The New Ways Of War

Early warfare, as best we can tell, was more like gang fights in the modern ghetto than the sort of stuff we associate with war in Antiquity. One settlement would round up some men, who would take on the men of the neighboring settlement. They went at one another in a melee, using axes, clubs and short swords, maybe, with the leaders right there in the middle of it, leading their war bands. A lot of it may have been ritualized, rather than actual combat, but that’s speculation. What’s clear is ti was small scale.

Prosperity changed that as better organization and better agriculture allowed for more men to be full time warriors. Greater prosperity also meant better weapons. Ranged weapons made the full speed charge, by men on foot, a losing proposition, unless you could put your men on horses or in chariots. Speed meant you could have formations and then flanking maneuvers, which required strategy and execution. Each innovation led to more innovations. The ways of war changed as military technology and tactics evolved.

Changes in military technology often have unforeseen consequences. The introduction of the machine gun in the Great War is the best example. Even with the new artillery, war was expected to be men advancing on one another over open fields. This was the way war was fought and the way the French were prepared to fight it. They even had their officers in colorful uniforms so they could be seen by their men. The machine gun made this style of war utter insanity, but no one thought about that until the bodies piled up.

The machine gun, along with fantastic improvements in artillery, resulted in trench warfare that was hopelessly expensive and bloody. That led to new tactics and new weapons. The tank, for example, was developed to counter the trenches and barbed wire. Eventually, planes became another answer to fixed defensive positions. All of these new weapons eventually led to new strategies.The Battle of Cambrai, in which the British used tanks, artillery, infantry and air power is one of the first examples of combined arms tactics.

The point to all of this is that war evolves and not always in ways that are predictable or even imaginable. Every new advance in weapons and tactics leads to responses and new weapons and tactics. The most recent example if the “little green men” that suddenly popped up in Crimea. Instead of an invading Russian army, a pro-Russian mercenary force appeared out of nowhere to lead a revolt against Ukrainian control of the region. It was, to a great degree, an example of Fourth Generation Warfare.

A question to ponder is what happens when energy weapons become a practical response to ballistic missiles and drones? The US military has been making steady progress developing mobile laser systems, able to knock out ballistic missiles. They are a decade away from anything usable, but it is not unrealistic to imagine a time in the near future when it is possible to knock out incoming missiles. This sort of technology has a funny way of advancing quickly after it gets deployed.

Of course, a weapon that can render another weapon obsolete is a very dangerous weapon. The reason ground-based, anti-missile systems are such a sensitive subject is because they throw off the balance of arms and require a response. A missile defense system in Europe, that could plausibly knock down Russian missiles, would require the Russians to make a lot more missiles, in addition to other plans to counter this new weapon. That’s a big unknown so everyone treads lightly.

Logically, the sudden advance in military technology 100 years ago, along with the lethality of the new technology, should have made war less likely. Cannonballs and bayonet charges are terrible things, but they pale in comparison to massed machine gun fire on advancing infantry. It would seem blazingly obvious that unless you have an answer for the machine gun, much less the new artillery, you don’t willingly go to war. That’s not what happened. Two great industrial wars latter and the West was just about dead.

That’s an important lesson to keep in mind while thinking about what’s happening with military technology, as well as military strategy. Laser weapons may be a ways off, but drone technology is here and changing how we fight wars. A sky full of flying death robots, capable of working in concert or independently, to bring death to an enemy is going to change how nations go to war. It means new weapons and new ways of fighting. Even the Arabs are adapting to drone warfare. Imagine what the Chinese are doing.

Of course, the new responses do not have to be strictly military. The Million Mohammedan March into Europe surely included jihadis willing to die for Allah. Maybe some of those jihadis were trained by Syria, at the behest of Russia. If you are Russia, you have to be looking at the truck attacks and thinking that could be an effective weapon. If you cannot win the technology fight, maybe the answer lies in some other area of the battlefield. New technology may result in a proliferation of asymmetric warfare waged by state actors.

It’s fun to speculate, but flying death robots alone change the way the world will be fighting wars in the future. Things like carriers can quickly become white elephants in a world where a swarm or drones can fall out of the sky or come up from the depths of the ocean. Everyone forgets about the coming proliferation of a independently controlled torpedoes that can literally roam the ocean looking for targets. The microprocessor goes from being a force multiplier to a force nullifier.

It would be nice if the proliferation of killing machines worked as a deterrent to war, but that is not the lesson of history. The one exception has been nuclear weapons, which probably kept the the Soviets from invading Europe and the US from systematically undermining the Russian government, as we see going on today. The new technology does not promise to destroy the world so it probably will not be much of a deterrent. If anything, as we have seen with the neocon warmongering, it will make everyone reckless.

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76 Comments on "The New Ways Of War"

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Alexandros
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The problem with current drone tech is that they almost always expose themselves to radio access. There is a reason ICBMs cannot have their targets changed post-launch: it’s stunningly trivial to screw with hardware which interacts with the outside world via omnidirectional radio waves. Drones are already rendered completely impotent by simple jamming, but modern countries like russia are able to take control of things midflight; these are systems that are supposed to immediately fly back to base in the event of control loss. The Russians seem to think that burst laser communication solves this problem, but I wonder how… Read more »
Rod1963
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Drones, even our most cutting edge ones remain vulnerable when used against more advanced countries. For example a couple of years ago. We lost one of most advanced stealth drones(yes we do have them) that employed 4th generation stealth tech to the Iranians. They somehow hijacked it’s navigation system and had it land at a Iranian airbase before we noticed it gone. Mind you this drone also had one of our most advanced sensor and avionics packages as well. Losing it intact was a major disaster for us. The thing was a treasure trove of information worth billions and allowed… Read more »
JohnMc
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The assumption is flawed. What we civilians consider a drone are radio controlled because of the toy aspect from which they originated — operator controlled. A Tomahawk cruise missile is more a drone than a missile. From launch to target it can follow a preprogrammed flight pattern and the terrain. The only difference between it an a drone is that the Tomahawk originated from war making considerations.

james wilson
Guest

Aircraft carrier groups are more obsolete than the Maginot line, but if anyone has told the US Navy they are not listening any better than when it was demonstrated ninety years ago that the battleship was made obsolete by carriers. If I were Machiavelli I would bait my enemies into building carriers. Go small whenever possible, go micro whenever possible, get into space and stay in space.

UKer
Guest

Interesting that the obsolescence of battleships was partly decided by the speed of carriers: the Royal Navy abandoned the idea of battleships (having come up with the Dreadnought some forty years earlier) because they were slow and there was more need for ships that could keep pace with ships that carried planes.

I would say then that speed is the essence of warfare, perhaps for many centuries past but more so in the future. Get there fastest with the most counts for a lot.

Drake
Guest

I think a modernized Iowa-class battleship actually isn’t obsolete. In the 80’s, the Chinese are Russians hated those things because they were virtually invulnerable to modern anti-ship weapons. Their armor threw off all the assumptions and battle planning.

Their ship-to-ship firepower made them the hammer-of-god out to several hundred miles. And, they were designed as fast-battleships (up to 35 knots).

The Iowas were retired because of their cost to operate and the Admirals’ desire for new high-tech ships – not because they were obsolete.

TWS
Guest

What will sink a ship like the Cole would barely scorch the paint on the Mighty Mo’. My grandad retired from the Bremerton shipyard whenever we could we’d tour the Missouri. I’d see the thing from shore at least once a week and I was always surprised again by the size of the guns when I got up close.

Member

China just put a new carrier into operation so they’re even more behind the curve than we are.

Tim Newman
Guest

It’s interesting to note how late on that shift came between armies fighting like gangs and the full-on battles that came later: it was probably during the American Civil War, certainly not much before. That’s why WWI took everyone so much by surprise, the wholesale slaughter on that scale had never been seen before as it was pretty much impossible to carry out.

Garr
Guest

Hoplite shield-wall was a huge advance past gang-fights — and those guys weren’t full-timers, either.

Drake
Guest

Hoplite warfare was sort of a ritualized contest. Kind of like a rugby game with some deaths. They met at an agreed upon place fought their battle, collected their dead and wounded, and the winner literally got a trophy.

As soon as a real war – the Peloponnese War – started, light units, cavalry, and ships became at least as important.

Garr
Guest

It felt real to the Persians at Marathon and Plataea, though. And Xenophon’s men were unstoppable. So maybe ritualized in intra-Greek conflict, but a killing-machine against barbarians. Also, didn’t Epaminondas’s guys kill a very large number of Spartans? That was after the Pel War … maybe attitudes had changed. (I don’t know … too lazy to google).

Drake
Guest

But the lack of cavalry made the Athenian hoplites useless in Sicily. Alexander used the phalanx and cavalry together to break the Persians in battles like Gaugamela.

Garr
Guest

Cavalry was used in very technically focused ways, wasn’t it? The Romans figured out to beat pike-formations … so the hoplite to pike-phalanx to checkerboard javelin+shortsword Roman formation sequence is really a perfect example of the evolution of military technology. (It seems to me that hoplite-tactics would be useful in urban street-combat, using iron rods instead of spears and plywood for shields.)

Soylent_Green
Guest

Garr, indeed they were a step up from gang / tribe fights, but not by much. Frankly I’d take a small band of full time / professionals over a part-time militia/army regardless of the opposition numbers anytime. To quote a friend, “quite a large number of landowning Britannic Celts under Boudicca got stomped like narcs at a biker rally by 10 to 12 thousand landless Roman professionals. Gaul was also conquered, and land holding Gauls who outnumbered the invading professionals were butchered, routinely, by landless Roman professionals”. I always liked my friend’s example. 🙂

Lorenzo
Guest

Speaking of the American Civil War, there were plenty of hints about future warfare that European observers could have picked up on, but seemingly did not. The Gatling Gun’s deployment by the Union ought to have tipped off military thinkers to the trend to deadlier armaments. And the trench warfare stagnation in the Petersburg campaign predicted pretty well how trenches in WWI worked out.

Drake
Guest

Even the closing battles of the Napoleonic Wars were bloodbaths due to that deadly combination of new weapons and obsolete tactics.

Doug
Guest
In land warfare small unit infantry tactics will never be obsolete, if anything, the more technology applied in war the more valuable SUT is. The basic principles of small unit combat are the basis of almost all combat. Funny how it is called 4th generation war as it is actually the first style of war going back to the beginning of recorded time. Even Colonel Boydd in his OODA Loop doctrine of Air warfare applied it not only to air combat, but to all forms of fighting. Most probably nothing will replace the man and his rifle, to defend territory… Read more »
Garr
Guest

They’d probably deploy guys in Mech-Suits against you, though.

Doug
Guest
What man makey man breaky. Besides, they have to get out of them sometime. That technology looks pretty nifty in the R&D lab, but they are power hogs of the first level. Until someone comes up with small fusion power units, there isn’t a battery technology small and light enough to run the digital controls and hydraulics without creating a fork truck on two legs. Regardless, you just go where they get out of them. Thats the thing with drones. Nobody has actually fought back against them, yet. And there are numerous ways to defeat them. They are weather limited,… Read more »
Garr
Guest

Thanks — that’s persuasive.

Member

Well said, Doug. And yes, very persuasive!

BLAIR WARNKE
Guest

Salient indeed. Drone tech advances like AI inclusion will make gorilla fights, even in mountainous terrains a hard proposition. Intel drives the battle space. Good analysis Doug.

A.B. Prosper
Guest
Which is why ACW 2.0 Electric Bugaloo hasn’t started . OTOH bringing in enough foreigners to soak deplorable bullets or to create chaos for the elite to escape isn’t a bad strategy Also not having commonalities makes control much easier , 50 languages and no common tongue is very good signal jamming. As for the farther future, so much infrastructure is falling apart its liable to come down to rifles. If it doesn’t autonomous drones with gas and germ weapons will break any insurgency if you have control of them. Killing enough people is one of the few ways an… Read more »
revjen45
Guest

1) The only weapon system capable of taking and holding territory is a man with a rifle.
2) A peasant farmer with a rifle is a soldier/guerrilla.
3) The main difference between a sniper rifle and a scoped center fire hunting rifle is the target.
4) Methinks the SJW cretins are in for an ugly surprise when the gloves come off and the inchoate rage of the We the Peons bursts forth in true living color.
5) The Revolution WILL be televised.

JohnMc
Guest

Drone technology will I suspect eliminate maneuver. If a nation can develop the kit and preposition it long in advance of a line of march the aggressor is done for. The deadliest zone in WWI was that approximate 100yd strip of no mans land. Now imagine that kill zone 10-50 klicks deep, fully automated and denies access to anything, friend or foe.

In that kind of environment speed just means you die quicker. Dispersal just means you die alone. Retreat may not even be possible as the swarm tech envelopes the aggressor.

Meema
Guest

“I don’t know what weapons will be used in WWIII, I only know WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones.” A Einstein

Garr
Guest

Were Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius “neo-con warmongers”?

TomA
Guest

Think outside the box a little more. It’s not just science fiction anymore.

We are on the cusp of using DNA manipulation to bio-engineer super soldiers or perhaps create a new predator life-form that would reshape the battlefield.

Mass communication media is at an epidemic level of saturation and can now be employed to reprogram mental habits subconsciously. Instead of killing the enemy, program them to surrender.

Lasers and drones are incremental steps in existing technological progress. It’s what you don’t see coming that’s the real game-changer.

Consonants and vowels
Guest
Consonants and vowels

Nahhh. No super soldiers or predators. Probably just some love-child of the common cold and ebola that only infects people with certain genes.

Anonymous White Male
Guest
I try to avoid predictions about things. Warfare for one. Remember how we were supposed to have colonies in our Solar System or faster than light travel by now? This is what science fiction predicted. All predictions of what will happen in the future are based on past models. For instance, the Maginot Line was supposed to stop any German advance. And it would have if the Germans had attacked directly instead of going around it. I could predict that mankind will use drone technology as soldiers. In a manner similar to modern video games, cyborgs will be controlled by… Read more »
Member

These are things that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about because I have no effect on them. It is nice to read people who do so one can prepare a bit.
My focus is on family survival, both within and without the current civilization.
Family network, outside contacts, bug in/bug out. The big worry is the need to get to the bug out after surviving an initial shock.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
@ Teapartydoc – With regards to “bugging out” as you call it, do you have a large farm and know how to run one? Because after you bug out, you better have a place to grow your own food, raise animals and provide for yourself for the long term. This idea of “bugging out” with a knife and back pack full of granola bars makes no sense to me. For the short term, yes, I understand you want to get away from an earth quake or flood and keep your family safe. But I haven’t read anything about ‘preppers considering… Read more »
karl hungus
Guest

have enough food, water, and *distance* to outwait the dindu’s (who presumably will starve and murder each other into oblivion in a relatively short time).

Member
Have a farm. Raised on one. Hunt. Fish. Know how to raise just about every kind of animal. Can plow and cultivate with horses. Built barn with my dad and one other man with timber cut off our own property and snaked out of woods with horses. Only used local sawmill to rough cut timber. Property has it’s own water supply, and is too remote for city boys to bother getting there, and would probably regret it if they did. Dad was a survivalist. Once when plowing my brother asked him why they couldn’t use the tractor Instead of the… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

@ Teapartydoc – Sounds very nice. I hope that day never comes for you or your family. I suspect you are probably one of the few who are fortunate enough to have such a place. I’ve read so many articles about city people’s ideas of surviving in the woods and doubt they really understand what it means when civilization collapses. My grand parents lived through 4-years of a collapsing society. It wasn’t as much fun as these YouTube ‘preppers think it will be.

Member

The way I look at it you really only need to be able to survive one winter, and be able to prepare for the next if some kind of society hasn’t reestablished itself. Every month the competition thins out.

LetsPlay
Member
Karl, you raise some valid points. I have been putting together, slowly, bit by bit, a Bug Out Bag, and other gear for staying in place should the SHTF. No farm here. Just the big city. No illusions either. Just a realistic, although untested sense of reality, of what will be coming down the pike when it is every man for himself. A movie about post apocalyptic life that comes to mind right now is “The Book of Eli.” This movie combines a lot of elements of how it will be. Kill or be killed. Strong men trying to control… Read more »
James
Guest

Your dad sounds a lot smarter than the Social Justice Cold Warriors screaming until this recent Tomahawk strike about ‘Trump-RUSSIANS’ or like Louise Mensch, calling for a war on the Russians as if they don’t have nukes newer and missiles better than our own.

ron
Guest
The problem with waging war today is fourfold: One, conventional war between most modern nations is mutual suicide.The advent of nukes and bio-weapons that could tempt the losing side when it has nothing left to lose. Two, even if you beat a nation’s army, then you have to deal with an insurgency that erodes your side’s morale and ruins their economy. Rare is the occupying army (Post WW2 Japan) ever succeeds long term pacifying the conquered country. Even then, now you have to protect them from their enemies, since you demobbed their armed forces. Three, despite so-called surgical strikes, collateral… Read more »
jdallen
Guest

Way things are going it looks like the newest war tech is a truck.

Drake
Guest

Once of these days an exploding muhommed will get his hands on a nuke. Then things will get exciting.

JohnMc
Guest

Sooner than many think. Keep in mind that both Britain and France are nuke powers now in the throes of a cultural shift. I could see a time when a British Muslim ascends to defense minister and hatches a plot to use a commercial jet to carry a nuke and blow up DC.

tdurden
Guest

So the Reader’s Digest version of this would be: “if violence never settled anything, weapons technology wouldn’t have advanced much beyond stone knives and heavy clubs.”

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
Weapon technology has always changed. But what’s very different today is why we fight wars. Wars of antiquity, and up to the early part of the industrial revolution, were about land. Agrarian societies depended upon it, so if your neighbor’s land was greener, you went to war to get it. Sure, religion was mixed in, but it was still about more land and more gold. Even the church knew that. Then the Industrial Revolution came around and the Brits quickly figured out you didn’t need massive armies to conquer people, just a massive Navy to protect trade in their colonies.… Read more »
TomA
Guest

At it’s root, Islam’s advantage is not it’s birthrate, but the efficiency and effectiveness of it’s method of memetically reprogramming it’s youth. The ritual, vocalization, and high repetition rate of it’s messaging, combined with strict social proscription against any deviations, has produced endless generations of “true believers” that operate primarily out of habit rather than reasoning. Once this indoctrination has been implemented prior adolescence, they are on autopilot until death.

Dutch
Guest

The danger to us all is that Islam removes the individual’s agency, that is, the capacity to exercise independent choice. In western religions, God asks things of you. In Islam, God tells you what to do, as interpreted by a group of middle aged men. The western notion of religion being a conscious set of choices ignores the Muslim’s relationship to his God.

Garr
Guest

Our super-elite is reproducing at or above replacement-rate: Gates 3 children, Buffett 3 children, Zuckerberg soon to be 2, Musk 6, Bezos 4. (Just googled this info.) This suggests that Muslims will not take over due to demographic replacement — rather, they’ll be a permanent underclass ruled by Western Lords.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

@ Garr – If the top 1% or even 5% are the only group exceeding the standard replacement rate, the 99-95% that are generally below that rate will fail the rest of us. There is sufficient evidence across Europe and much of the US to indicate westerners are not replacing ourselves at a sufficient pace. I guess we will find out in 20-30 years.

Garr
Guest

Yeah, losers like me are going extinct, that’s for sure. I was thinking that the super-elite will use elite warriors in Mech Suits to protect them from the horrible masses that they exploit — kind of like in that movie Elysium. Doug, above, persuasively argues that elite warriors in Mech Suits wouldn’t be all that effective against West Virginians, but maybe they’d be pretty effective against Muslims. It’s kind of consoling to think that at least there will be a West-European Lord-caste deploying Mech-Suited men-at-arms, isn’t it? Well, maybe not.

Another Lurker
Guest

1.5 billion Muslims simply bounds the ammo requirement.

James
Guest

I see the cliche that Russia is economically null. Wrong. It’s probably about the size of South Korea’s, not Spain’s, once adjusted for purchasing power parity. Of course there are nearly twice as many Russians as Koreans (North and South) so the comparison isn’t entirely flattering given the difference in landmass and natural resources. But Bloomberg admitted Russia did quietly surpass the U.S. in grain exports in the last two years.

CanuckAmok
Guest

Curious: I’ve really enjoyed your “Essential Knowledge” series on Western Civilization, and have used it as a reference in building my own personal “must-read” list. I’m wondering if you’ve got a similar list of books you’ve used for understanding the basics, and the evolution, of military technology and strategy?

Dutch
Guest
Z, your post illustrates my concern with how the Pentagon is going about things. In WWII, we produced all sorts of arms, tanks, ships and planes. Battleships were supposed to win the war, but it turned out to be carriers. U.S. tanks were poorly armored, but sheer numbers turned the tide. These days, it seems the U.S. military is all about big, expensive projects. F22, F35, carrier battle groups. I am guessing that some sort of low profile, less expensive technology is going to turn the tide in the future. If nothing else, a wide variety of deployed equipment gives… Read more »
DiogenesLamp
Guest

“Drone Swarms”. Think “Star Trek into Darkness.”

Another Lurker
Guest
Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply give the troops a new toy to experiment with. “We know you developed this to do X, but we found out it’s really good for doing Y.” Sometimes, the best reason to buy something extraordinarily high-tech, like the F-22 and F-35, is to raise the bar so high that very few will attempt a similar investment. That takes some opponents’ options off the table. Also, our high-tech stuff won’t operate in isolation; it will frequently work in concert with lower-tech (the “high/low mix”). For example, many scenarios call for the F-22, F-35,… Read more »
Anonymous Bro
Guest
If the USG fights a war with a country that can actually fight back, then it has about 6 months before a draft would be needed and some kind of rationing and major tax raises. Only problem is, americans won’t stand for that, so USG goes home with its tail between its legs and the petrodollar loses its power. That means the consumerism that unites all these people temporarily also goes and eventually the country falls to be replaced by multiple other countries. Or, USG goes full retard and becomes a police state to mobilize for the war effort. But… Read more »
DiogenesLamp
Guest

A sky full of flying death robots, capable of working in concert or independently, to bring death to an enemy is going to change how nations go to war.

I’ve been warning about this for over a decade. Skynet is coming.

Another Lurker
Guest

They have to be made jam-resistant and EMP-proof first. Anything with an antenna is vulnerable.

Paul1705
Guest
A brief comment about battleships: despite their armor, they were vulnerable to air and submarine attacks. (Probably true for all surface ships.) They had powerful guns but their range was a bit more than twenty miles, not enough in modern naval warfare. What they really excelled at in the end was shore bombardment. That’s why Congress was concerned after the final retirement of the Iowa-class in the 1990s. I don’t think that has been fully resolved, but you probably don’t need a full battleship. The next generation of guided-missile cruisers could also have some guns bigger than five-inch caliber but… Read more »
John the River
Member
Same naval rifles on the Missouri could have much greater range and accuracy with todays technology; rocket assist and terminal phase guidance. While remaining a tough to kill launch platform. That said, one nuc-warhead on a torp or missile and (though not likely to sink her) can you say “degraded capabilities”. But if you really want to stop the Chinese building program, cancel China’s “Most Favored Nation” status, and line up tariffs at the docks. Tell me again, why are we buying anything from a country that builds missiles and ships that are only intended to fight the USA? I… Read more »
Sam J.
Guest
You guys should look at this slideshow “Dennis M. Bushnell, Future Strategic Issues/Future Warfare [Circa 2025] ” he goes over the trends of technology coming up and how they may play out. Bushnell being chief scientist at NASA Langley Research Center. His report is not some wild eyed fanaticism it’s based on reasonable trends. Link. https://archive.org/details/FutureStrategicIssuesFutureWarfareCirca2025 Page 70 gives the computing power trend and around 2025 we get human level computation for $1000. 2025 is bad but notice it says,”…By 2030, PC has collective computing power of a town full of human minds…”. Here’s another page that has a lot… Read more »
June J
Guest

My (unoriginal) observation on drones:
1. Current technology requires a human pilot and a reliable secure link between the pilot and the drone.
2. Future technology may allow drones to be pre-programmed by the human (pilot) before launch and not dependent upon a reliable secure link.

Both 1 and 2 above require trained humans capable of carrying out their mission. Humans can render other humans incapable via inexpensive 5.56 ammo or other means.

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