Army Explores Future of Remote Control Weapons

Article excerpt

The unenviable job of gunners manning weapons atop vehicles may become passe, as the Army tests and fields new versions of remote-controlled guns.

The Commonly Remotely Operated Weapon Station has already been fielded with military police units in Iraq. Army officials told National Defense that the program is expanding to include lighter versions, called CROWS-Lightning, for trucks and other vehicles that cannot handle the heavier system.

This summer, versions of CROWS-Lightning will head to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. for testing, and in early 2006 will arrive in Iraq for field tests, said Col. Mike Smith, project manager for soldier weapons.

While the portion of the original system located above a vehicle's roofline weighs 395 pounds, the equivalent part of CROWS-Lightning is about 175 pounds. A certain amount of mass is necessary to absorb the guns' recoil, Smith said.

The lightweight versions are currently being tested on Humvees, but potential exists for its use on various other vehicles, including armored recovery vehicles and the Future Tactical Truck System. To reduce the logistics footprint and make maintenance easier, the same mounting and many of the same parts of application kits will be used.

CROWS sits on two-axis stabilized mounts with 360-degree range. In case of a breakdown, soldiers can operate the weapon manually. Officials from the soldier weapons project manger's office said that the system is being considered for use in base protection--mounted on a rooftop or covering a checkpoint, for example.

An often-unheralded strength of the CROWS family is its software, explained Lt. Col. Kevin Stoddard, product manager of crew-served weapons.

For example, a mapping program allows the systems to be moved from one vehicle to another, taking into account different profiles. The software's 'no fire' areas are defined so that operators cannot accidentally shoot off parts of their own vehicles when they mount CROWS on another platform.

That concept can also be expanded to include no fire zones in the immediate environment. Even while moving, CROWS can be programmed not to shoot within programmable parameters. Set to a surveillance mode, CROWS' optical sensors can peer at one target at a time without direct soldier control.

"The system is software-intensive as well as mechanical," Stoddard said. "It's a big part of this program."

The sensor suite includes daytime video, forward-looking infrared and a laser rangefinder. The heavy version supports the MK19 grenade machine gun, .50 caliber M2 machine gun, M249 semi automatic weapon and M240B machine gun.

More weaponry changes are underway, according to military researchers. "We're absolutely looking at future weapons," Smith said.

Plans include incorporating the XM307 lightweight grenade launcher into the CROWS family. The XM307 fires air-bursting grenades and armor-piercing ammunition. The XM312 . …