FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. – Sitting “shotgun” is moving to the backseat in the U.S. Army Reserve, and Soldiers are better off because of it.
Traditionally gunners have sat up in the vehicle’s turret during convoys, exposing themselves to gunfire, explosions and making them the most vulnerable crewmember in a vehicle rollover.
But now the Army Reserve is receiving a weapon technology known as the CROWS, allowing the gunner to sit safely in the back seat.
“I love the fact that you have now removed one of our fellow Soldiers out of harm’s way. They’re inside the protection of the vehicle, and they can still get 360-degree view by traversing the turret … They’re not up there in the turret with their heads sticking out … where the enemy sniper can engage them easier,” said Sgt. Michael Whitaker, U.S. Army Reserve Soldier with the 346th Military Police Company, of Fort Riley, Kansas.
The CROWS stands for Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station. It’s a big hunk of steel mounted to the top of a vehicle, equipped with daytime and thermal cameras, able to rotate 360 degrees, see up to 1,500 meters away, and compatible with four major crew weapon systems.
Although the CROWS is not new technology to the Army – it has been around in one form or another since 2001 – this is the first major fielding program heavily focused on the Army Reserve. The first Reserve units to receive CROWS this fiscal year are military police and chemical companies. In all, it’s estimated that 27 companies will receive the units, 19 of which are military police. The project is estimated to field approximately $39 million worth of equipment to the Army Reserve.
“Even though it is expensive, it’s keeping our number one asset protected: which is our Soldiers. It’s bringing our brothers and sisters home at the end of their deployment,” said Whitaker.
The Army Reserve fielding process is taking place in four stages at military installations in Arkansas, New Jersey and South Carolina. For each fielding, a team of instructors and installers spends about two weeks training Soldiers how to use their new $190,000 weapon. The full two weeks is dedicated to noncommissioned officers who will become CROWS instructors. One of the two weeks focuses strictly on operators. The instructors then become certified to train as many CROWS operators as required.
Additionally, the program offers a one-week maintenance course for Army mechanics.
In fiscal year 2016, 10 Army Reserve units received the CROWS, but the fielding process wasn’t a concentrated effort on the Army Reserve the way it has been this year.
The system feels a bit like a video game, taking away the rattling recoil from the gunner, though it can still be heard and felt from above the vehicle. Gunners control the CROWS using a joystick while watching a small screen surrounded by buttons and switches.
“What you see on the screen is just like the real thing. It’s just really neat how smooth it is to operate and how simple it is, really,” said Whitaker.
The screen has a digital crosshair for aiming, and once calibrated, the CROWS is estimated to have a 95 percent accuracy rate. It absorbs about 80 percent of the recoil, bringing the weapon back on target faster after each burst of fire. It’s equipped with a laser rangefinder that measures the distance of a target. Gunners can aim and control the CROWS manually, but it also has tracking capability to stay with a target traveling up to 25 miles per hour, even if it moves behind objects.
“It’s awesome. It’s very, very accurate. On point,” said Spc. Ethan Moe, U.S. Army Reserve military police Soldier with the 800th MP Co., of Little Rock, Arkansas. “Just about every time you pull the trigger, it goes (back to) the same place. The stabilization, (allows you to) shoot on the move. Thermal imaging, see at night, temperatures, easily pick out targets, tracking, leading, all that.”
Also, even if the gunner vehicle moves across rough terrain, the CROWS remains completely stable and on target.
“Before, when you were in the gunner’s hatch, (if) the truck’s bouncing, you’re bouncing. You’re all over the place. It was harder to maintain a good target,” said Whitaker.
This means the CROWS not only makes war fighting safer for American Soldiers but more lethal against their enemies.
The first Soldiers to receive the CROWS in the Army were Infantry and Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. The system is so versatile that it can be mounted on nearly any vehicle with a turret: Humvees, large trucks, tanks, watercraft and more. It’s also compatible with the M2 .50-cal machine gun, the MK19 automatic grenade launcher, the M240B rifle and the M249 squad automatic weapon. It comes with a large ammo box able to feed a massive amount of firepower into the weapon: 96 rounds for the MK19, 400 rounds for the M2, 1,000 rounds for the M240B and 1,600 rounds for the M249.
“That’s a lot of rounds you can put down range,” said Moe.
The fielding is managed by PM Soldier Weapons, a program that specializes in developing and procuring new technology to Soldiers.
“It’s going to improve the accuracy of how we fight. It’s going to reduce the number of casualties that the Army takes. It’s going to improve on our accuracy of finding the enemy,” said Arquelio Gillespie, fielding manager for the Materiel Fielding & Training Team for the Tank Automotive Command.
There was a bigger push to put CROWS on turrets in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005 to 2009. These units, however, were intended for temporary use. Soldiers turned them back in as they returned home. Shortly after, however, the CROWS became what is known in the logistics world as a “program of record,” meaning it was approved as an official weapon assigned to units long-term.
This means all of the benefits the CROWS has to offer are here to stay and improve the Army Reserve for the long haul.