Behind the Crosshairs: Armoring Up with Remote Weapon Systems as the New Game Changers of Today’s Battlefield

by Saffet UYANIK

Issue 94

The Remote-Controlled Weapon Stations (RCWS) are modular weapon systems supporting small and medium caliber guns (5.56mm and 7.62mm), machine guns (12.7mm), automatic grenade launchers, and anti-tank missile launchers. These systems can be mounted on a wide range of land platforms ranging from lightweight vehicles to heavy armored fighting vehicles. Remote controlled systems allow the vehicle crew to operate the RCWS completely under armor, minimizing the probability of casualties. Remote weapon systems are equipped with powerful thermal and daylight cameras with high magnification and features gyro-stabilization for accurate on-the-move engagements. These features make the RCWS exceptionally suitable for urban warfare such as the military operations conducted by US forces in Iraq or mountainous regions such as Afghanistan.

The idea of a turret-mounted, remote weapons systems on vehicular platforms has increased tremendously over the last decade. RCWS is one of the most significant new weapons to appear in today’s battlefield. Although the RCWS were a bit impractical when they were first introduced, they become a real lifesaver in a noticeably short amount of time. Before the introduction of RCWS turret gunners made up a considerable number of combat casualties. Without RCWS turret gunners, crews were too exposed to the attacks of adversaries. The need for a remote-control gun turret that worked effectively, dependably, and affordably emerged due to asymmetrical warfare tactics that conventional militaries are facing now, such as what was experienced of the United States in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF-Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF-Iraq). The rise of global terrorism, resurging regional conflicts, and humanitarian crises and the following political instability began to pose a virulent threat to national and international security. Because non-state actors almost invariably employ the techniques and tactics of asymmetric warfare, conventional forces need new capabilities to become successful in modern combat situations and post-conflict scenarios. This need is an extension of the armoring up and slimming down argument. As conventional militaries face more and more insurgent groups that know the local battlefield much better, this puts them at the mercy of these groups which have the luxury of setting up ambushes for vulnerable conventional forces. Countering these threats and gaining the upper hand, again, especially in a COIN fight, have made RCWS widespread and an essential part of counterinsurgency.