Saturday, May 8, 2010

Remote Weapon Systems

Most military vehicles can mount some sort of weapon, and even small protected vehicles like up-armored Hummers have top mounts. Manning them can be hazardous, however, as the story behind the Chavis Turret illustrates. Gunners are especially exposed to enemy sniper fire and counter-fire in urban environments, which figure prominently in current and expected war scenarios. 
In response, larger armored vehicles have begun using Remote Weapon Systems (RWS), consisting of a gun and sensors that sit on top of the vehicle. These systems are controlled from inside via joystick and screen, and all ammunition, sensors, etc. are part of the topside assembly. The USA’s Common Remotely-Operated Weapons Station (CROWS) brings those capabilities to smaller vehicles, like up-armored Hummers or blast-resistant MRAPs. CROWS orders had traditionally been filled by Recon/Optical Inc., but a major “CROWS-II” framework agreement with Kongsberg in 2007 changed that landscape. 

The CROWS System

This RWS approach does reduce situational awareness in many instances, thanks to a narrower field of view and fewer audio cues. In exchange, however, RWS systems offer full in-hull protection for the crew, much better fire-on-the-move capability, and the ability to use the RWS’ advanced sensors in night or obscurement scenarios. RWS have become extremely popular in recent years; major competitors in this space now include BAE (LEMUR), Elbit Systems (ORCWS), Kongsberg (Protector), RAFAEL (RCWS and Samson families), Recon Optical (Raven), and Thales (SWARM).

CROWS is versatile and modular. It can mount weapons such as the M2 HB .50-cal Machine Gun, Mk19 40-mm Automatic Grenade Machine Gun, M240B 7.62-mm MG(Machine Gun) and M249 5.56-mm Squad Automatic Weapon. The system’s sensor unit includes a daylight video camera with digital video processing capabilities, a thermal imager for night operations, and an eyesafe laser rangefinder. It is furnished with a fully integrated fire control system that provides ballistic correction, and offers a 2-axis stabilized (azimuth and elevation) gunner-operated weapon system, that corrects for vehicle movement. The Recon/Optical mount is capable of continuous 360 degree azimuth rotation and -20 to +60 degree elevation; the Kongsberg mount shares these abilities, with a maximum slew rate of 100 degrees/second and a topside weight under 350 pounds.

The system’s control group, which mounts inside the vehicle, is the gunner interface allowing operation within the vehicle’s protective shell. Its main components include a display unit, Switch Panel Unit (SPU), and hand controller (joystick). The control group provides full remote control of the weapon system via on-screen menus presented on the display, and by the switches on the SPU and joystick.

America’s Army screenshot
The CROWS system has received excellent reviews from US troops in Iraq – and if this sounds like a video-game to you, you’re in good company. 

The US Army worked with game developers to put a CROWS module and mission sets into the new version of the hit Pentagon-sponsored videogame/ recruiting tool/ preparation tool “America’s Army.” That would certainly cut the time required to train new recruits. Indeed, the additional levels of proficiency possible through such approaches will act as another incentive for countries to equip their vehicles with RWS systems, instead of traditional gunner mounts.

In the US military, CROWS systems currently equip the M1114 up-armored HMMWVs (Armored Scouts/Military Police), and M1116 up-armored HMMWVs (U.S. Air Force); the M93A1P1 nuclear, biological, chemical reconnaissance vehicle, scout vehicle; and some of Textron’s M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicles (Military Police), which also have their own armored turrets.

Contracts & Key Events

April 28/10: Kongsberg announces another $57 million order from the US Army for CROWS II systems.

April 20/10: Kongsberg announces a NOK 1.2 billion (about $203 million) order from the US Army, as part of the December 2009 contract increase. The amounts to date indicate that close to half of the 3,849 additional CROWS II systems have now been ordered.

April 20/10: Pentagon DefenseLINK sometimes puts out announcements that seem to be CROWS orders, but are not. An excellent example is given as an $11.1 million “firm-fixed-price contract for the procurement of 1,037 Remote Weapon System / Crew Remote Operated Weapons System final production configuration for the Mine Resistant Ambush All Terrain Vehicle.”

What this actually means is that they’re paying Oshkosh Defense to set their M-ATV patrol vehicles up so that everything is in place to accept a CROWS system: power, electronic interlinks, structural support, etc. The CROWS systems themselves are provided independently, as Government-Furnished Equipment. US Army TACOM in Warren, MI says that 5 bids were solicited, with 5 bids received (W56HZV-09-D-0111).

Dec 29/09: Kongsberg Defense in Kongsberg, Norway receives a modification to their existing contract, increasing the number of systems within the existing CROWS II framework from 6,500 to up to 10,349 systems (3,849 units). An initial delivery order for NOK 950 million/ $162.2 million begins the process, and the contract’s total value may reach over NOK 4.5 billion ($820 million), depending on the US Army’s future demand and annual allocations. 

In issuing this order, the US military cites FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) 6.302-2, unusual and compelling urgency, and also 10 US U.S.C.2304 c2. Final work is to be performed in Johnstown, PA, with an estimated completion date of Aug 1/12. One bid was solicited by the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, but 3 bids were received (W15QKN-07-D-0018). 

Nov 25/09: Kongsberg Defense in Konsberg, Norway receives a $15.1 million firm-fixed-price contract for “a minimum 1,000 common remotely operated weapon station systems with a maximum of 6,500, also to include the acquisition of spare parts, depot operations as well as field service representatives.” This may be a maintenance contract, or a long-lead contract related to the December 2009 changes.

Work is to be performed in Johnstown, PA, with a completion date of Aug 1/13. Bids were solicited on the World Wide Web, with 3 bids received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command, Joint Munitions & Lethality Contracting Center in Picatinny Arsenal, NJ (W15QKN-07-D-0018).

Sept 14/09: An $18.2 million unfinalized Change Order Modification firm-fixed-price multi-year contract to Kongsberg, buying up to 370 Commanders Remote Operated Weapons Stations version 2 kits (CROWS II) for upgraded M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams tanks. Work is to be performed in Lima, OH with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/12 (W56HZV-06-G-0006).

Aug 28/09: Kongsberg announces an NOK 1.1 billion (about $181.5 million) delivery order under the maximum NOK 8 billion CROWS framework agreement signed in August 2007.

June 23/09: Kongsberg announces an NOK 152 million (about $23.3 million) delivery order under the maximum NOK 8 billion CROWS framework agreement signed in August 2007.

Dec 1/08: More anti-sniper work with CROWS. Textron subsidiary AAI Corporation announces a $3 million, 12-month contract from the U.S. Army’s Project Manager Soldier Weapons organization for Projectile Detection and Cueing (PDCue) gunshot detection systems, to be integrated with the 50 M1151 up-armored Hummers and their CROWS II systems during overseas operational evaluation.

The award calls for all 50 of the PDCue systems to be delivered in the “4-corner” configuration, in which sensor clusters positioned at the 4 corners of a vehicle provide low-profile, 360-degree situational awareness. PDCue is designed to instantly locate and track the source of single-shot, multiple-shot, and burst-fire events in any environment. The 4-corner systems will each include sensors, a user display, and navigation units. AAI will provide technical support as part of the contract, and modular design and open architecture are expected to ensure plug-and-play integration of the system with the CROWS II weapon stations.

Sept 23/08: Kongsberg announcement:
“Last week, the US Army issued Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace AS a contract valued at $15 million for additional PROTECTOR Remote Weapon Stations (RWSs) to be integrated into the Vanguard Sniper Defense System and manufactured in Johnstown, PA… Under this latest contract, the CROWS II will be included with the Vanguard Sniper Defense System for the US Army’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.”

The Vanguard system has been developed by DoubleShot, inc. of Rohnert Park, CA, under a $10.7 million contract announced on Aug 8/07.

Sept 10/08: Kongsberg announces an order valued at NOK 1.1 billion (about $198 million) from the US Army. The weapon stations will be manufactured at Kongsberg’s plant in Johnstown, PA, and deliveries will take place in 2010.

June 12/08: Kongsberg announces that they have booked an order valued at NOK 58 million (about $11.2 million) from the US Army, as part of the CROWS framework agreement signed in August 2007. The deliveries will take place in first half of 2009.

The announcement also mentions a NOK 135 million (about $26 million) order by General Dynamics Land Systems in USA for “deliveries of weapon control systems for armoured personnel vehicles to US Army.” these are almost certainly destined for the US Army’s wheeled Stryker APCs, which use the Kongsberg Protector RWS.

May 30/08: Kongsberg announces that it has booked an order valued at NOK 585 million (about $115.8 million) from the US Army under the CROWS framework agreement signed in August 2007. Deliveries will begin in second half of 2009.

May 19/08: BAE Systems announces a $60 million order to provide thermal imaging modules to Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace AS for use with the systems in its CROWS-II contract. This is the first phase of a 5-year contract to supply up to 6,500 thermal sights, and additional contracts could increase the subcontract’s value to $200 million depending on Kongsberg’s orders. See also Oct 23/07 entry.

BAE’s release claims that its “TIM1500 is the longest-range uncooled imager in service on remote weapon stations.” Uncooled imagers are preferred, because removing the need for cryogenic cooling reduces power requirements, weight, and size.

Jan 2/08: Recon/Optical’s protest to the US Congressional Government Accountability Office is denied. Kongsberg release.

Oct 23/07: BAE Systems announces a 5-year contract, with a potential value of up to $200 million to manufacture and deliver up to 6,500 TIM1500 thermal sights to Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace AS for the CROWS II system. The CROWS II program has a maximum order quantity of 6,500 remote weapon stations. Production deliveries will begin in early 2008.
The initial order is a $15 million contract. Under an August 2005 contract valued at about $50 million, BAE Systems has already provided more than 1,400 TIM1500 units to Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace AS in support of the U.S. Army Stryker program. Production deliveries under that contract began in November 2005 and are expected to continue through April 2008. BAE Systems release.

Aug 22/07: There’s a new RWS in town. Kongsberg Gruppen ASA subsidiary Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace won a 5-year, $1 billion firm-fixed-price and time and materials framework agreement for the delivery of up to 6,500 CROWS systems to the US Army. Duties will include delivery of Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station Systems, spare parts, depot operations, and field service representatives. The firm entered a modified version of its M151 PROTECTOR RWS that equips the USA’s Stryker vehicle fleet. an in-theater support arrangement is already in place for Protector systems via a General Motors/ General Dynamics partnership, under this contract, Kongsberg will handle CROWS work on its own. Kongsberg release.

The CROWS-II win means that future CROWS orders will go to Kongsberg, but actual purchases under the framework agreement will be driven by future demand and annual allocations. While DefenseLINK says that work will be performed in Johnstown, PA, this facility reportedly has only 16 employees; most of the manufacturing will take place in Norway, and is expected to be complete by Aug 1/12. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Bids were solicited via the World Wide Web on Aug. 23, 2006, and 3 bids were received by the U.S. Army Joint Munitions and Lethality Life Cycle Command at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ (W15QKN-07-D-0018).

Kongsberg also received the first order under the framework agreement, which carries a value of $292.9 million and applies to the delivery of weapon stations, spare parts and support. 


Sept 26/06: Recon Optical Inc. in Barrington, IL received a $37.7 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for units of the common remotely operated weapon station. Work will be performed in Barrington, IL and is expected to be complete by June 1, 2007. This was a sole source contract initiated on March 29, 2006 by the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ (W15QKN-06-C-0152).

May 16/06: Recon Optical Inc. in Barrington, IL received an additional $36.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for the CROWS. Work will be performed in Barrington, IL, and is expected to be complete by April 1, 2007. This was a sole source contract initiated on March 29, 2006 by the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command in Picatinny Arsenal, NJ (W15QKN-06-C-0152).

Aug 3/05: Recon Optical Inc. in Barrington, IL received a $68 million firm-fixed price contract for 230 common remotely operated weapon stations (CROWS). Work on this contract will be performed at Barrington, IL and will be completed by April 30, 2006. The U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command Picatinny Arsenal, NJ issued the contract (W15QKN-05-C-1209).

Sept 26/05: Recon Optical Inc. in Barrington, IL received an $8 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for the common remotely operated weapon station. Work will be performed in Barrington, IL and is expected to be complete by March 30, 2007. This was a sole source contract initiated on Aug. 16, 2005 by the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command in Picatinny Arsenal, NJ (W15QKN-05-C-1209).

Additional Readings
  • Army News Service (May 15/06) – Tank Unit Fields Remote Weapons System. Members of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment at Ft. Bliss recently became the first U.S.-based unit to have the CROWS, and the only unit in the world (so far) to have it mounted on M1 Abrams tanks. It may be part of the M1A2 TUSK Tank Urban Survival Kit
This article can be found in its original format here.

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