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Rising employment of Remote controlled weapon station (RCWS), or Remote weapon station (RWS), and Remote-controlled firearms by Militarries and Terrorists

Remote controlled weapon station (RCWS), or Remote weapon station (RWS), were first type of autonomous weapons employed by military. Militaries also employ  remote controlled weapon station (RCWS), or remote weapon station (RWS), also known as a remote weapon system, (RWS) is a remotely operated weaponized system often equipped with fire-control system for light and medium-caliber weapons which can be installed on ground combat vehicle or sea- and air-based combat platforms.

 

Such equipment is used on modern military vehicles, such as  ground wheeled and tracked combat vehicle as well as tactical vehicle light vehicles and trucks, as it allows a gunner to remain in the relative protection of the vehicle. It may also be retrofitted onto existing vehicles, for example, the CROWS system is being fitted to American Humvees and the Thales SWARM for Bushmaster IMVs of the Royal Netherlands Army. The Naval RWS is especially developed and designed to be used on sea conditions and can be mounted on ships or vessels.

 

They allowed soldiers to remote operate the weapons and enhanced their survivability by removing them from counter attack. They were also force multipliers as they allowed few soldiers to operate many weapons. These systems are being seen sporadically overseas such as in the Iraqi, Syrian, and Libyan conflict zones with their deployment by insurgent and terrorist groups. Higher-end systems are also being developed by state military forces and even crowdsourced for Ukrainian military use (e.g. the Sabre Remote Weapon Station). Remote-controlled firearms have not yet been utilized for terrorist attack purposes in Western societies. This is due to a moderate technical and CONOPS hurdle that underlies the lack of sophistication and creativity of most terrorist organizations and their members operating in the West.

 

RCWS are primarily designed for use on naval platforms, armored military vehicles, 4×4 armoured vehicles, armored patrol vehicles as well as for stationary use in order to serve for the defense of strategic assets according to tactical  requirements. Deployed in Turkey and many countries abroad under adverse environmental and combat conditions, these robust weapon systems have high first-hit accuracy and auto-tracking capability for accurate shooting on-the-move. High stabilization performance and auto-tracking capability allow the gunner to keep his sights on target on-the-move. Additionally, RCWS family has automatic ballistic correction capability for the target distance, target speed and route, meteorological conditions and ammunition type.

 

Non-state actors have started employing the techniques and tactics of asymmetric warfare, and conventional forces require new capabilities to become successful in modern combat situations and post-conflict scenarios. In this regard, the use of remote weapon systems is becoming widespread in several anti-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations. This evolution in the use of firearms is derived from the hardline cable or wireless control of an assault rifle or other type of firearm by means of a game controller, smart phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer interface for targeting and C2 purposes. These systems have existed since the early 2000s with their battlefield usage beginning in the 2010s. The remote sniping, virtual targeting presence, and remote combined arms capabilities gained by these systems would have a great deal of practical utility for terrorist groups.

 

RWS and Autonomous Weapon systems(AWS) promise to provide a number of significant operational advantages on the future battlefield. Less dependent on human control and decisionmaking, are anticipated to be far faster and more agile than today’s manned weapons systems undertaking thousands of complex and highly coordinated decisions at machine speeds.

 

Remote weapon stations can also protect from hypersonic threats. US, Russia and China are in race for Hypersonic Weapons that shall provide prompt global strike capability. Militaries are  now developing various defensive strategies and solutions to counter the threat of hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons’ low signature in flight and high degree of maneuverability upon final approach to targets make the weapons difficult to defend against. China has developed Autoguns , that it claims could protect from hypersonic threats.

 

However Remote weapons systems rely on communications links to distant command and control and information analysis centers, which can result in inevitable communications delays and leave them vulnerable to jamming or denial through electronic warfare techniques.

 

Militaries employing Remote Weapons Stations

A Chinese firm is marketing a RWS (Remote Weapon Stations). This one is similar to the light (74 kg/163 pounds) model used by the U.S. Army. The Chinese RWS is apparently not meant for vehicle use, but for facility or perimeter security. The Chinese RWS is shown mounting a light (5.8mm) machine-gun and touted for “counter-terror” missions. China is playing catch-up in this area, as Western nations have been developing RWS for decades. The Chinese have developed a vehicle mounted RWS, but is described as still in development. This RWS is armed with a 12.7mm machine-gun and two anti-aircraft missiles. While the missiles are unusual for an RWS, the control systems look familiar to Western RWS operators. The same video game features are used. China also has millions of young men with lots of video game experience.

Top most modern Land RWS RCWS Remote Controlled Weapon Station combat  vehicles | weapons defence industry military technology UK | analysis focus  army defence military industry army

The U.S. Army continues to improve its RWS systems. These devices allow an operator inside the vehicle to control the gun and its sensors. Among the improvements are the addition of a green laser, which can temporarily blind people, and has long been used to stop drivers who keep coming at checkpoints despite other signals to stop. Used in an RWS, it would enable the RWS operator to flash suspicious people with the blinding light, rather than opening up with the weapon. Another upgrade is the addition of cameras to the side and rear of the turret, so that the operator can quickly check for activity all around without moving the turret (which sometimes alerts an enemy that they have been spotted.) Another addition is an IR Pointer, which, at night, enables the RWS operator to put a light, visible only to those using night-vision equipment, on something suspicious, or otherwise important. The larger CROWS II RWS has also been equipped and tested with a Javelin missile launcher. The army sees RWS as a key element in the development of remotely controlled, or autonomous, armored vehicles. The Chinese RWS does not have any of these features. But some, like the green laser, could easily be added.

 

RWS was one of the most important (in terms of saving lives) new weapons to appear in the last decade. This now ubiquitous remote control weapon (usually a machine-gun) is seen on many vehicles (from hummers to MRAPs and tanks). The U.S. Army has bought, or plans to buy, a total of 18,000 RWS systems. The army currently has 7,600 RWS in service. An RWS turret costs, on average, about $212,000 each. The remote control gun turret has now become a standard system on American combat vehicles.

 

Norwegian firm Kongsberg, the major supplier, has several models of its Protec RWS, to support small, medium and large sized weapons. Now there are a lot of competitors, if only because Kongsberg can’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 new development is the portable RWS. It can be mounted on a hummer, but quickly removed, and carried by two troops, 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 stations). 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, 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 systems (RWS, weapon and installation) cost about $260,000 each, and can mount a variety of weapons (M2 12.7mm/.50 caliber machine-gun, MK19 40-mm automatic grenade launcher, M240B 7.62mm machine-gun and M249 5.56mm squad automatic weapon). CROWS comes in several different configurations, based on weapon mounted and armor installed (light, at 74 kg/163 pounds, standard, at 136 kg/298 pounds and CROWS II, at 172 kg/379 pounds.) The heaviest version is usually used in MRAP (armored trucks) and has a better user interface, a thermal imager and sniper detection system.

 

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 to point at a target, is due to something few officers expected; so many troops who quickly become expert RWS operators. The guys operating these systems grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating computer systems (video games) very similar to the CROWS controls.  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.

 

Anti-Drone Remote Weapon System

General Robotics Ltd., a company that specializes in developing, manufacturing and marketing advanced robotic systems for defense and homeland security applications, has unveiled a new anti-drone remote-controlled weapon station. The Pitbull-3 is an ultra-lightweight RCWS that delivers Point & Shoot technology, is highly accurate and highly reliable, and provides a workable solution for detecting and tracking all types of drones during flight, enabling their neutralization and downing.

 

Weighing only 70 kg, the Pitbull-3 anti-drone station provides a complete solution in one compact and mobile system that can be easily installed on any manned or unmanned ground, air or maritime platform, including ultra-light vehicles such as ATVs, and fixed stations. “While hard-kill solutions are inevitably needed to stop advanced drones and drone swarms, there is a strong focus on soft-kill capabilities,” explained Shahar Gal, CEO of General Robotics Ltd., noting that the Pitbull-3 enables both. The system’s complete solution against drones enables three key courses of action to be taken:

 

  • Detection of drones by different kinds of radar integrated within the system, with a drone detection range of up to 5 km.
  • A soft-kill via an integrated jammer which can induce simultaneous disruption of all of the drones’ communication frequencies – command, video and GPS – thereby forcing the drone to stop, land, or return to base.
  • A hard-kill whereby an advanced prediction algorithm enables moving drones to be shot down from 500 meters, and hovering drones from 800 meters.

In addition to Pitbull, General Robotics also recently debuted its new, DOGO Mark II anti-terror robot with advanced capabilities that include a faster Point & Shoot™ interface, enabling accurate designation of lethal or non-lethal means simply by clicking on the screen; non-lethal pepper spray and non-lethal dazzling light module attachments; and front extenders, for overcoming various obstacles.

 

Weighing just 11 kg, DOGO is already in use by special forces, SWAT teams and infantry around the world. Standard pistols can be quickly attached to the robot and easily operated via Point & Shoot™ technology. DOGO can also be integrated with non-lethal modules. The robot includes eight video cameras that provide 360° live video and bore-sight views and can communicate in hostage situations. The DOGO is being sent into fatal funnels to provide situational awareness and remote engagement capabilities to increase the survivability of the fighting forces.

 

Each General Robotics system is equipped with proprietary technology, providing real-time, 360° situational awareness. Point & Shoot™ technology enables fast reaction and pinpoint accuracy, thereby improving decision-making and reducing collateral damage, and all General Robotics systems come with a unique anti-terror warranty which covers damage caused by terrorists engaging the systems.

 

Remote-Controlled Weapons Augment Soldiers on Perimeter Security

Remotely-controlled weapons systems have drastically reduced the number of soldiers needed for perimeter security at an expeditionary base camp. “Every Soldier I have assigned to securing the perimeter is one I don’t have that can execute support missions,” said Lt. Col. Raphael Heflin, commander, 142nd Combat Service Support Battalion, or CSSB, 1st Armored Division.

 

At a conventional combat outpost, it takes four to six soldiers doing eight- or 12-hour shifts to man one weapons system on the perimeter, he said. Using relatively new remote control weapons systems, he said, pointing to a series of unmanned, weaponized towers at the edge of the razor wire, two soldiers inside the base camp tactical operation center can do the security work once done by 10.

 

Capt. Robert Scott, officer-in-charge of the 142nd CSSB’s base defense operation center, explained how the remote-control weapons system works. The systems, including the expeditionary towers atop which they’re mounted, are known as containerized weapons systems. One expeditionary tower “can be put together by six soldiers in less than an hour, with minimal training,” Scott said. When it’s time to pack up and leave, everything fits neatly back inside the container.

 

While just about any gun system can be mounted on the tower, the two Scott pointed out were fitted with a Browning M-2 50-caliber machine gun and a 338 Lapua sniper rifle. The weapons can be raised, lowered, rotated by 360- degrees and fired remotely, he said. The operators who run the systems sit inside a container with multiple large screens in front of them. To control the weapons, they use software called the Joint All Hazard Command Control System, which Scott said serves as the brains of the “Tower Hawk System.” On their screens are views outside the perimeter, including normal video feeds as well as thermal and infrared views.

 

Scott said that the weapons systems are even more effective at night. “Anything moving at night we see long before they see us,” he said, adding that “they” refers to the bad guys. The system even differentiates between good and bad guys. Once the enemy is detected, the system plots coordinates, allowing the operator to take out the target, be it personnel or vehicles.

 

Turkish ASELSAN Sells Remote-Controlled Weapons Station to NATO Nation

Turkish defense contractor ASELSAN has signed a deal with a NATO member country for the export of its remote-controlled weapons station (RCWS), SARP a statement by the company said in April 2020. The contract includes supply of an unspecified number of RCWS as well as fire detection systems. With the agreement signed with the unnamed NATO alliance member, the number of countries for which ASELSAN has designed and manufactured remote control weapons systems has now reached 20. The defense contractor has produced and delivered more than 3,000 remote-controlled weapons systems to date.

Turkish ASELSAN Sells Remote-Controlled Weapons Station to NATO Nation

ASELSAN which calls its RCWS as Stabilized Advanced Remote Weapon Platform-SARP can be integrated onto tactical vehicles, fixed surveillance posts, towers and critical infrastructures. Depending on the operational requirements, SARP can be equipped with 12.7mm machine gun, 40mm automatic grenade launcher or 7.62mm machine gun. Through its extensive surveillance and remote control capabilities, SARP enhances situational awareness of the gunner in his proximity, as per company information

 

SARP features:

Ammunition storage capability

– 400 rounds (12.7mm)

– 1000 rounds for (7.62mm)

– 96 rounds (40mm)

Complies with MIL-STD-461E for EMI/EMC

Complies with MIL-STD-810F for environmental conditions

Low silhouette and lightweight

– Turret weight: 165kg (without ammunition, gun and armor)

– Under armour weight: 50kg

– Turret height: 70cm

Integration interface for external sensors and command & control systems

 

China’s ship-based autogun

China has developed a new weapon, called the Type 1130, a ship-based autogun capable of destroying nearly any incoming target, even if it’s hypersonic. It is meant to counter anti-ship missiles and enemy aircraft by running through 10,000, 30mm rounds per minute, effectively creating a defensive curtain wherever its turret swivels.

 

With a rate of fire that would see 167 pieces of lead leave the gun’s 11 barrels every second, experts predict that the Type 1130 will have a 90% chance of intercepting any incoming targets including hypersonic threats. The system is guided by radar, but due to its weight and power requirements, is limited to large PLA frigates and destroyers. The system has also been spotted on China’s newest aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

 

 

Remote Weapon Station Market

The Remote Weapon Station Market was valued at USD 7.67 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach USD 14.42 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 11.20% during the forecast period. This report covers the forecast of the remote weapon station market and its dynamics over the next 5 years, while also recognizing market application gaps, recent developments in the market, and high potential countries.

 

Due to increasing political instabilities, economic inequalities, and geopolitical issues, there has been a rise in conflicts between several nations in recent years. Countries in North America and Europe, among others, have been undertaking defense programs to strengthen their military forces, mainly with the objective of being battle-ready, which demands an adequate number of combat vehicles mounted with remote weapon stations. Demand for tanks, such as main battle tanks and armored fighting vehicles, has increased across countries, thereby driving the demand for remote weapon stations that are mounted on these vehicles. Modern tanks and infantry vehicles are being launched with advanced remote weapon stations and are equipped with advanced sensors and Fire Control Systems (FCS).

 

There are several advancements in RWS and unmanned turrets in recent years, ranging from the protection of the systems, lethality to the support to larger calibres. Such developments are expected to help the growth in the procurement of new weapon systems and upgrades of the existing platforms in the years to come. – Though RWS acts as a viable option for providing defensive firepower to the armed forces, there are certain installation and operational challenges that are influencing the global militaries to prefer manned turrets over the remote weapons. However, addressing some of these design issues aren’t expected to be a tedious task, especially with the amount of research that is being done in the RWS industry.

 

Based on platform, the remote weapon station market is estimated to be led by the land segment in 2018 and is expected to continue to lead till 2023. Emerging countries, such as China and India, among others, are building large forces of Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) and armored vehicles. These countries are investing more in automated technologies and focusing on manufacturing a wide range of offensive fighting vehicles. For instance, in 2016 India signed a contract with Russia for the supply of 464 T-90 main battle tanks that will help the country significantly in its offensive operations vis-à-vis China and Pakistan.

 

As of 2019, the Airborne Segment has the largest share in the RWS Market. While many countries have dedicated attack helicopters that possess a wide range of armaments including the RWS, the Weapon Systems are also attached to utility and transport helicopters. Customization of aircraft to include the RWS as a retrofit, are being widely adopted by the countries that lack the funds for procuring dedicated attack helicopters, making the segment grab the highest market share currently. However, the Land segment is projected to grow with the highest CAGR during the forecast period. The land segment encompasses the RWS that is stationary and also mounted on land vehicles. The increase in attacks on the military bases and outposts in the recent past have increased the demand for Remotely Operated Stationary Weapon Stations for protecting the vulnerable areas. Stationary RWS, especially sentry guns, are also being used to guard the borders of some countries. In addition, the growth in the procurement of armored vehicles and unmanned ground vehicles has necessitated the demand for the RWS installed on these ground vehicles. With the increasing adoption of unmanned land vehicles, a high adoption of these systems is expected in the forecast period. All these factors are contributing to the growth of the Land segment currently.

 

The remote weapon station market has been analyzed and segmented based on component into human machine interface, sensors, and weapons & armaments. The remote weapon station market is led by the weapons & armaments segment. The sensors segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period. This growth can be attributed to the use of the sensor fusion technology, and the sensor suite, which continues to be upgraded to deliver enhanced detection and decision-making. Combining data from key sensors provides the warrior an autonomous ability to rapidly evaluate the overall tactical scenario and respond efficiently to identify threats.

 

The rapid growth of the remote weapon station market in the Asia Pacific can be attributed to the increasing defense budgets to innovate and develop robust remote weapon stations by emerging countries, such as China and India. For instance, India-based companies, such as Mahindra Defense Systems and Bharat Electronics, recently launched their newly developed remote weapon stations for armored vehicles. China is estimated to account for the largest share of the Asia Pacific remote weapon station market in 2018. This rapid growth can be attributed to the increasing research & development activities undertaken in the region for the development of advanced technology-based designs of remote weapon stations.

 

Integrating a weapon system with standalone solutions to the desired level has always been a complex task. Remote weapon stations can be equipped with laser weapon gun systems, and their integration requires significant investments and power sources. The level of complexity increases with the decrease in the amount of space available on platforms. Thus, combat helicopters have the highest complexity in integration, followed by armored vehicles and ships.

Manufacturers of remote weapon stations in North America adhere to US standards and policies, which, however, are not followed by several countries that use defense systems sourced from other countries, such as Russia, France, and Germany, or use indigenous systems. The integration of US standard weapons with these systems is a difficult process and needs massive alterations and modernization. It is difficult to cost-effectively provide upgraded munition control units, precision strike packages, and related training, and simulation of weapons and their incorporated systems. This is expected to pose a major challenge for countries willing to upgrade their remote weapon arsenal.

The remote weapon systems market is fragmented due to the presence of many global as well as regional defense manufacturers and suppliers that cater to the requirement of remote weapon systems of armed forces around the world. About 13 players in the market account for approximately 50% of the market share.

Thales Group, BAE Systems plc, Rheinmetall AG, Leonardo SpA, and ASELSAN AS are the dominant players in the market. Some of the other prominent players in the local and regional markets are China Ordnance Industries Group Corporation Limited, Rostec State Corporation, L3Harris Technologies Inc., Kongsberg Gruppen (Norway),Raytheon Company (US), Elbit Systems (Israel), Saab AB (Sweden) Israel Aerospace Industries, FN Herstal (Belgium), and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (Israel), Patria, Electro Optic Systems (Australia) and KMW+Nexter Defense Systems, among others.

With the growing demand for remote-control weapon systems, innovation of new systems with advanced sensor systems and optronic equipment in fire control systems to target, track and hit the target, is anticipated to increase, thereby helping the companies expand their geographical presence in the emerging markets. The collaboration of local players and global players to develop remote-control weapon stations for the respective militaries through technology transfer is anticipated to strengthen the capabilities of local players, and in the long term, support the local manufacturing industry of those regions.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.aerodefensetech.com/component/content/article/adt/insiders/defense/stories/23110

https://www.aerodefensetech.com/component/content/article/adt/features/application-briefs/36816

https://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htweap/articles/20111102.aspx

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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