Remote Weapon Stations (RWS) bolster the defensive capabilities of APCs and lightly protected scout vehicles, as well as, with the right weaponry, add accurate offensive long-range punch. RWS enable IFVs to provide much more effective fire support to dismounted troops and provide tanks with a responsive, lighter weapon system that makes them both more survivable and more deadly in close-range urban combat. Furthermore, they give combat support and combat service support vehicles an effective means of defending themselves, minimising crew exposure.
The core technologies on which they depend include electric servo drives, compact and accurate inertial angle rate sensors, multi-sensor electro-optical systems, smooth precision bearings, and rugged computers running software, including algorithms, that can apply ballistic corrections tailored to the weapon and ammunition, accounting for the multiple factors that affect fall of shot. All of these are increasingly available, reliable and affordable. It is a rare new-build or upgrade armoured vehicle programme that does not include an RWS, and the larger examples are becoming the main armament of an expanding variety of vehicles, at which point the conceptual dividing line between RWS and unmanned turret becomes blurred.
Inevitably, this makes the global market very competitive. There are at least 17 big name defence companies now offering them, vying to provide the most attractive combination of desirable features, such as the ability to support a wide range of weapons, whether in single- or multi-weapon configuration, modularity, rapid reconfigurability, ease of integration and simplicity of operation, and training. The current contenders include Aselsan, BAE Systems, CMI Defence, DETRAC, Elbit Systems, EOS, FN Herstal, Kalashnikov, Kongsberg, Leonardo, Moog, Rafael, Rheinmetall, Raytheon, Saab, ST Kinetics, and Valhalla.
Weapon options have expanded from light machine guns to medium calibre cannon and automatic grenade launchers. Increasingly, guided missiles are being added to the mix, which in the very near future will also likely include high energy lasers to the mix. Some RWS even offer ‘non-lethal’ options.
Short Range SAM Option
While anti-armour missiles have been offered on RWS for some time, other types including surface-to-air missiles (SAM) are increasingly being integrated. On 13 September, for example, MT reported that Saab is in the process of integrating the RBS 70 NG close range SAM into its TRACKFIRE RWS, initially for application to Protected Military Vehicles (PMV) such as the Thales HAWKEI for the Australian Army.
Using an integral thermal imager, the new sighting system for the RBS 70 NG reportedly weighs around 50kg including an additional clip-on night device. Currently under development, the first fireable RBS 70 NG RWS prototype is expected to emerge in 2017. When applied to the HAWKEI PMV it should provide a close-range air and missile defence capability capable of keeping up with a rapidly manoeuvring force – a key requirement for Australia's Land 19 Phase 7B programme.
TRACKFIRE has been designed with guns in mind – from light machine guns to medium calibre cannon and grenade launchers – for use on a very wide variety of platform types, including vehicles, vessels and static emplacements. It is one of the more advanced RWS, offering what Saab terms a true stabilised independent line of sight (SILOS) in which the sensor module is decoupled from the weapon axes, enabling the sight and its laser rangefinder to remain on the target while elevation and azimuth corrections are applied to the gun. This also isolates the sight from weapon vibration and recoil.
SAMSON with SPIKE for Lithuania's BOXERs
On 29 August 2016, Rafael confirmed it will supply Lithuania with its SAMSON Mk II RWS with SPIKE missile launchers, in addition to a cannon and machine gun, in a deal in which the Baltic nation is to receive 88 BOXER armoured vehicles by the end of 2017.
ARTEC, a joint venture of Kraus-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall, has developed four IFV variants of BOXER for the Lithuanian Armed Forces, which will designate them VIKLAS. All four variants will have SAMSON Mk II turrets with a 30mm cannon, a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and two-round SPIKE LR (Long Range) launchers with eight smoke grenade launchers.
The company describes SAMSON Mk II as a dual-axis, gyro-stabilised, dual sight, for the gunner and commander, RWS capable of mounting multiple weapons. The Mk II version features a lower silhouette, add-on armour and greater accuracy. It also boosts crew survivability as it can be reloaded under armour. In addition to the weapons integrated for Lithuania, armament options include 5.56mm, 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine guns, 40mm Automatic Grenade Launchers (AGL), observation pods, and non-lethal capabilities, says the company.
Valhalla Launches ODIN 570 for T-72 Upgrades
Valhalla has come up with a new take on the RWS concept with its ODIN 570 Remote Control Weapon Station (RCWS). Announced on 4 July 2016, ODIN 570 is designed to replace the main gun turret on a T-72 MBT with an unmanned turret mounting a BAE Systems Bofors 57mm L/70 automatic cannon, a coaxial 5.56mm machine gun, a ‘co-directional’ 25mm Orbital-ATK LW25 BUSHMASTER Chain Gun, and an unnamed independent RWS with a 7.62mm machine gun. This would convert the old MBT into what Valhalla calls a Heavy Fighting Vehicle (HFV) to rival Uralvagonzavod’s BMPT-72 TERMINATOR 2 conversion.
Needless to say, the ODIN 570 is a large RWS as it measures 3.05x2.6x1m (excluding the gun) without the independent RWS, or 1.48m with it installed. The big gun is supplied with 100 rounds of 57x438mm ammunition, while there are 700 rounds of 25x59mm for the LW25 BUSHMASTER, and 2,000 rounds each of 7.62 mm and 5.56 mm for the independent RWS and the coaxial machine gun respectively. The BUSHMASTER is referred to as a ‘co-directional’ weapon as it traverses with the main gun but can move separately in elevation. It is mounted to the right rear of the main turret.
CMI Defence Picked for US Medium Calibre Effort
During Eurosatory 2016, Cockerill (CMI Defence) revealed that in January 2016 the US Army had chosen it to participate in the development of a new generation of medium-calibre armament systems. The company is to work with the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) set to conclude by the end of 2017. According to CMI Defence the effort involves the “common conception” of a new unmanned medium-calibre turret incorporating a product from within its portfolio.
The main armament will be the 30mm XM318 cannon with a linkless ammunition handling system. Operators will aim the weapon via a new fire control system with interfaces that enable faster, more accurate and more effective engagement of targets, says the company, which is to deliver the first turret to ARDEC in mid-2017.
CMI Defence president Jean-Luc Maurange emphasised the importance of the effort to the company. “It enables us to be ideally positioned within the framework of the future American modernization programme for the STRYKER fleet of systems,” he said.
Cockerill's current RWS offering is centred on the CPWS 20-25-30 system. First shown at Eurosatory in 2014, the CPWS is designed to support a cannon of 20-30mm in a package weighing less than 1,000kg in basic form, enabling it to be mounted on a light armoured vehicle.
Kongsberg Shows Off JAVELIN-Armed PROTECTOR
Eurosatory 2016 also saw Kongsberg display the latest capability for its PROTECTOR RWS, which has proven its ability to fire JAVELIN anti-armour missiles in a campaign conducted in cooperation with the British Army's Armoured Trials and Development Unit (ATDU) and the Javelin Joint Venture (JJV) team of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. The configuration includes either a 12.7mm machine gun or a 40mm AGL as the main weapon, with either a 7.62mm machine gun or the JAVELIN as the coaxial weapon, says Kongsberg.
Five JAVELINs of two variants were fired from a SPARTAN armoured vehicle, all hitting their stationary ground targets at ranges of 1.2-4.3km on the Salisbury Plain Training Area. Three JAVELIN Block 0 missiles were fired at ranges of 1.5km, 2.5km, and 3.2km and two Block 1 missiles at 3.5km and 4.3km, the latter being one of the longest engagement distances so far attempted with JAVELIN.
“We see an increased demand for add-ons and solutions like the JAVELIN integration, and we are very satisfied with the excellent test results,” commented Espen Henriksen, President of Kongsberg Protech Systems.
Kongsberg's selection for the UK’s SCOUT SV (now called AJAX) was announced in February of 2015, followed in May of that year by the announcement that Australia had chosen PROTECTOR for its new Supacat JACKAL 6x6 patrol vehicles. This was followed by General Dynamics Land Systems telling Kongsberg that the PROTECTOR Medium Caliber Remote Weapon Station (MCRWS), armed with a 30mm cannon, had been selected for US Army STRYKERs.
On 4 January, the company announced an order for engineering support activities and production preparation from the US Army for CROWS LP (Low Profile), a configuration associated with the M1 ABRAMS MBT.
HITROLE, HITFIST Offered on New CENTAUROs
On 13 June, CIO, the Iveco-Oto Melara (now Leonardo) consortium showed off CENTAURO II, the newest member of the well-known family of 8x8 anti-tank vehicles. Leonardo emphasised that the CENTAURO II’s turret can be fitted with the HITROLE Light RWS, which in turn can be fitted with a 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine gun or a 40mm AGL, which are stabilised in azimuth and elevation.
HITROLE LIGHT’s fire control system includes a multi-sensor EO suite with day TV and IR cameras and a laser rangefinder, along with automatic target tracking software and a fire control computer that applies ballistic corrections and directs the turret through a digital servo system based on Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technology. As well as conventional combat roles, the sensors enable HITROLE LIGHT to take on other tasks such as surveillance, urban patrol work, border security and, with appropriate gunfire location sensors, a counter-sniper role.
Also on display was another vehicle in this family, the CENTAURO AIFV/OWS 30 FRECCIA, which combines the CENTAURO’s drivetrain with a new hull designed to maximise crew survivability. As the name suggests, it is fitted with Leonardo's HITFIST Overhead Weapon Station (OWS) armed with a 30mm cannon, in this case an Orbital-ATK Mk44 Chain Gun, which is digitally gyro-stabilised, along with a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun and the ability to mount a pair of launchers for SPIKE, KORNET or INGWE anti-armour missiles. The Fire Control System includes the usual day, night and laser sensors with the addition of meteorological and vertical reference sensors. The turret can be controlled by one operator under armour through joysticks and a colour multifunction display.
However, by standing up in position, the operator can have an all-round direct view of the battlefield through episcopes below the turret, reload the weapons and carry out basic maintenance through a hatch in the turret floor. Although it is electric, a power failure does not put the HITFIST OWS out of action, as it can be aimed in azimuth and elevation manually and aimed with a back-up fibre optic sight for direct aiming.
Aselsan and Defensetech signed an MoA on 20 April 2016 to establish a joint venture to produce RCWS in Malaysia, a company that will receive technologies from Aselsan to manufacture various RCWS, including those in the 12.7mm, 25mm, and 30mm configurations. The JV will initially focus on the assembly of Aselsan's SMASH 30mm remote-controlled stabilised naval gun system, which will be fitted to coastal patrol vessels operated by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
At SOFEX 2016, the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) launched its latest AL-WAHSH 4x4 APC, fitted with Aselsan’s Anti-Tank Missile Launching System with mockups of four missiles in the ready-to-launch position, plus a 7.62mm machine gun.
At ADEX 2016, Otokar showcased its new ÜCOK stabilised RCWS on a COBRA II LAV. The ÜCOK RCWS can use 12.7mm, 7.62mm, or 40mm AGLs on the same platform. The weapon station has dual axes independently driven sight, which accommodates a dual FOV for thermal camera, a CCD camera, and a laser range finder. Independent driven sight allows the aiming reticle to stay on the target when the weapon system is aiming at lead angles. The system is designed to carry up to 400 rounds in 12.7mm configuration, 1,000 rounds in 7.62mm, or 100 rounds in 40mm AGL mode. UCOK also features eight 76mm smoke grenade launchers.
RWS are here to stay, and future systems are likely to emphasise rapid reconfigurability, as systems launched during 2015 such as the Moog/DRS Technologies Reconfigurable Integrated Weapons Platform (RIWP) and Raytheon BATTLEGUARD do, to keep up with evolving threats.