainguns, the far future boxtteries will power the rail/gauss/plasma guns. The boxttery will contain belt of slugs for railgun/gaussgun or belt of pellets/ampoules for plasma LMG and the battery will powered the firing mechanism.  

Gauss magnetic belt
One neat feature of Gauss slugs is their ability to chain to each other without any belt!
Gauss slugs are simply magnetic cylinders, if those slugs made to be pointy from both sides than those slugs could attach by magnetic attraction to form a belt. The slugs are chained with alternate polarity where one slug's north pole is attach to next slug's south pole - so the Gaussgun need to switch polarity every shot to throw the slug down the barrel and not to the shooter shoulder! Needless to say, a great consideration will need to thought-out of how to prevent different layers of the belt in the ammo box to stick to one another.  

Science Fiction and the Ammo Belts
In popular media in general and science fiction in particular,  ammo belts and belt-fed guns share the same fate of their younger sibling – the magazine; in the golden age of science fiction, the weapon of choice for any author or movie writer was a silverfish ray-gun with bottomless battery, no misfeeding or misfiring, no moving parts spewing empty cases and links etc. In recent 30 years the trend toward slugs' throwers (cough! ALIENS, cough) return the magazines to the scene. Though the portraying of magazines was far than perfect it still much better than the portraying of the belt feds. A few examples in recent years give me hope that not all is lost. The most promising arena is the first person shooter games, when the games deals with real gun –shooting, choking & reloading are portrays with great accuracy.


Hydra Disposable Power Cells Belt Backpack from Captain America: the First Avenger 
Although cheesy and soft SF - the first Captain America movie features very unique ammo belt design. All Hydra weapons powered using bluish energy extracted from the Tesseract and stored as small blue orbs. The heavier elements of Hydra troopers carry gun firing this denigrating blue bolt, those guns are fed from backpack thru a flexible feed chute what lead me to believe that those orbs are carried by some sort of a belt from the pack to the gun. Supporting my thesis are small blue lights glittering thru the links of the chute 'indicating' that there orbs there on their path between the pack and the gun. No empty belt or links are leaving the gun so I guess Hydra's engineers must design the gun such that some of the denigrating energy used to denigrate the belt itself, nicely done lads…  

Old Painless Ammo Belt Backpack from Predator
What would Predator be without the beloved Old painless? And what would Old painless be without is trusty companion, Old Back pain?? This M134 is been fed from ammo backpack thru a flexible feed chute. The pack holds approximately 550 rounds of 7.62x51mm NATO. Ol' painless most likely not be the first to present the backpack & flexible feed chute concept on the silver screen but for sure it the most memorable and loved appearance! In the more correct sequel Predators from 2010, there is another handheld rotary cannon fed from an ammo belt backpack as a nod to the original film.

The APU Automatic Reloading System and Ammo Trolleys from the Matrix Revolution 
While Neo fight his battle against Agent Smith inside the Matrix, back in reality, the fight for the survival of Zion rest on the metallic shoulders of the Armored Personnel Unit warriors. The APU holds two auto cannons in their "hands" which feeds from two ammo boxes placed on the unit "back". Reloading the units while fighting is the job of Zion's "power monkeys" – a group of men/boys carry those duty during the apex of combat is to transport ammo boxes from the sheltered ammo room to the APU in-field using a specialized trolleys. The trolleys have uplifting ramps to move the boxes from floor height to the APU's "back". During the Battle of the Docks, Kid was a member of the Power Monkeys that delivered fresh boxes of ammo to APUs during the choas of the bloody battle. This was all seen on-screen.

The CARB Weapon System LMG11 type belt feeding from AVATAR
This movie is set at the year 2154 so I guess H&K did unlock the secrets around the LMG11 belt. When raiding the Navi the RDA uses the CARB assault rifle, this gun carries a box-like magazine in a bullpup configuration.Thing is the box dimensions are all wrong, the gun's caseless round is 6.2x35mm and the box is very long and wider than 35mm, plus the box contains 80 rounds.Giving all stated above I think there are compelling evidences that those rounds are perpendicular to the barrel and they been fed similar to the ancient LMG11 (in the 22th century the 80's of the 20th probably viewed as some dark ages…).

The LSAT LMG from Call of Duty:  Black ops 2 & Ghosts
The  caseless LSAT light machine guns famously appears in both Call of Duty Black Ops II & Ghosts with a great deal of accuracy to the real-world weapon. In Black Ops 2 the gun have rounds digital counter which don't appears in the real gun. Not only is this a rare appearance of an caseless weapon, but a belt-fed light machine gun to boot!

The XO-16 40mm Automatic Loading System from Titanfall
In the computer game Titanfall, huge humanoid Mechas carries huge guns with their mechanic palms. Two of those guns are the auto cannons XO-16 & 40mm, and while replacing the empty ammo box with new one been done using the Titan left "arm", pulling the belt from the box into the gun isn't done by the 'arm' cause it too clumsy but as part of the guns inborn mechanism.


The M56 Smartgun drum of non-disintegrating ammo belt from ALIENS
During the firing spree in atmosphere processor scene privates Vasquez & Drake spray & pray using the M56 smartgun. The gun is a dressed-up German MG42 machine gun, the MG42 is a belt fed from a saddle drum, and the belt is non-disintegrating arrange in a spiral path in the drum. A closer look in the atmosphere processor scene revealed the empty belt emerge from the gun right side while the empty casing been digitally removed from the video like the M41A1 pulse rifle so both could appear caseless guns.  

Next on FWS Armory...a Song of Fire and Water
For my next FWS Armory I leave it to you, the trusty FWS readers, to decide which will be my next article. In the Yellow corner is the flamethrower article all blazing and in the Blue corner it’s the underwater firearms article feeling a bit blue. Which of them you like to see and read? Leave a comment and tell me!

Next Time on FWS...
There are times when a book takes the central ideas about military sci-fi and alters them. Author Chris Martin and artist Ben Mauro have unleashed such a novel with Engines of Extinction: Episode I "The End and the The Means". In the next installment of the FWS serial on book reviews, we will be diving into the shadowy world of Engines of Extinction.