Review: White Horizon

White Horizon

TK Blackwood’s 1990s continued Cold War gone conventionally hot series continues in White Horizon, an excellent installment. The Fuldapocalypse not only continues apace but features the powerful but often overlooked country of Sweden as a major setting. Featuring everything that has made the past installments so good, this was a joy to read.

The only real “problem” was teasing a successor. But that’s a good problem to have. This shows that the “cold war gone conventionally hot” subgenre still has quite a bit of life in it.

Review: Infiltrated

I recently finished Infiltrated, the latest (as of this post) entry in the Duncan Hunter series by Mark Hewitt. I was extremely relieved to be done with it, having gone ahead with the final two books out of plain curiosity. It probably was not the wisest decision out there.

By now the main character is an internet Navy SEAL meme done unironically. The set pieces are reduced to the same old superplane gimmick that’s already been repeated many times over. But those are small problems compared to the absolute biggest sign of devolution: The series has become more than ever like William W. Johnstone.

Like Johnstone, the final two books have been taken over more and more by repetitive political rants. They reach a particular low in Infiltrated, not helped by a change in tone. The conspiracies go from “The Hindenburg was destroyed by communists and Amelia Earhart kidnapped by a Soviet submarine and sold into slavery in the Middle East” to boring, annoying, and slightly creepy internet conspiracy theories turned real. It’s like going from “Actually, JFK was killed by a combination of Jackie and the car’s driver” to someone going on tirade after tirade on the “international bankers”.

So yeah, I’m glad to be finished. It was a fun ride for a few books, but overstayed its welcome without a good stopping point.

Review: Wet Work

Wet Work

Mark Hewitt’s Hunter series continues its crazy in Wet Work, the fifth installment. It gets harder to review a later book in a long series unless the quality changes massively in either direction. This is not the case here. Like most of its predecessors, it’s a sprawling technothriller with a ridiculous main character who makes John Rourke look like an everyman in comparison.

Thankfully, one thing about this book is different and better. The final action set piece is actually tense and well written. But even that can’t break it out of the pack of “I love reading them, but don’t really recommend them for other people” that the first four established.

VTOL Landing Zones

Finding the (ideally) safe landing zone radius for hypothetical VTOL transports is a little hard because there haven’t been that many of them. The first precedent is the ideal landing radius for a V-22.

From a Marine Document, we get:

V-22s are about 84 feet wide at their widest. So that ranges from 2.1 times their width/wingspan to 4.1 times.

The second is an EASA draft regulation on “vertiports”. The “D” value is defined a circle around the aircraft when its thrusters are in takeoff/landing mode.

Credit EASA

The draft describes the safe landing area as at least 1.5 times the D-value of the aircraft plus a safety buffer of at least 3 meters or 0.25 times the D-value, whichever is greater. These are of course just guidelines (and keep in mind they’re for constant civilian travel, not military action), but they’re still good rules of thumb.

SOF Infiltration Techniques

I’ve decided to kick off the new year on Fuldapocalypse with my current “I justify it by claiming it’s for book research, but really it’s mostly for its own fun sake” obsession. This is the way special forces teams are infiltrated (moved in to their target, almost always with the intention of stealth).

Granted, there are elite teams moving about in All Union (without spoiling any specific element), and the Soviet-Romanian War saw the biggest deployment of special forces in modern history. But it’s still a fascinating topic. So in rough order from least to most complicated…

  • On Foot. This is the most basic type, with very obvious limitations. In this case the borders are already packed with conventional troops (including recon ones), so very few to no SPF teams would go in that way.
  • Helicopter/VTOL. This needs little explanation. Both its strengths and weaknesses are pretty obvious to those with basic military knowledge.
  • Boat. This also doesn’t need much explanation. In this specific case, it’s hindered by Romania having only a small amount of coastline suitable for amphibious landings. One 1970 CIA analysis put it at only nine miles (page 10), but this admittedly would be far less a problem for small SOF craft as opposed to large landers.
  • Ground Vehicle. AKA the Desert Rats. This gives the force a lot more mobility once in the target area, but it also makes it more noticeable and adds to their logistical areas. And especially for the more prosaic role of most spetsnaz, this also overlaps to a large extent with the horde of BRDMs and long-range patrols in “conventional” units.
  • Static Line Parachute. This is less precise than helicopters but can take advantage of (often) longer range or higher-performing aircraft. The type of aircraft also differs-I have a soft spot for planes like the An-2 and C-145 Skytrucks that are small for mass paradrops but quite able to release small teams.
  • Infiltration in Peacetime. This uses secret agents and other “peaceful” means to help bring the SPF in before the fighting starts. The problem is that you need a good network of secret agents to succeed this way.

These are the mundane, usual, “boring” techniques. Now for the “interesting” ones.

  • Free fall parachute jumps. Requiring more skill and risk, this is further divided into the “easier” HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) and “harder” (High Altitude High Opening) jumps. The former is mostly intended for unconventional war to keep the drop plane hidden (in a visual and sound sense) and less vulnerable, while the latter is an extreme jump that involves the parachutists gliding a considerable distance.
  • Ultralight aircraft and paramotors. Mentioned in both the GENFORCE-Mobile and TC 7-100.2 manuals for special forces insertion, these seemingly silly devices have been considered a serious way of moving in. The performance of motorized paragliders and ultralight planes varies, but can be “increased” if only a one way trip in is needed.
  • Wingsuits. The most exotic yet, these are mentioned in TC 7-100.2 and the various Worldwide Equipment Guides. Still conceptual as of this writing and the absolute hardest to use, these squirrel-gliders are nonetheless, well, awesome. Especially the powered ones.

It’s important to note that the majority of historical spetsnaz from the 1950s to 1991 were still two-year draftees. The best and most motivated two-year draftees, but still two-year draftees. Infiltrators in the second category in a Soviet-style military would have to be officers or professional volunteers with longer-term contracts to get the time to master such exotic techniques.

A massive number of Soviet, Bulgarian, and Afghan special purpose forces participated in the invasion of Romania. The very first substantial Soviet casualties in the war came when a Romanian MiG-23 shot down a transport carrying SPF for a parachute insertion, killing all eighteen people on board. While those three nations are well known, there have also been rumors of other SPF as well as western mercenaries disguised as employees for humanitarian NGOs.

Review: Blown Cover

Blown Cover

The fourth book in Mark Hewitt’s Hunter series, Blown Cover is a book where I did not want the crazy to stop. The crazy was the entire point of the series, and for it to become just another middling thriller would be taking the “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music” issue to extremes. Thankfully, the crazy becomes, if anything, even crazier.

There’s Amelia Earhart conspiracies, Hindenburg conspiracies, the same conspiracies in the last three books, and more. And this book even has a -shock- actually well written action set piece. There’s a genuinely effective action scene where the protagonist has to struggle his way to the cockpit in a depressurizing plane that’s truly well written. Yes, there’s hundreds of pages of clunky crazy surrounding it, but still.

So yes, I had genuine fun with this book. It might even be my favorite so far in the series, just because of how excessive it is. I like excessive cheap thrillers.

Review: The Eleven Days of Christmas

The Eleven Days of Christmas

For Christmas, I feel like I should review a Christmas book. A Christmas book that’s also a Fuldapocalyptic history book is Marshall Michel’s The Eleven Days of Christmas, about the final significant bombing campaign in the Vietnam War. Michel, himself an aviator veteran of the war, left no stone unturned to try and get the full story. To try and find the truth about Linebacker II, he went not only to American sources, but as many North Vietnamese ones as he could access, and even esoteric ones like the memoirs of Joan Baez (who was in Hanoi at the time).

The result is a masterpiece that illustrates Strategic Air Command as this clunky newbie that had sat out the war and then blundered into it. And also spun its clumsy, ineffective performance into a great victory. This is perhaps the biggest unintentional weakness of the book: The claim that Linebacker II was mixed at best and ineffective at worst is a lot less controversial now than it was at the time he wrote it.

Still, anyone interested in the Vietnam air war has to get this book. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

Review: No Need to Know

No Need to Know

The third in Hewitt’s Hunter series, No Need to Know is every bit as out-there as the first two (if not more). Once again, I’m in the somewhat unusual position of not recommending them for other people while having a blast reading them myself. The conspiracies don’t stop in this book, and neither do the set-pieces.

In fact, this is actually better paced if anything than the second and especially the first book. While it’s still overly long, it feels like it flows better and doesn’t have that many outright dull moments. Ok, except those involving the details of operation the YO-3 airplane, which is obsessed over throughout the series.)

That sounds like faint praise. And the inherent flaws of the first two are still there. But still it’s nice to see an author’s craft get genuinely better.

Review: Shoot Down

Shoot Down

The second of Mark Hewitt’s Hunter thrillers, Shoot Down is somewhat different from the first in terms of setup. Almost the entire W.E.B. Griffin style pop epic is gone in favor of just a then-contemporary cheap thriller. Unfortunately, this just means we get a thriller twice as long as it should be. And with all the issues and then some.

And yet, I have not just finished this book with its “shoot the terrorist” plot, I’ve even moved on to the third installment. Because this is flawed in an interesting way, and I want to see how uh, “interesting” it becomes. But I still don’t recommend this series for “normal” readers.