Monday, December 3, 2012

Commonality: How to be Efficient in Material Selections

One of the things I given great thought when I started collecting survival items, was how to make sure that I intelligently select everything with usefulness, efficiency, but most importantly, commonality. I grew up loving Legos, because each common piece could be used in many different ways when those specific pieces had very specific jobs. If I needed a specific piece and it wasn't available, I could usually re-engineer my toy to use common parts instead. It might not be as pretty, but it worked. In my career at NASA, I still try to maintain that efficiency in commonality by using modular systems. With rockets, it seems like every few days there is a design change. When you design an automated X-ray system, it would be awesome to make it for that very specific rocket. But if any part gets redesigned, your scanner won't work. Or having to redesign your scanner every time someone changed a design drawing would ensure it never got built. . But, if you make it modular, it can be flexible. Not only would it work for different size and configurations, but you might even be able to use it on something totally a satellite or what have you. The same can be said about the actual materials you use. For example, using a super awesome aluminum-lithium super alloy is really cool. It saves weight. But, it isn't well understood. It's difficult to repair. Only a few companies make it. So, when we build rockets...specifically fuel tanks, we have to consider the advantages of such a material in a perfect world vs reality. What if those companies quit making it and we have designed everything around it? What if we can't seem to weld it perfectly? All the weight savings in the world can't help a fuel tank that can't be welded!

What exactly am I talking about? Commonality in use and commonality in existence. The easiest way to explain is to give an example. Now, this example is long and drawn out...but I want to explain it thoroughly so that you see the options that you have.

Let's discuss your guns and ammunition. I don't plan on telling you which gun caliber and ammunition is best, or how many you should have. Because there are simply too many variables; from ballistics, to impact pressures, to affordability, to availability....and the list goes on and on.

Even if you weighed the pros and cons of all the ammunition out there and established a logical winner, people still have their favorite guns and ammo to shoot, and even that can change on the particular firearm.

When I bought my firearms I knew that, despite the many criteria, that I wanted to make commonality the biggest driver. Yet, that meant two different things, but both are very important.
  • Having as many of your firearms a common caliber to reduce overall storage space and weight
  • Having the ability to go anywhere and find ammunition
  • Having the ability to source repair parts
I have separated my defense firearms into 4 main categories. In a perfect world, you would have 1 of each.
  • Long Range
  • Medium Range
  • Short Range
  • Standoff
Allow me to define I see it
  • Long Range-A high powered weapon to be used for 100+yards for precision strikes. This weapon usually has a low rate of fire and low ammo capacity (1-5 rounds). Example: Your typical big game hunting rifle
  • Medium Range-Can be either high or low powered weapon to be used up, to but not excluding, more than 100 yards. This weapon usually has a high rate of fire and high ammo capacity (30+ rounds). Example: AR15 or AK-47 assault rifles
  • Short Range-A high powered weapon that is easily wielded in close quarters. This weapon either has a high rate of fire, or a large affected area, or both. Example: shotgun or hand held machine gun
  • Standoff-A high powered weapon with limited range capability, used under 20 yards. This weapon usually has a high rate of fire and a medium ammo capacity (8-15 rounds). Primarily a "last resort" type weapon. Example: almost any handgun

In a perfect world, you would have the perfect tool for every situation. But like we have discovered in almost EVERY post so far, you have a finite amount of weight that you can carry, period. And even then, stealth and stamina must be considered long before your ultimate load out. Even if you had only 1 type of each of these weapons, chances are that you would end up with 4 different calibers of ammunition to carry, not to mention 4 types of weapons to be lugging around. That's not very efficient. Now, if you were playing video games, your character could carry a plethora of weapons and ammunition. Even in some of my favorite games, such as "Fallout 3", you are limited to a specific weight of firearms and items, but ammo isn't counted against your weight. Nor is their consideration given to the bulkiness of your firearms. Just think about carrying around 1 of each. A deer rifle slung on your back, an assault rifle in your hands, a shotgun slung over your shoulder, and a sidearm strapped to your leg. Awfully hard to do anything more than walk in a straight line, right? In a battle situation, would be hard to make things work, which is why our soldiers operate as a unit, with specific men doing specific jobs, instead of all of them handling sniper rifles, assault rifles, and missile launchers.

I digress....a little....but weapon selection is for another time.

Like I hinted at earlier, commonality comes in two flavors.

1)Commonality between your own weapons (Commonality in use)
What I am trying to convey is, wouldn't your rather have several weapons that fired the same ammunition? I would. I understand that you absolutely have to make some concessions to do this. Those would certainly include usefulness on the extreme ends of target ranges, overall knockdown power vs range, and even into the logistics of weight and affordability. But the concessions made will be greatly overshadowed by the benefits won.

While I am sure that most of you are OCD like me, and you keep all your ammunition stored segregated and secure, wouldn't it be nice to not have to worry about what box of ammunition you grab to reload? If you were in a situation where you really only needed one of your specific weapons, and the others were a non factor, wouldn't you much rather have a plethora of the right ammunition?

2)Commonality of weapons in the field (Commonality of existance)
Many of the comments I receive on here, forums where I post, and even among friends is "I'll just load up all the ammo I can carry". While self protection is king, especially in the first 24 hours, as we discussed here:

But for every extra round you carry, you give up valuable space and weight for other things. Bullets can change a lot of things. But bullets can't do a lot of things the simplest tools can do. You need those tools, whatever they may be.

It seems to me one of the biggest misconceptions out there is that people believe they own the only ammunition that works in their gun, and that simply isnt' true. America has more guns and ammunition than any other country in the world. If you went into any 5 houses in America, you would find at least 1 gun and ammunition for it. So, if you select your weapons based upon commonality, you put yourself in a situation where you CAN walk into any house (abandoned of course) or Wal-Mart (after things have died down) or an abandoned Army Humvee, and find the ammunition you need.

Let's consider 1 example of each of the 4 categories, though I won't go into if that caliber is right for you:
  • Long Range - The 30.-06. Possibly the most common rifle caliber in America. I am willing to bet that you can go into almost any rural house in the south and find ammunition for this weapon.
  • Medium Range- .223/5.56mm, Extremely popular among assault rifle owners in the US, it is also used by NATO and the US military. Any sporting good store has it. Walmart has it. Any military...whatever....has it.
  • Short Range-12 gauge. What else is there to say. The most common  gauge shotgun. Comes in a variety of ammo types from bird shot, to slugs, to buck shot. I bet there is a 12 gauge round somewhere in every other house in the US.
  • Standoff-9mm. Possibly the worlds favorite hand gun caliber. Again, any house that owns a pistol for self protection will probably have a 9mm. Used by the US military. Used by Law Enforcement.
I am, by no means, saying that each of these examples is for you. You can, and quite possibly will, go into many different directions. What I do want to point out is, if you were starting from scratch, you have a list of weapons that you can procure that will make it easy to resupply. Let's even take this to the extreme. If you made it long enough to use up all of your stores, which you would likely do, you will HAVE to resupply at some point. Wouldn't you much rather have a weapon that you can easily find ammo for? They might not be the best, but they will do the job.

Now, don't let this all revolve around ammunition. Overall condition and life of your firearm, specifically in a rough environment and constant use, may require you to fix it from time to time. So, consider the source of parts for your firearm. The 1911, for example, is an extremely common .45 caliber handgun. You can find them anywhere and for the most part, the parts are interchangeable. The same can be said for most AR15s, AK47s, Mossberg 500 and Remington Express shotguns. In a perfect world, you would be able to just swap guns as you go. But that may not be the case, so be able to source AND repair your firearm. Again, commonality is your friend. You may have to give up something...for example: the 1911 is heavy and has a limited capacity. But it's commonality makes it easy to source parts.

Now, that's a long example, I realize. And, as much time as it took for me to write it, it will take you much longer to select, buy, and prepare. However, when you are out there buying your guns, unless you are rich, you won't be able to just buy whatever you want in every caliber. I have a decent job and a fairly liberal amount of disposable income, relatively speaking. Yet, as I have bought firearms, I have selected them based upon commonality. I love the .45. It's expensive yet common. It has tremendous knockdown power and crappy range. But, I love shooting it. I feel comfortable with it. So, all my personal guns (that I carry) are .45 caliber. That doesn't mean that's the only caliber I have, because it's not. But, these are the guns I have selected for "The Bag." I don't plan on having a long range weapon. The AR15 is a terrific weapon, and with a lot of practice you can have a long reach. It doesn't have the knockdown power, but if you make good shots, it won't matter.

Again, long example. I am sure you are probably thinking "That's the ONLY useful thing to have commonality in", but you would be incorrect. Remember, don't think about just having modular items in your possession, but using items that are common in the rest of the world.
  • Batteries
  • Fuel for your camper/stove/heater
  • Fuel for your vehicles (diesel vs gasoline)..dont' just think about your cars and trucks!
  • Clothing sizes for you and your significant other. Sounds funny, but if you only have one extra set of clothes for two people and it's too small for one of you...
  • Electrical chargers (if they work)
  • For those that are mechanically inclined....your vehicle and the ability to repair it and source parts (Think Jeep vs Land Rover)
  • Medicines that you require (are you diabetic?)
That's just the start. There are a ton of things I bet you didn't think about. For every item that goes into your pack or your bunker, think "if I HAD to replace it, could I do it easily?" Down to things you wouldn't normally think about, because those are the ones that matter. You opted for that fancy water filtration system instead of the cheap old, yet insanely common Brita. What happens a year down the road if the water is contaminated? You never had a need for eye glasses because you had contacts. The contacts are gone. Whoops!

That's enough for now, suffice to say, that you should always consider the commonality of the items you will depend on.