In parallel with increasing user appreciation for its tactical contributions and capabilities, U.S. ground forces are exploring expanded applications and enhanced capabilities for tactical remote weapon stations (RWS).
User appreciation for these systems has been made evident in several public statements, such as the Feb. 4, 2009, testimony by senior Army leadership before elements of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.
Highlighting the Army’s fielding of the XM153 Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS) the leadership’s jointly prepared opening statement emphasized the benefits of gunner protection while engaging targets with crew-served M2 .50-caliber, Mk. 19 40 mm, M240B 7.62 mm, or M249 5.56 mm weapons.
“[CROWS] provides the operator with the ability to control the system from within the protection of the armored vehicle and to engage targets with a high degree of accuracy during the day and at night while stationary or moving,” it read. “The system provides increased lethality and survivability and is considered a force multiplier. Fielding is ongoing in Iraq for the RG-31, Buffalo, and RG-33SV (SOCOM), JERRV and M1151A1 UMR. MRAP integration and testing are ongoing on the Dash and RG31A2 MRAP vehicles in support of OEF. The first vehicles for OEF with CROWS are planned to be shipped on or about [March 7, 2009] with a planned fielding date of May 1, 2009…”
In addition to continued fielding by the U.S. Army, FY 10 projects at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) included a “Remote Weapons System (RWS)” project “to evaluate Remote Weapons System capabilities and performance ISO [in support of] USMC tactical forces.”
Meanwhile, it appears that the U.S. special operations community is interested in “expanding the envelope” for RWS capabilities.
One recent example surfaced in mid-August 2010, with the announcement of government intent to issue “a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the procurement of M134 Minigun weapon system integration kits for the Common Remotely Operated Weapons System (CROWS).”
The current generation M134D Minigun is a six barreled, electrically driven machine gun chambered in 7.62 mm NATO and firing at a fixed rate of 3,000 shots per minute. The guns typically feed from a 3,000 or 4,400 round magazine.
U.S. special operations elements employ the M134D on ground platforms, such as the HMMWV, and aerial platforms, ranging from door gun positions on MH-47 series helicopters to its inclusion on the BAE Systems “Remote Guardian” all-quadrant defensive weapon system being developed for the CV-22 Osprey aircraft.
The recent announcement implies expanding the application to ground-based CROWS platforms, stating that the planned integration kit procurement “is in support of the U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) need to build onto the existing XM153 CROWS II platform and integrate M134 Minigun weapon systems.”
But SOCOM interest in expanding the RWS envelope apparently doesn’t stop with just adding a Minigun, but also in expanding platform capabilities and applications.
Specifically, the day after release of the M134 announcement, the USSOCOM Procurement Division released a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) that identified one “Area of Scientific/Technical Importance and Interest of USSOCOM” to be “Remote Weapon System (RWS) Mounted on Common Military Platforms (Ground/Air).”
Elaborating on the specific technology needs, the announcement revealed “a need for detailed information on emerging technologies that would offer the warfighter a Remote Weapon System (RWS) that would be highly accurate, light, compact, ergonomic and durable enough to handle the roughest of conditions.”
Desired system characteristics ranged from “first-time point of impact while firing at a lightly skinned moving vehicle, from a mobile platform (ground or air) and up to 300 meters away,” to reducing size and weight of the RWS “to ensure that individuals are able to easily mount and dismount the vital equipment during all possible mission options.”