Review: On Nuclear Terrorism

On Nuclear Terrorism

Michael Levi’s On Nuclear Terrorism has been the best book I’ve read in some time. In fact, of all the books and papers I’ve read on this topic, it’s arguably the greatest. Levi takes a holistic approach, using the analogy of a sports team where trying to judge each component in isolation falls short. Although he uses baseball when football is a much better analogy. Oh well.

The decision to look at the big picture as well as noting the issues that alarmist worst-case analysis brings are relevant to much more than countering nuclear terrorism. He also turns “the terrorists only have to succeed once” statement on its head by pointing out that while true, it can also be said that “they have to succeed every step of the way, while their opponents only have to succeed at one”. This sort of reasoning is welcome whatever the subject.

Not that this is a brief overview-it goes into a lot of detail on things like the uses and limitations of scanning detectors and does a lot of detail on gun-type weapons (implosion ones get less effort, because given the issues states have had, non-state actors going for them is arguably pushing it). And he even goes into psychology as well, which is important for the goals of irregular groups.

The impression I’ve gotten from this and other sources is that nuclear terrorism can be compared to Y2K. Y2K was mistakenly perceived as an overblown panic when in reality it was a legitimate issue largely solved by a massive effort when the new millennium rolled around. Similarly, while the threat of even a radioactive Beirut/Tianjin/Port Chicago-level blast (to say nothing of even a Little Boy-level bomb) is a legitimately frightening one, the similarly massive efforts to work against it have (to date of course) deterred even attempted nuclear terror attacks. The Aum Shinrinkyo cult marked the only known attempt at a substantive irregular nuclear program, and it failed despite numerous factors in its favor (lots of money, able to operate openly pre-chemical attacks, and access to Russia at the depths of its 1990s desperation).

Bad sports analogies and occasional clunkiness aside, this is an excellent book.

Review: Onslaught

The Fae Wars: Onslaught

J. F. Holmes’ The Fae Wars: Onslaught is the story of magical evil elves invading the contemporary world with magic that can overcome technology. It’s just a cheap thriller, but it’s a fun cheap thriller. The action is constant and told from both sides, with both experiencing difficulties.

While the military stuff is frequently both contrived (foreign arms dealers getting a giant super-arsenal into New York City), and inaccurate (the human aircraft engage at far closer distances than they realistically would, for one), this isn’t the kind of book where one would quibble about such things. It’s a fun magitech war novel that should be treated as a fun magitech war novel.

Review: Redux


The second book in Steven Konkoly’s Black Flagged series of thrillers, Redux sadly doesn’t live up to either its predecessor Alpha or the later Deep Sleep. Granted, it took me a while to read it because of too close things-first, it involved killer diseases, second, it involved Russia, but I finally got around to it. It’s still not exactly the worst thriller ever, but it’s not the author’s best, unfortunately.

While the action isn’t exactly bad per se, the book still bounces around too much from character to character and place to place. This combined with the frequent exact spelling out of every weapon and accessory makes it look like a Gold Eagle book-and not in a good way. Even the best players can swing and miss, and this is a miss.

Review: Africa Burning

Africa Burning

Back when I was young, I made a horrendously negative review of Gavin Parmar’s Africa Burning, talking about how little sense the tale of a giant army of T-90s and M113s (really) appearing in the Chadian desert to charge up into the modernized, reformed, opened Libya made. (Boy did that “prediction”, made pre-2011, about the direction of the country, age poorly).

Now, well, I have a soft spot for this amateur Ian Slater/technothriller/shoot the terrorist-wannabe novel. It reads like someone acting out their action hero fantasies after seeing and reading a lot of relevant fiction, and the earnest, genuine quality of it has made me smile. I may not recommend actually reading it, but at least I don’t have a bad feeling towards it anymore.

Review: All Lines Black

All Lines Black

The internet novella has grown on me as a way to “sample” an author’s work before I “chow down”. So it was with great interest that I picked up Dalton Fury’s All Lines Black. This short tale of operator Kolt Raynor (again with the cheap thriller names!) in the middle east isn’t going to set any records for originality or serve as anything but a writing sample.

However, the writing is excellent. The action fundamentals are done right, and that’s what matters in a genre like this. Given Fury’s (it’s a pen name, obviously) legit experience, it works fine, even if it understandably gets a little too Herman Melville in places. If you want fun, I recommend this.

Weird Wargaming: The Jeep Compass Army

Using variants of civilian vehicles from Model Ts and Rolls Royces in World War I to the omnipresent Land Cruisers and Hiluxes of today is nothing new. But I saw a proposal from an Indian armoring firm (which also advertised the boxiest armored vehicles ever) for uparmored Jeep Compasses, and my brain sparked. After all, compact crossovers like it are so common now, so why not send them to war? This isn’t like the classic jeep, even in its latest form.

Well, there’s obvious reasons against it. It can barely fit five normal-sized people without wargear. Five big soldier men with all their equipment would probably be a nonstarter. You could use it as a pure weapons carrier-but the disadvantages of that would be obvious as well. There are plenty of off the shelf SUVs far more suitable… but I don’t care.

The Compasses would be used by recon/raiding teams, being too small (regardless of how many people you can stuff inside) to be a line carrier. The least bad option, of gun vehicles, involves a crew of three with extra munitions in the (gulp) trunk/back. Even then, the Compass has a max payload of only around 1,100 pounds/500 kilograms. Which would probably have been eaten up by the armoring, but I’ll let it slide for now.

So, here it goes:

  • Command vehicle: Unit commander, driver, comms equipment, aide, maybe lighter machine gun RWS.
  • Personnel Carrier: Driver, 2-4 additional troops, lighter machine gun RWS.
  • Weapons Carrier: Driver, Gunner, Commander, either light missile or heavy machine gun.

The number of vehicles of each type depends on the exact mission. And the Jeep Compass could be replaced by any light SUV. And I do not recommend actually trying these small light SUVs unless you have no other choice.

Even Cheapies Are Expensive

So take these cheapie eastern night vision division devices: Good for a range of 150-200 meters depending on context, around $700 a pop. Both goggles/binoculars and rifle scopes for different contexts.

Yukon Tracker
Yukon NVRS Scope

To equip the line personnel (defined here as those in the actual fighting regiments/brigades) of one small division in the absolute most oversimplified fashion would be around $7-10 million, depending on the exact size. Getting around 5,000 sets, but then there comes the hard part: Maintaining 5,000 sets, keeping track of 5,000 sets, making sure that those 5,000 sets aren’t lost (via honest or dishonest means…), and so on.

Now apply this to almost any even slightly expensive piece of military equipment and you can see why, for instance, Egypt still issues its draftees equipment left over from the Yom Kippur War. That’s an extreme example, but you can see how even the individually “cheap” stuff can be expensive, particularly for less funded armies. And you can see both the political and military advantage of reserving such a thing for “elite” units if one has no choice but to only acquire a limited number of said items.

And you need a lot of stuff, to the point where it’s almost an “I, Pencil” situation. Boots, uniforms, load bearing equipment, helmets, packs, shelters, it all adds up. The bottlenecks can appear where you wouldn’t think they would. For instance, many people know of WWII Germany’s fuel shortages, and historians know of their special alloy shortages, but what a lot of either don’t know is of their cotton shortage resulting in less effective leather load bearing equipment.

Review: The Counter Terrorist Manual

The Counter Terrorist Manual

I’ve had a soft spot for Leroy Thompson’s The Bodyguard Manual, simply because of its excess. Sadly, The Counter Terrorist Manual is not quite as well, excessive. The impression I got of this was, well, like one of those “here’s what happens!” picture books, giving a very basic history and overview of SOF units. So it’s not even a book for mall ninjas. It’s a book for wannabe mall ninjas.

But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This does give the idealized basics of counter-terror special forces. Just take everything in it with a highway truck of salt and you’ll be fine. And don’t read if you desire the slightest depth or critical perspective.

Review: Ice and Monsters

Ice and Monsters

When I saw that Peter Nealen was doing an entry in the same “Wargate” military isekai series as Forgotten Ruin, I knew I had to instantly get it. So I did instantly get Ice and Monsters. It has the same basic concept as Forgotten Ruin, only the deliberate expedition gives way to an inadvertent gate transport, as recon marines on an exercise near Norway find themselves in a Norse-themed horror fantasy world. It also has the same basic strengths-and weaknesses.

The strengths are that the action is good and the modern forces weaknesses and vulnerabilities are emphasized instead of their capabilities and advantages. The weaknesses involve not taking advantage of the potential for worldbuilding in favor of just an artificial swarm of trash mobs. What’s grated upon me after seeing it the second time is the nominal commander being a cross between a Gorman-style out-of-his-depth boss and a “we need to talk things out” nebbish. As the narrator even admits, you should have to see what local ties you can forge when severely outnumbered.

But nope, the captain is clearly duped by the Evil Magic Viking one-dimensional savages from the get-go, and all hints of moral ambiguity are tossed aside once the protagonists find a set of imprisoned “good guys”. How convenient! Yes, it’s a cheap thriller in what’s openly stated as an Adventure Friendly World. But a little more worldbuilding would go a long way.

Also there’s a personal stylistic nitpick, which is that Nealen clearly is comfortable writing in first person when I prefer his third person thrillers. But I kind of expected that. This is a decent cheap thriller but it still could have been better with just a bit more thought and finesse.

Weird Wargaming: The Soviet-Romanian War

If you want to use small-unit wargames in my never-was draft percolating of a futuristic USSR deciding to finish off a surviving Ceausescu, some basic guidelines. Obviously, it’ll depend on the exact ruleset, but here’s the basics:

Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics

The USSR, under a Sovereign Union that in real life got scuttled by the August Coup, follows the 1990s GENFORCE “Mobile Forces” concept. Which is to say a multi-tier force. The “Basic Forces” divisions resemble slightly better late Cold War ones. The Mobile Forces ones have more futuristic equipment, better body armor/night vision, and substantially better training.

Mobile Forces battalions are organically combined arms mixed. APCs/IFVs are three to a platoon with each squad having a magazine LMG and rocket launcher. Company weapons platoons have lighter ATGMs and belt/tripod GPMGs. All Mobile Forces mechanized battalions have a large number of organic 2S31s (or Nonas for less-equipped formations).

Given the terrain, mountain formations have been plucked and sent in. GENFORCE mountain brigades are a four-infantry-one-tank battalion setup with supporting equipment suited for high altitudes (ie, lighter and higher-angle artillery). They also have a separate APC battalion that can be used to motorize if the terrain is appropriate. The one historical Soviet mountain brigade was inherited by Kyrgyzstan and consisted of two BMP and two soft-skin battalions with some attached cavalry and pack animal units.

Soviet Allies

The main contributors to the Soviet effort are Bulgaria and the stabilized Afghanistan. The former mobilizes to its full ability, which means it runs the gauntlet from “1980s NSWP” to “T-34s and World War I heavy artillery” (hey, if it can shoot and make a big explosion, it’s still worth something). The latter contribute a fairly standard BTR-equipped motor rifle division and numerous commando units.


Romania has a regular army with a degree of military modernization that it lacked. While select units have SRBMs based on foreign civilian sounding rockets, bespoke grenade launchers, and more (comparably) advanced tanks like the bizarrely shaped TAA, others are bottom of the barrel. All units should be mostly low quality, but some (particularly Securitat irregulars) will have better morale than others if applicable.

Organizationally, most should resemble lower-tier eastern forces.