Review

A2 Wars

A long time ago,

 

In a galaxy far, far away,

 

There were only L119A1 builds…

The recently completed L119 Owners Club build competition (Check out The Reptile House Blog’s post here) has given me a little opportunity to take stock on where the L119 build scene is.  The incredibly high standard of entries and the care and craft of the builds was staggering, and judging it alongside Rich and Andy was a fun and interesting experience.

But casting my mind back to when I first started on the L119 build route, it was a different story…  This one is long, as ever, TL:RD at the bottom.

G&P was probably the ‘standard’ build, they were good solid AEGs, and you could fit them out with the following:

–  A G&P C8A1 body (This had the Diemaco badge but ‘C8’ makings), or a Dragon Red L119A1 marked body.

–  A Guarder Storm Grip’

–  A VFC PEQ-15 was the best about – before the FMA and later Element LA5’s were available.  G&P PEQ-2s were also in vogue.

– A repro Surefire flash hider with a murky OEM.

– A PerrMike suppressor.  These suppressors were initially somewhat rough and ready but the later generations were solid, well build and surprisingly well detailed.  They directly threaded onto a barrel, with flushed or recessed options.  No trades however, the weld line was a simple raised ring about the body.

– If you were really lucky you might snag a real Diemaco DIS or even a real UKSF spec KAC RAS.

– When building a SFW upper you would want an exceptionally sought after Army Code reinforced front sight and either Pro Arms or Perr Mike barrel extension.  If you couldn’t source these it was a milliput job.

Obviously there were other options, PTWs with Prime receivers and GBBRs, a host of creative options and work arounds.  There was a veritable cottage industry which was spearheaded  by Mike P in providing enthusiasts with parts, and Zeroin and UKAZ provided build threads which were in essence the precursor to the Facebook groups of today.

Later Warlord and Begadi sprang up, LA5s were cloned and more accessible engraving lead to a profusion in the quality and breadth of builds.  I find it hard to quantify this looking back, but public domain reference material and common knowledge seemed far scanter too.

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Panopte’s excellent builds and iconic photography really inspired my later builds.

My first build was a G&P L119A1 with C8 marked body, I bought it half built from a forum and finished it off myself and was immensely proud.  Looking back it wasn’t a terrible build, but it could have been far better – it was certainly far better than my kits were back then.

My second attempt was the TM NGRS L119A1 I still consider my primary today, but it has been revised and tweaked hugely over the years.  Now I am building an NGRS A2 and GHK A2, both somewhat slowed by the buying of a house which needed rather a lot of work.

This quick history lesson from when I started on the impression scene is just by way of illustration of how far the scene has come.  Back then no one cared hugely if your trades said C8 or L119 (although the latter did have some cache), no one had the correct buffer tube or receiver extension nut, pretty much no one had receiver mods, no one had the correct stickers on their PEQ-15 and while real parts were far from unheard of, they weren’t as prevalent.  I am sure there were developments and proto builds from times before I was involved in the scene, a few of the well known names from back then are still about, if not quite as visible, although many have drifted away.

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The fact the trades said ‘C8A1’ wasn’t a big thing, so long as you had the ‘D’…

This is not nostalgia for a time of lower standards, nor a pat on the back for advancing from builds which by today’s standards might be considered crude.  Rather it is related partly to let people who joined the scene later know just a smidge about how it used to be, and also to give a sense of perspective.

So back to the present, and the staggering quality of the entries into the L119 Owners Competition – evidence of how the scene now has a laser focus, and as one item is sourced and honed as a replica attention moves onto the next how things can be improved, how the envelope of what can be done with a toy gun is pushed.  The hobby for people who build impression builds isn’t really about airsoft, it’s an exercise in creativity, research and craft which is somewhat tangential in its geekery.  You can  certainly look at the winners of the competition as examples of these high standards, but it might be even more informative to look at the staggeringly good builds which missed out, not to mention the judge’s builds – Rich and Andy, had they not agreed to judge, would both have been among the front runners.

This development of the hobby, the desire for accurate, beautiful, well researched builds is great, and a testament to the community, and it’s not so much that the builds are not better so much as the older builds laid the groundwork and sparked the interest in L119s.

It’s all a very cool and exciting place to be – but this brings me onto the real point of this article, after a very long meandering preamble:

Tribalism and Elitism.

This is nothing new – anyone who remembers the old forums also remembers the savage arguments, pissing contests, locked threads and silliness which came with them.  The fact that via realsim events and impression groups more contributors actually know and have met each other has helped alleviate the issue somewhat, as does the fact Facebook is largely real names, it certainly isn’t as anonymous as forum handles.  The issue has far from disappeared however.

Now there are different approaches to building replicas, and people follow one, or a combination of these approaches.  Anything from directly cloning a reference picture, to putting your own spin on a build but using commonly referenced parts, to creative unique builds with a variety of accessories, so long as they’ve been pictured at least once.  The Reptile House Blog wrote a piece trying to coin terms for these different approachesand while I might not be universally in line with every part of the article, it’s an astute attempt to categorise the common approaches.  Adherents to these various methodologies do occasionally have a tendency to dismiss the other though, to draw a line and decide on what is and is not a valid approach.

This can get further rarefied if you begin to define various features as the hallmarks of a valid build.  Such as use of real parts, or maybe it should be GBBR since electric rifles (AEGs/PTWs/NGRS) are all far more sterile in terms of operation and ‘feel’. ..  Such delineation between valid and non valid builds very much about gatekeeping and trying to discredit other approaches, and is often a matter of very subjective personal preference, and can seem arbitrary.

My main bug-bear which the title makes an allusion to is the idea that an L119A2 replica should have a true monolithic receiver to be a valid build.  A monolithic ‘integrated upper receiver’ is a hallmark of the L119A2, true; but so is firing 5.56, being a certain weight, being operated in a certain way, having a QD suppressor etc  etc…  The only way you have a truly valid build is by signing up, passing selection and being issued a true L119A2 out the armoury – anything else is a matter of interpretation and is part of the hobby.

I tend to view the validity of builds as a sliding scale, at one end you have the poorly researched monstrosity which you might only know is meant to be an L119 because the owner told you, and at the other you have the absolutely flawless build upon which the owner has lavished no end of attention, care and money.

Most people are trying to push their builds from one end toward the other, within the limitations of their budget, platform of choice and personal commitment to it – some people want their build to stand up to scrutiny from centimetres away under carefully composed photos, others want their builds to look the part from a few feet back when putting their boot through a door – and while one approach is undoubtedly more accurate than another, both are valid.  I think most people into this niche segment of the hobby can if they are honest decide when a build is credible enough to be deemed a fair shot.  It might not pay to be too scientific about this but I tend to look at these items:

–  Is the build recognisable?  This is pretty simple, looking at it, does it tick enough boxes that you know what it is meant to be, even it might not be all the way there.

–  Does it stand up from a few feet away?  Or alternatively the ‘squint test’…  If the build were photographed in a semi believable setting, at a passable but not particularly great resolution, would it be instantaneously obvious it wasn’t real, or would it bear alittle bit of examination?

–  Has a degree of care been taken to make is accurate?   By this I mean if buying a suppressor for instance, have they gone for one of the several Surefire replicas, or have they gone for a KAC or AAC repro on ebay.  It’s about the right choices being made where things have been acquired.

If it ticks those items, it’s a valid build, and the question is just how far along the scale of geekery and expense it can be pushed – how good can it be made?

So there are two options available for an L119A2 build, HAO and Angry Gun – and sadly is seems many seem to fall almost tribally into one or the other.  At worst they dismiss the other approach:

“Angry Gun rails aren’t monolithic so anything using them isn’t a real L119A2 build, they cannot be redeemed and only the plebs who don’t care about accurate builds use them”

Or

“HAO builds are for people with too much money who use unreliable sewing machines and invariably make hipster builds”

Both the above are huge caricatures, granted, but I am sure people can recognise there is a degree to which both attitudes are present in the community – although I think I have probably seen more of the former.   Every expression of something that vaguely fits the above template also gets the backs of those it is directed at up and exacerbates the issue as they swing more toward it’s equally unhelpful mirror image.

So a reflection upon the two A2 options about.

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Picture Credit: HAO

HAO produce an upper and a full L119A2 kit which features a monolithic integrated upper receiver which is about as close as it’s possible to get to the real thing.  The kit is only available for PTWs, although future MWS and possible GHK released have been rumoured.

Their A2 offerings are beautiful creations with an exceptionally high attention to detail which meshes with the obsessive attitudes of many L119 builders.  The HAO kits have a substantial price tag before you even factor in a PTW, which is unsurprising given the quality of parts are the fact they can’t shift that many units comparatively, smaller more exclusive runs means higher prices.

The HAO upper receiver was first released in 2018, with the first batch released, while still an excellent iteration, having a few inaccuracies and details that weren’t quite there.   These were pointed out by a number of enthusiasts, including myself, privately – while I never heard anything back from HAO the revised release addressed all the issues that I could see, and although I don’t own one since I am not a PTW user, the pictures and reviews from respected sources suggest it is as near flawless as possible.  It is a triumph and I am disappointed they don’t currently produce them for a platform I use.

I must confess some discomfort with the ‘Beta Release’ moniker which was applied to the release of the first batch retroactively, only after issues were identified, but regardless the product on sale today is a testament to a craft and no compromise approach which certainly finds a home in the L119 build community.  One of the disappointments with the HAO A2 products as it stands is simply that they are not available for more platforms, in particular demand in the L119 build community are favourites of the Marui NGRS and GHK – these are particularly popular on the realsim and impression scenes.  It’s not really worth worrying over however, HAO will build for the platforms they want and it doesn’t remove from what is possible with the PTW for those who use them.

It’s also worth noting HAO produce a number of accessories and smaller parts which are compatible with different platforms, either with some small modification or a straight fit, a variety of which I have used in my builds and which are all great quality.

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Picture Credit: Angry Gun/Evike

Angry Gun, by contrast, produce the L119A2 rail – which is fitted like a normal airsoft rail to the upper receiver of your choice via a hidden fixing system to allows L119A2 builds on almost any platform.  This creative approach has allowed a profusion of A2 builds on people’s favourite systems, and they have been able to leverage economies of scale to get the price to a fairly accessible level, certainly if you’re building any L119 you have to accept it will be somewhat costly – the choice is between ‘quite expensive’ and ‘eyewateringly expensive’.  Angry Gun are also the only option for the long 15.7in upper A2.

I was involved somewhat in the development of the Angry Gun rail, although I did not profit from it other than receiving a prototype rail free for comment and as a ‘thank you’, every subsequent AG rail I have bought I have done at full price.  When I received the prototype Angry Gun rail I sent off a list of comments on them, privately, as I did of my observations on the HAO rail, some of which were acted on, but not all.  As I understand it the cost of some of the modifications would have pushed the overall price of the product beyond where they wanted it to be.  The Angry Gun, as you would expect with the different price points, market  and approach to development is not as accurate as the HAO A2 (monolithic aside).

The approach of treating the A2 as a rail for maximum volume, maximum flexibility and a more controlled cost is that you end up with some interface issues.  Structurally a solid bit of material will be stronger than an interface mechanism, and while I have had no issues with wobble on my AG rails, by their nature they will not be as resilient.

Furthermore the approach leads to a ‘double tooth’ issue in the RIS rail at the top, which while it can be covered with an optic, is a draw back.  The RIS numbering and receiver finish will also not be perfectly integrated, so cerakote or painting may be preferable.  Finally the receiver will require machining and milliput mods to get it to the true A2 shape which comes ‘as standard’ on a monolithic upper.

The L119 build community has mobilised to experiment and refine approaches to mitigate these issues as much as possible, but they are worth noting.

So my clickbait picture and title notwithstanding, I am going to state simply that I believe both approaches to building an A2 are valid, and both have produced some gorgeous builds, with the L119 Owners Club competition one of many examples of this, but far from the only one.  Both approaches have lead to intriguing innovations, surprising creativity and most importantly fun and satisfaction for their owners – which is what it is all about, beside looking cool.

I would caution that if people who start on the impression build path are told the only option to produce something credible is a to drop at least a couple of thousand into a build to just cover off the basics, they won’t bother.  They will either continue their builds without engaging with the wider community, and both will be poorer for it, or they will find something else to build.  Either way the impression scene is starved of new members.  I know if when I bought my partially build G&P L119A1 about nine years ago now I had been told I would need to have spent the amount I have now spent on my NGRS L119A1, I would never have bothered and never have produced a build I am now very proud of.

Furthermore as I alluded to earlier, drawing a line of validity on an arbitrary feature is not only unwise for the reasons I have listed but is also an approach which can be used to exclude your build on a variety of equally arbitrary criteria.

To be clear this is not an argument for lower standards per say, I am aware I run a group which is notorious for having high standards and probably taking builds too seriously.  I believe great builds should be rightly praised for how good they are – but that dismissing something as not valid should be based on less arbitrary criteria than the product used its construction and more on the more subjective quality is shows.  Because that build will almost certainly progress and I am sure almost all of the people with great builds about today has a photo or two of a ‘proto’ version somewhere.

It is also worth noting that without the early L119 products, including Army Code’s and PerrMike’s, we might not have had the market for Warlord or Begadi, we then might not have had the community of committed builders to make either the Angry Gun rail or HAO set or any of the various 556SA suppressor replicas at all viable.  The suffocation of a scene down into a small handful, with high barriers to entry in terms of both time and money will eventually lead to the withdrawal of any market support.  At the moment L119 builds remain a still under served market, but it’s only by keeping the community going that that remains the case.

So at the end of my meandering reflections on an element of the scene I have been musing upon a while, I think it worth reiterating that it is note a huge community, and there’s some great stuff that goes on within it.  Occasional arguments crop up about all sorts of things, but HAO v AG is certainly one of those which really isn’t worth is.

TL:DR

Give peace a chance…

So I am back after over a year away from the blog – and while I am not going to be a prolific poster, I am not going to leave it so long again.  In case anyone cares I’ve been abit preoccupied with a promotion at work and having bought a first house that was very much a ‘fixer upper’.  In that time I have half finished a handful of articles, so I might look at finishing off a couple more.

All pictures have been used without permission.  I hope the respective owners will be okay with such use in light of the intent behind the article and the on balance overwhelmingly positive views on all the products and builds pictured.

Review – Airsoft International’s Task Force Black L119A1 Build Guide

The L119A1 build guide accompanying the previously reviewed Airsoft International Task Force Black impression guide has been largely recycled from a previous issue, but there’s no great problem with that, since as a direct addendum to an article which references the L119A1, it is useful.

The problem however comes from the fact the L119A1 enjoyed a pretty decent time in service with UKSF, at a time of great development in weapon technology and accessories, so setups across that life changed markedly. The L119A1 featured in the article is not a Task Force Black setup – but this is not made clear. The L119A1 still has a ‘Task Force Black’ tag running across the top of the page, which suggests it is meant to be a Task Force Black setup.

Let’s put aside the super geeky things of the L119A1s idiosyncrasies in terms of front end cap, type of KAC rail, receiver profiles and buffer tubes – that’s too in depth for a mainstream magazine, they shouldn’t be looking to bog down in detail, so I’ll only assess if they get the main parts right.

They move from front to back across the weapon, so I’ll do the same.

Firstly they recommend a Madbull Surefire replica – which isn’t really a great choice given it’s a rather ropey clone, but they do correctly identify the mods needed to make it a little better. They also give a mention to the excellent Perr Mike suppressors which remain the best option for builds of the TFB era. Their advice on flash hiders is passable, they neglect to mention the Surefire birdcage which would be most correct for the TFB era, but do mention the 216A, which is correct for L119A1s, but too late for the TFB era (they also mention one is pictured on the opposite page, which is isn’t).

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They generally get the barrel lengths right, and the method of achieving them. They then go on to mention the 10in L119A1s have standard M4 front sights but with the bayonet lug “generally” removed – this should be “always”. They do however differentiate between 10in and 16in front sights, therefore avoiding a common mistake made.

They generally get the KAC RAS correct, but for the few geeky details I will bypass, and although the KAC vert grip advice is correct, there were others used. The article doesn’t mention the other correct accessories for the front end, and here they should have mentioned the Surefire M600 torch and a PEQ box. The accompanying photo shows a PEQ-15, which isn’t correct – this should be either a PEQ-2 for earlier TFB setups, or a FDE LA-5 (distinguished by the railed adjustment dials).

For the lower receiver they somewhat muddy the waters by referring to the rifle being made by Colt Canada, while showing Diemaco trademarks. Personally if building a TFB era weapon I would go for Diemaco – certainly for an early one, although it is possible very late TFB/K era weapons might have been Colt Canada marked. Airsoft International also recommend Airsoft Machine Shop for doing the engravings here – this I believe is grossly irresponsible. While Airsoft Machine Shop produce excellent work, if sending a part to them for work you are odds on to lose it, or at the very least get it back about 6-12 months later after having had to harass them in the interim. They have left so many people out of pocket and lacking parts that to recommend them at all is really poor.

Pistol grip wise they identify correctly the Storm Grip (Stowaway Grip), however they then seem to go off on a tangent about Hogue Grips, which have been seen (albeit rarely) on much later L119A1s. A Hogue grip wouldn’t be correct for a TFB impression, and for some reason AI seem to think they represent a nightmare choice for AEG users – I am not sure why given Toysoldier have produced a trademarked rubberised Hogue Grip which will take an AEG motor.

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Next they address optics. The article inform us the least contentious choice is an Eotech 552 – while it is not wrong to use an Eotech 552, the least contentious choice is certainly an ACOG TA01NSN. AI then move on to the ACOG, but state the TA31 is the model used, which is incorrect – UKSF haven’t been pictured with this variant, and it would be a weird choice for a TFB kit. The additional information on wing mounts, mini RDS sights and DIS iron sights is broadly correct however.

They then move onto the stock and butt pad, which they get broadly correct, although mention the CTR would be incorrect for TFB era as it is too modern – this is right, although it does beg the question as to what was going on with the rest of the article.

Finally, while not mentioned in the article, the pictured sling mount on the example is a knock off Magpul ASAP, which is not correct for TFB era, and the example pictured isn’t a particularly good replica anyway.

Mercifully though they sign off this article with links to Warlord Tactical, who make excellent replica parts for the L119A1, and the L119 Owners Club group on Facebook, which I run, and where a lot can be learned about the platform.

Review – Airsoft International’s Task Force Black Impression Guide

Introduction and Context

Volume 13, Issue 13 of Airsoft International features a write up of how to achieve a Task Force Black kit, with an accompanying guide to building a L119A1, the issue weapon of UKSF at the time.

For those that don’t know, Task Force Black was the name given to the UKSF deployment to Baghdad in GW2, whose task was hunting ex regime individuals and later jihadists. It changed name to Task Force Knight partway through its existence, and worked extremely closely with American special operations forces in the city at the time. It represented a wholesale change in how UKSF equipped itelf and the missions it undertook, and the meshing of operations and information and they fed into an extremely taxing workload of raids. The UKSF elements involved were primarily SAS, with support from Signallers, Med and EOD specialists, and backed up by 1Para, later formally stood up as SFSG.

Task Force Black kit is quite consistent, compared to earlier period, since each man was issued a huge bag of kit, so they weren’t wanting for much – and it was all the same. Usually the helmet, ancillary equipment, weapons and plate carriers were all pretty consistent. The camouflage however was an eclectic mix of British and US patterns, often mixed and matched together, under the more consistent base.

The above lends the kit a somewhat unique and very appealing look, and for some time it was the ‘go to’ kit for airsofters wanting to run UKSF impressions. It has been somewhat overtaken by modern UKSF impressions, but the appeal does endure. The issues with the kit are primarily based off the fact it was envisaged that it would be used for a few hours at a time, in short engagements, transported to the target by vehicle or aircraft. It is therefore bulky, heavy and ill suited to going prone – or indeed any other mission but a direct action raid. It was also intended to be used in a punishing series of raids, often nightly, for six months – the kit is durable and as such heavier than today’s kit which does a similar job. Modern kit, leveraging new technologies in a sector which at the peak of the Global War On Terror had a large amount of investment in R&D, is much lighter and able to do the same job with less bulk and weight. Additionally, if a lightweight bit of kit does break, with greater SOF budgets it is not as problematic to replace.

Modern UKSF kits are therefore better suited to a wider range of activities, will be more comfortable and lighter, and allow us to indulge our inner geardo. TFB kits are often stowed in the back of gear cupboards, but a lot of us still love them – especially those who started UKSF Impressions when these were the only game in town for a modern kit.

The Airsoft International article is therefore a way to propel the kit back into the thoughts of both impressionists and mainstream airsofters who might be curious about dabbling in the impression and milsim scene. In this the typically sharp graphic work and high visual production values of the magazine help – although what will really make or break it is the quality of the information imparted in the article.

The review will focus on the accuracy of the guidance given and information imparted, and won’t really address the often painfully bad spelling, grammar and often nonsensical sentence structure – which appears now to be back with a vengeance, after the issue had been largely eliminated for a year or so.

Where pictures have been taken to illustrate points, text and images which aren’t salient have been blurred, so I’m not reproducing material from the magazine as a whole, regardless of the worth of it.

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Reasons for Review Article

I realise analysing an article in the way I am about to can be perceived as aggressive, and be taken personally, so I will outline my reasoning for doing so.

Airsoft International, as a hobby and industry magazine with journalistic articles, opinion pieces, and guides, is trusted by a large number of people, across the airsoft community. The fact something is in print and on a shelf suggests a degree of reliability and research has gone into its making, and the information within can be trusted as being solidly researched and delivered without undue bias. Lately – this has not been the case.

Those new to the hobby, or impressions, may well rely upon the magazine for information on how to build impressions, and while the article does recognise that it is not perfect, it does give a lot of information and advice which will lead people wanting to achieve the same look to go out and spend their hard earned money on achieving an impression. I think it is reasonable therefore to expect the information to be right, or where corners have been cut for cost or ease, to highlight this.

Indeed AI’s social media posts would have you believe they are the biggest and best airsoft publication about, so I do not think it unfair to dig a bit deeper into an article to see if these claims are justified. The motivation for doing so was the fact that a rather disastrous and misleading attempt at a MARSOC impression guide was published recently, so upon hearing a Task Force Black impression guide was going to be published, this piqued the interest of impressionists who have an interest in this era.

To clarify though, I have no bone to pick with Airsoft International personally, beyond the above belief they should adhere to the standards and quality of the sort of publication they purport to be, out of respect for their customer base. Indeed I was heavily involved in the last UKSF Impression article they published, the modern UKSF Counter Terrorism kit guide in collaboration with E27 found in Volume 12, Issue 12.

I understand AI has to operate in an industry which is under pressure, and cannot have expertise in absolutely everything, but a basic knowledge of the subject matter should be attainable, and there are people who will offer input and guidance on specific areas within the community for free or little cost – indeed E27 didn’t receive or ask any payment for the article they assisted with.

The number of errors in some articles is staggering, and a cynic might suspect that often these are not always the product of ignorance, but rather ensuring a substantial portion of the suggested kit purchases for an impression or setup are available from the magazine’s sponsors.

General Criticisms

The article kicks off with a bit of background information about what Task Force Black was, and this is a worthwhile approach, I always think it is vital when putting together kit to understand clearly who uses it, what their job was and what they used it for. The synopsis however seems somewhat meandering and could certainly have been trimmed into a punchier, more informative overview.

Next the piece moves onto a paragraph musing on the choice between DCU and CCU uniform cuts, before basically saying you can use whichever you like – certainly a lot of patterns and cuts were used, but again this could have been a lot less waffly and more focused.

Then, we have five paragraphs on the MICH 2000 helmet. Those looking to build a Task Force Black impression will be disappointed to find out that those five paragraphs neglect to actually tell you how to put together a TFB helmet setup. The bulk of the section is devoted to the history and various models of the MICH – which wasn’t actually used by UKSF who instead used the Gentex TBH-II available at the time (not to be confused with its modern iteration). Often however replica MICH 2000s are used as TBH-II stand ins, since they are near identical. The varied paint jobs of TFB lids, the helmet covers they sometimes used, and the distinctive ‘choc-block’ counter weights are not mentioned, while the similarly ubiquitous and identifiable PVS-21 mounts also get scant mention.

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We next encounter another paragraph on the history of DCU and CCU – because the first obviously left us wanting more.

Then we’re onto the RAV. We’re informed a Flyye RAV has been used since real Paraclete RAVs cost £300-400. The price of RAVs fluctuates a lot, dependant on availability, and it has been between about £400 to as little as £70 at various points in the last few years – and while they might be listed on ebay for substantial prices, I very much doubt they sell for that. The Flyye RAV is apparently £205 from Military 1st – I would be surprised however if you couldn’t get a real Paraclete RAV on the forums or ebay for around £200 with abit of patience.

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It is also worth noting a fact which wasn’t completely made plain that while the Flyye effort isn’t a terrible replica, it has notable differences. Most obviously it is olive green rather than Smoke Green, like the Paraclete original. Additionally the Velcro on top isn’t properly interfaced with the shoulder elements, and the zip is green rather than black. It would certainly pay to go for a real RAV, considering the sizable cost of the replica – advising otherwise appears to benefit no one but Military 1st.

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Then onto pouches, which for the kit should be primarily Blackhawk Industries molle pouches in Olive Drab – instead the article advises using Flyye patches in OG (they say Smoke Green is more accurate – but here they seem to have got mixed up with the RAV). Given the cost of the Flyye pouches, I am certain real Blackhawk is now very much cheaper on the second hand market. This section should have advised that, and cautioned against the Blackhawk versions using speed clips, but instead it again went for an easy option which benefits a sponsor. The example RAV also features a rather strange pouch setup which would make shouldering a rifle problematic, and is unlike anything I have seen in reference pictures. This feature really should have looked at the real products, common setups, differences between the RAV and RMV to help readers avoid common mistakes.

They correctly identify that the Serpa adaptor they show is the wrong type, but note, quite rightly, the real thing here is hard to source and commands a pretty substantial price.

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Finally things are rounded out with another paragraph giving a brief history of ACU – because why not. A last box listing products used suggests 99% were available from Military 1st, which mathematically is not nearly the case. The accompanying L119A1 feature which follows will be reviewed in a follow up article.

For clarity I am not suggesting Military 1st  directly influenced the writing or content of the article (I like the company and order from them semi regularly), I believe that to be the responsibility of AI.  It just seems the magazine took the easy option in putting forward information that benefits a sponsor over the reader.

Reference Criticisms

Task Force Black is one for the few eras in UKSF history about which a substantial amount is known publicly. The book Task Force Black by Mark Urban details a great deal of what went on at the time, and the number of leaked pictures from the era is sizable. Therefore lack of reference material should be little impediment to a TFB impression, indeed the article features sixteen real reference pictures supporting it. Unfortunately of the sixteen photos accompanying the article, two are of Delta Force, two are of SFSG, two are of airsofters and one is of SEALs.

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This immediately misleads readers, and given the huge amount of reference material the issue can’t be availability. I can only assume lack of research.

Copy Error, Paste Error

One of the increasingly irksome things about Airsoft International is that the magazine is increasingly dominated by advertisements – and most insidiously, advertisements masquerading as articles. This would be more forgivable if the guides and information that aren’t directly related to selling the products of sponsors were of good quality and original.

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This is sadly not the case – the aforementioned MARSOC article in a previous issue contained a few prominent lines on the front of an article which were roundly mocked. This incongruous historical flourish may have been dismissed as simply as an unfortunate attempt at supporting context, but it suggested two things: Firstly a staggering lack of historical knowledge or ability to fact check before putting something into a magazine – Secondly a seeming lack of comprehension of how BC/AD dates work.

Everyone has an off day though, surely as photos of the lines juxtaposed with images of ancient Greek or Roman armour were circulated in the comments sections of Facebook posts the editor might just write off that little mistake and move on.

Alas not – the next month it has been copied and pasted, word for word, entirely uncorrected, into a prominent position in one of this month’s articles.

This seems to be outright disrespectful of the readership – recycling content a mere month after it first made an appearance, while getting it wrong. The intent of any publication should be to inform and entertain readers – not just fill space between ads.

Summary

Certainly I would encourage AI in the future, when putting together similar articles, to try and explore the possibility of having them compiled by someone who has at least a basic knowledge of the subject matter.

I would also say that while they obviously need to mention sponsors etc for commercial reasons, doing so in what is purportedly an article, not an advertisement, is misleading. This is especially the problem when the items they suggest be bought from said sponsor are often not correct, and nor in several cased are they cheaper than the correct option.

The magazine is slick, well presented and has a reputation in the community, but that is very fragile and a number of advert filled volumes replete with staggering amounts of filler and misinformation have knocked it – certainly it takes a lot more time to build a reputation than lose one.

If you follow the magazine’s guide, you will probably produce an Impression which is recognisably UKSF form the Task Force Black era. The major criticism though is that while recognisable, it will be some way off an accurate impression, and it won’t really save any money to counterbalance this inaccuracy. You may as well do it for the same cost and have the end product looking better and more accurate.

Review – Special Forces: In the Shadows Exhibit

I visited the National Army Museum’s Special Forces: In the Shadows exhibition last week, taking an afternoon off work to go and see the museum, which I hadn’t visited since its refurbishment. I got rather engrossed in the one exhibit, so didn’t take in the rest of the museum, so will certainly have to go back.

This article will, in short, be a brief write up/review of the exhibit. I won’t share many of the photographs I took of the displays, since I would strongly encourage people to visit themselves.

As far as I am aware, but for a few small displays in regimental museums this is the most in depth curated display that has been publically opened relating to UK Special Forces, and while many books have been published, and the IWM has touched on elements of unconventional warfare with its SOE and Intelligence exhibit, I think this is a first.

Obviously I have a keen interest in UKSF, specifically much of the gear, and also design, so this review is certainly a geek’s eye view. I would characterise the exhibit as being a lot of ‘filler’ in relation to the ‘killer’ (no pun intended). However the ‘killer’ is really, really good.

Firstly I will address the problems I perceived with the exhibit before going on to highlight what it did really well.

The most prevalent problem was that the really good bits of the exhibition were somewhat concentrated spatially, with no real discernible ordering thematically or chronologically.

I believe the general structure was meant to run as follows:

  • Introduction to the concept of Special Forces and need for them.
  • Basic structure of UK Special Forces.
  • The origins of the regiments and units (and precursors) which now make up UKSF.
  • The types of men who join, and the selection criteria they must satisfy.
  • Pretty much everything else.
  • Special Forces in the media.
  • Reflection on why their work remains secretive.

The first four sections were done pretty well, and the stories of the originals were striking, if familiar. I found the inclusion of a couple of artefacts relating to that period arresting, specifically ‘The Complete Folbotist’ written by Captain Roger Courtney, founder of the Special Boat Section, is a concise, witty document which conveys perfectly the period in which it was written.

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It is the ‘pretty much everything else’ section which is problematic. There are some absolutely intriguing and great displays in this section, including a display cabinet with weaponry used by UKSF (I was told before I arrived these were airsoft – they weren’t, everything was 100% real), and an interactive display on Op Barras, moving on to kit setups for SBS MCT operations, SAS assault kit from the 2000s and Op Nimrod, kit from the Malayan Emergency, and SFSG assault kit (this did feature an unfortunate airsoft M4). These displays though were scattered rather haphazardly about however, and the area was dimly lit, with the lights on the glass casing occasionally obscuring the displays (mostly an issue when the kit in the display cases was dark, such as the MCT kit).

Huge amounts of wall space were devoted to ‘interactive’ activities or simply window dressing graphics, for instance between the weapon display case and Op Barras screen, there was a series of large ‘spot the sniper’ pictures of the type occasionally shared around the internet. On the reverse wall a huge manifestation showing the silhouettes of soldiers moving through a jungle took up a large proportion of that section. There was also a ‘special forces game’ played on 4 iPads inset into peli cases – the less said about that the better…

I realise there was likely a requirement to include a number of interactive features, and the exhibit has to cater to a range of people with diverse existing knowledge of the subject, and ages, but the space devoted to these games seemed inconsistent with their worth, and caused the genuinely fascinating things to be condensed and people to jostle around them.

In order to curate such an exhibition, I imagine you would have to balance detailed information with interactivity, and ensure that while people can flow round a space, it wouldn’t become congested at peak times, so not every inch of space can contain detailed, and sometimes too specific, information. I felt that while individual artefacts and displays were very engaging, the whole didn’t quite work. It would have been informative for instance to directly contrast Op Nimrod kit with the more modern CT kit, and highlight the differences and evolutions. Likewise the development of SFSG, and their various setups and missions would likewise have been an interesting section. The contrast between older gear, missions and tactics and newer ones would have been fascinating had they been presented as linked to one another, and it would have made for a clear narrative. It would also have highlighted where things haven’t changed, and much of what worked decades ago may still hold true. The evolution of the threat and what it takes to counter it, and how the skills and dedication of the men must remain at the pinnacle would have been compelling.

The scattered approach to display and lack of any discernible interrelation or narrative between them was perhaps the exhibition’s biggest weakness.

There also appeared to be a degree of pruning in terms of what was covered, with more controversial conflicts such as those in Northern Ireland and Iraq being largely omitted, despite the fact these are among the most publically known. Certainly the omission of Task Force Black seemed incongruous given the media coverage it has received in Mark Urban’s book of the same name (which was lacking from the gift shop section to accompany the exhibit) and ITV’s Exposure: The Kill List.

 

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Despite the above criticism of the layout and relative attention paid to various elements, the exhibit is a must see for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject matter who lives near or is visiting London. At £8 for a full price ticket, and less for the various concessions, it is excellent value, and that’s not even addressing the entire rest of the refurbished and remodelled museum, which is free.

The access the museum has secured to a number of interviews was likewise impressive, from 1Para paratroopers after Op Barras to members of the Special Forces from the 80’s until recently. The genuine attention paid to the founders of the various units who forged the ethos that lives on today is also something that stays with you, and has encouraged me to read more about the unit foundings, as well as their more contemporary exploits.

Unlike many displays of similar items, the kit was authentic and attention to detail excellent, while it had at times a really personal , evocative and occasionally tragic insight into the people behind the various units featured.

I’d strongly recommend any who are interested in UKSF past or present drop the museum a visit, take in the exhibit, and drop a few quid in the donation box at the end.

 

Find out more about the National Army Museum, how to get there and what’s in the museum at:

https://www.nam.ac.uk/

And find out more about the Special Forces: In the Shadows exhibit at:

https://www.nam.ac.uk/whats-on/special-forces-shadows

The Special Forces: In the Shadows exhibit opened on 17 March 2018 and runs until 18 November 2018.