Weapons: Predicting Details of Future War


June 2, 2024: The tools and techniques of warfare have been changing at a rapid rate since the late 1990s. It has become easier to find and kill or injure soldiers out in the open. Those casualties are avoided by putting soldiers in vehicles equipped with RWS (Remote Weapon Stations). This is the ubiquitous remote control weapon, usually a machine-gun, seen on trucks like the Humvee and MRAP as well as and tanks. The pioneer of this technology was the Norwegian firm Kongsberg, which has sold over 25,000 of its Protec Remote Weapon Stations so far. Most have been purchased by the U.S. Army, at a cost of several billion dollars. Widespread and successful initial use on Stryker, M-1 and hummer vehicles has led the U.S. Army to adopt the Kongsberg system as standard. The initial order, in 2007, was for 6,500. But the success of the system increased demand. The remote control gun turret has now become a standard system on American combat vehicles.

Kongsberg has several models of the Protec, to support small, medium, and large sized weapons. Soon there were a lot of competitors, if only because Kongsberg couldn’t keep up with the demand. Many of the new competitors are trying to grab niche markets. The more obvious ones are those demanding RWS that can handle larger weapons, like 25mm or 30mm autocannon. But the most interesting development is the portable RWS. It can be mounted on a hummer, but quickly removed, and carried by two men, and set up anywhere using a tripod. The operator can stay behind cover, while the light machine-gun, exposed to hostile fire, unflinchingly takes on the enemy. There are lots of combat situations that could make use of this lightweight RWS.

The Protec RWS is the key component of the U.S. Army CROWS (Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station). This idea of a remote control turret has been around since World War II, but years of tinkering, and better technology, eventually made the remote control gun turret work effectively, dependably, and affordably. This has made the RWS practical for widespread combat use. While some troops miss the greater feeling of situational awareness, especially being able to hear and smell the surroundings you got as an old-school turret gunner, most military personnel have adapted and accepted the new system. What it lacks in the smelling and hearing department, it makes up in terms of night vision and zoom. And it’s a lot safer.

CROWS is a real lifesaver, not to mention anxiety reducer, for troops who drive through hostile territory a lot, and man the turret gun. You’re a target up there, and too often, enemy fire gets you. That no longer happens when using CROWS. The gunner is inside the vehicle, checking out the surroundings with night vision, zoom 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 system including RWS, weapon and installation cost about $300,000 each, and can mount a variety of weapons like the 12.7mm machine-gun, MK19 40-mm automatic grenade launcher, M240B 7.62mm machine-gun and M249 5.56mm machine-gun).

CROWS comes in several different configurations, based on weapon mounted and armor installed; light, at 74 kg, standard, at 136 kg pounds and CROWS II, at 172 kg. The heaviest version is usually used in MRAP armored trucks and has a better user interface, a thermal imager and sniper detection system. By the end of 2006, there were about a thousand CROWS in service. There are now over 20,000. Many of the enemy fighters have seen Western or Japanese films featuring killer robots, and often think 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 CROWS gun moves so quickly and deliberately, is due to something few officers expected. The soldiers operating these systems grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating computer system 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 enemy firepower. Experienced video gamers were skilled at whipping that screen view around and picking up any signs of danger.

Since many troops have years of experience with video games, they take to CROWS quickly, and very effectively. This has further frightened hostile gunmen, who are quick to attribute magical qualities to American equipment. However, many CROWS users have mixed feelings about the system, because they know that you have more awareness of your surroundings if you are actually standing with your head and shoulders outside the vehicle, manning a machine-gun. For this reason, RWS manufacturers are investigating adding more sensors for things like sound, smell, and wind direction. But the biggest improvements have been more reliability, ease-of-use, more sensors, and lower costs.

Roadside bombs were minimized by the use of MRAP (Mine Resistant Armor Protected) trucks that included shock absorbing seats for the troops inside and firing ports behind bulletproof blocks of glass that

enabled the troops to fire back. Adding a RWS with a sniper detection system made it lethal for anyone to fire on MRAPs or any other vehicle equipped with a RWS.

Most of these sniper detection systems incorporate acoustic and heat sensors as well as video cameras that are used in real time and a RWS turret that is linked to the sensors and uses special software to quickly locate the source of the rifle, machine-gun, mortar, or rocket fire the video camera and 7.62mm or 12.7mm RWS weapon at the location of the shooter, enabling the human operator to immediately open fire before the enemy, especially a sniper, can get away. The software also captures video and other data for every instance that the system is alerted by what seems to be an attack. All such events, whether they led to return fire or not, can be studied and analyzed. The acoustic detection system is sometimes used separately.

Acoustic gunfire detectors have been in the field for over two decades and have gotten better each year. By 2010 over 60,000 sniper detectors had been shipped to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were increasingly useful and generated a continuous flow of user suggestions for improvements. These were addressed and that resulted in new and improved models appearing regularly to the present. Another form of automated security came in 2022 when the U.S.

Air Force began using a security robot, one that moves about on four legs, to patrol its air bases and other sensitive sites. The new security system was called Vision Sixty. This was a 43 kg Q-UGVs (Quadrupedal Unmanned Ground Vehicles) that is battery operated and drains their battery after traveling about twelve kilometers before returning to a charging station to get its batteries replenished. The charging location can be remembered, even if moved and Vision Sixty can be programmed to return whenever the charge is low and there is only enough power left to get back to a charging station. Vision Sixty can move at speeds of over two meters a second and cover a hundred meters in about 40 seconds. They can wade through water, move through weeds or a tunnel and if they fall over, they can get themselves back up. Climbing up or down steps is no problem and can explore caves or unlit mineshafts. Their primary sensor is a day/night vidcam which transmits live video at 4G LTE speeds.

Operators use either a cell-type device to control one nearby or a remote operator can handle several of them via that same link. If Vision Sixty is working with a person, they can be given a follow me command and Vision Sixty will remember their handler and automatically follow that handler.

Air Force security personnel using Vision Sixty quickly came to call them dogs and use them as such during perimeter patrols. Like dogs, if intruders are spotted the handler can assign Vision Sixty to pursue one of them while the air force handler pursues another and calls for backup. The air force is using Vision Sixty droids at several air bases at home and abroad while the United States is also using them on the southern border.

At least 25 customers in the United States and overseas have ordered about 500 Vision Sixty systems so far. Vision Sixty units cost from $100,000 to $250,00 each depending on options and capabilities required. Vision Sixty can handle extreme heat and cold and move through mud and snow a real dog can handle. Vision Sixty can’t swim but is waterproof and is easy to repair if damaged.

An unexpected development of the current war in Ukraine is the extensive use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), or drones. In Ukraine, Ukrainian UAV tactics are a major cause of Russian casualties. The UAVs not only attack targets but also find targets, even ones that are carefully hidden in wooded areas, underground or with camouflage nets. Russia believes that these UAVs have a weakness which can be exploited; the UAV operators must be within several kilometers of where these large quad-copter types are, using FPV (First Person View) headsets to guide the UAVs in the search for targets, so that another UAV can attack the target, or more frequently, drop an explosive on the target. After an attack the UAVs return to an area near their operators where the UAVs can receive fully charged batteries and more explosives to be dropped. The Ukrainian

UAVs operate in pairs, with a smaller UAV finding a target and a larger UAV dropping the explosive device which has an effect similar to that of an 82mm or 120mm mortar shell depending on how much weight the UAV can carry.

Since the Ukrainian UAVs operate on batteries, they are very quiet and usually operate at night, using night-vision video cameras to seek out targets. The Russians also use heat sensing night vision video cameras around positions they want to defend to detect the incoming Ukrainian UAVs, and then try to track the electronic signals coming from the Ukrainian operators to the UAVs so the UAV operators can be located and attacked by Russian UAVs or with artillery/mortar fire. This retaliation technique was not as successful as the Russians hoped. Meanwhile armed UAVs cause more casualties in Ukraine than mortar, artillery, or missile attacks. The main reason for this is the accuracy of UAV attacks and that is because of the FPV UAV operators locating targets that are promptly attacked before they can move to another location. This is why Russia is seeking to develop ways to find and kill the UAV operators.

Ukrainian UAV operators know they are targets for Russian attacks and move around a lot because to stay in one location too long means increased vulnerability to being found and attacked. This is similar to sniper tactics, where the sniper team consisting of a shooter and a spotter find several locations to shoot from and then slither away from one position to another to avoid detection and attack.

Snipers are still used but they operate from ground level or from inside a multistory building. The UAVs can pop up to an altitude of several hundred meters to spot a target then dive down to ground level to avoid detection and attack. UAVs have advantages over snipers that make them more flexible and lethal.




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