Armor: Video Game Magic

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October 25, 2007: The U.S. Army is equipping some of its PROTECTOR Remote Weapon Stations (RWS) with a $31,000 thermal site. The RWS is used on Stryker, M-1 and hummer vehicles. RWS is the key component of the CROWS (common remotely operated weapon stations). This idea has been around for nearly half a century, but years of tinkering, and better technology, have made the remote control gun turret finally work effectively, dependably and affordably.

CROWS is a real life saver, not to mention anxiety reducer, for troops who drive through bandit country a lot, and man the turret gun. You're a target up there, and too often, the bad guys get you. Not with CROWS. The gunner is inside the vehicle, checking out the surroundings (with night vision and telephoto capabilities). CROWS also has a laser rangefinder built in, as well as a stabilizer mechanism to allow more accurate fire while the vehicle is moving. The CROWS systems cost about $260,000 each (including the weapon), and can mount a variety of weapons (M2 .50 caliber machine-gun, MK19 40-mm automatic grenade launcher, M240B 7.62mm machine-gun and M249 5.56mm squad automatic weapon).

Since many troops have years of experience with video games, they take to CROWS quickly, and very effectively. That's one reason, not often talked about, for the success of CROWS. The guys operating these systems grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating systems (video games) very similar to the CROWS controls. This was important, because viewing the world around the vehicle via a vidcam is not as enlightening (although a lot safer) than having your head and chest exposed to the elements, and any firepower the enemy sends your way. But experienced video gamers are skilled at whipping that screen view around, and picking up any signs of danger. The army even has a CROWS trainer built into its America's Army online game.

Iraqis are amazed at how observant CROWS is. The night vision and telephoto lens on the CROWS camera, controlled by an experienced video gamer, is basically more effective than having a soldier standing up with head and shoulders exposed to enemy fire. The thermal sight makes CROWS even more effective. Some CROWS users have been recording some of what they see, for training purposes, for later examination (to check for any enemy activity they missed), or just because it was funny as hell. Some stuff that shows up on the web is from CROWS operators.

Many Iraqis, especially the bad guys, get distressed while watching a CROWS turret being exercised by some video game addict inside the vehicle. That's because the most noticeable part of CROWS, as it swivels and "looks" around, is the machine-gun. Many Iraqis don't even recognize the vidcam and other sensors. They think the machine-gun is, well, sort of R2D2 with a bad attitude and a license to kill. Other Iraqis just write this off as another example of American "magic." But the troops know betters. Video games can save your life, and CROWS proves it every day.

 


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