Weapons: Deadly Improvised Droids In Syria


September 14, 2016: The civil war in Syria has, since it began in 2011, witnessed a number of innovations, usually among the rebels. This includes clever and widespread use of commercial UAVs, GoPro cameras and various wireless devices. Some clever innovations had a more sinister intent. Since 2013 there have been number of locally made remotely controlled sniper rifle and machine-gun systems seen used in Syria. These all used commercial parts and cost a few hundred dollars to turn a weapon into a remotely controlled one. So far more than twenty different designs have shown up in Syria, used by various rebel groups and even some pro-government forces.

These weapons are usually remotely controlled via a cable, to prevent jamming and provide power to the mechanism that moves and fires the weapon. The operators uses a game controller, or a laptop and perhaps a joystick to move the weapon and the vidcam attached, as well as to fire the weapon. These weapons do not provide the most accurate fire but they do keep the enemy at a distance without exposing your own men to enemy fire. The remotely controlled weapons are usually fired through a window or other opening in a building or from an improvised and camouflaged bunker. This makes it difficult for the enemy to figure out if they are dealing with people (who can be more easily put out of action or scared away) or just a remotely controlled weapon. The basic design concepts of these weapons has been discussed and developed on the Internet for nearly two decades and the general idea was known long before that.

One thing that inspired these weapons in the Middle East was the success of the Kongsberg PROTECTOR Remote Weapon Stations (RWS) system that American troops began using on their Stryker, M-1 tank and hummer vehicles in 2006. These RWS systems cost over $300,000 each but were much more accurate and often had accessories like laser range finders, night vision, zoom capability for the vidcams and a stabilizer mechanism to allow more accurate fire while the vehicle is moving. These RWS could mount a variety of weapons including 12.7 machine-gun, 40mm automatic grenade launcher, 7.62mm or 5.56mm machine-guns.

This RWS concept has been around since World War II when Germany improvised a crude but effective RWS for some of their armored vehicles using a periscope and mechanical controls. Years of tinkering with the concept and better technology had, by 2000 made the remote control gun turret finally work effectively, dependably and affordably.

In Iraq and Afghanistan RWS was 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. It was also noted that many of the enemy fighters who first encountered American RWS in Iraq had seen Western or Japanese films featuring killer robots and often thought that's what they are facing. The fear factor is real and it helps.

The accuracy of the fire, and uncanny speed with which the RWS gun moves to point at a target, is due to something else few expected. Many troops who quickly become expert RWS operators grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating computer systems (video games) very similar to the RWS 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. It was soon found that the zoom and night vision capabilities made the RWS operator superior to having someone manually handling the weapon and detection of the enemy.


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