We’ve all seen news footage of Humvees in Iraq patrolling the streets. Typically, we see an up-armored Humvee with 4 troops ensconced behind armored doors and glass, and a gunner manning a cupola atop the vehicle, his machine gun at the ready to engage insurgents.
That’s all well and good, but there are a couple of drawbacks. The first and most obvious one is that the gunner is vulnerable to the enemy. Even with improved gunshields, he can be struck by small arms fire. He is also far more exposed to blast from IEDs than the rest of the vehicle crew. And if the Humvee rolls over, there is an excellent chance that he will be crushed. Clearly, being a gunner in Iraq is a dangerous job.
Change is coming though. After the success of the Remote Weapon Station on the Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle, the Army pursued a similar system for its Humvees. The result is CROWS, or Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station.
CROWS consists of a power operated mount that can be fitted to a vehicle. This mount traverses and elevates, and is stabilized as well to correct for vehicle movement. Attached to the mount is a day TV camera system and a thermal imaging camera. These sensors are connected to a display inside the vehicle. The mount is called “Common” because it can accept a variety of weapons, such as the Mk19 40mm grenade launcher, M2 .50cal machine gun, M-240B machine gun, or M249 SAW. When the weapons are mounted, they can be trained and elevated and fired from inside the vehicle, so the gunner isn’t exposed to return fire. The thermal sight adds a lot of situational awareness at night, and the stabilization makes firing on the move far, far more accurate.
There are two main downsides of the CROWS: the first is the cost. Instead of a couple of steel parts for a mount, we are buying a lot of precision machinery and expensive electronics. Not only is there an upfront purchase cost, but maintenance costs go along with that. The second drawback is that there is some reduced situational awareness because of the “tunnel vision” imposed by the sighting system and having the entire crew inside the vehicle. Still, in a war where the enemy has used IEDs as their primary weapon, the upside to CROWS outweighs the costs. Look for CROWS to be installed on more Humvees and similar vehicles such as MRAPs.