Manning the turret atop an armoured vehicle is among the most essential and dangerous assignments in a military convoy. Gunners must stand exposed through a hole in the vehicle's roof while taking cover and engaging targets. To reduce gunner casualties, the US military designed a Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, a joystick-driven killing machine called the CROWS.
The CROWS is a roof-mounted, gyro-stabilised turret that can rotate 360 degrees with an 80-degree vertical range, It accepts an M2 .50-calibre machine gun, the Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launcher, the M240B 7.62mm machine gun and an M249 SAW. All the ammo stores in the mount itself, as does the sensor suite — including daylight video with 30x zoom, thermal imaging and laser rangefinder.
The gunner remotely controls the turret from the armour-plated safety of the vehicle's interior using a joystick and monitor. Granted, this narrow, detached line of sight does reduce situational awareness (there are fewer audio cues). But it's a minor tradeoff to keep a soldier from exposing his upper torso to counter-fire. Plus, the CROWS system improves visibility at night.
The first iteration of the CROWS, dubbed RAVEN, was developed by Recon Optical and fielded in Iraq in 2004 with great success, allowing soldiers in smaller vehicles like Humvees and MRAPs to carry out their duties with greater safety and efficiency. However, in 2007, Kongsberg won a $US1 billion contract to produce the heavy-duty CROWS-II system. The CROWS-II can be integrated into larger armoured vehicles like the M1114 and M1116 Humvees, the M93A1P1 NBC reconnaissance vehicle, the Stryker APC and the MRAP. It has even been integrated into the M1 Abrams main battle tank.
To date, Kongsberg has built more than 10,000 CROWS for the US military and more than 16,000 units to allies around the world. Based on the success of the CROWS-II, the US military awarded Kongsberg a $US970 million, five-year contract earlier this year to supply the new CROWS-III system, which will integrate the JAVELIN, MK47, MG3 and other standard NATO weapons.