U.S. Army Surges CROWS Weapons Stations to Afghanistan
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- With the surge to Afghanistan underway, thousands of advanced CROWS weapon systems are taking flight to support U.S. Army forces in theater.
The CROWS systems mount what is essentially a small turret on top of Army combat vehicles that provides soldiers the ability to employ their machine guns while using a control grip and video monitor from inside the protection of an armored vehicle. In response, PEO Soldier's PM Soldier Weapons office is ramping up its stateside logistics support and is in the process of establishing three new support sites in Afghanistan to manage the fielding, soldier training, and sustainment of the XM153 Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station (CROWS) systems.
"We are embedding the new CROWS support sites with units that are farther afield," said Lt. Col. Michael Ascura, Product Manager Crew-Served Weapons. "Our new sites will put the support closer to the units that need it and reduce system down time. We fielded one new site this month, and will bring two more online by April in Afghanistan."
The complexity of the fielding is magnified by the sheer number of vehicles and vehicle variants that are now employing CROWS; including MRAPS, HMMWVs, RG31A1 route clearing vehicle, the Buffalo EOD vehicle, the new MATVs, and others. Each of these vehicles require customized vehicle integration kits to bring the units online.
Maj. Michael Pottratz, Assistant Product Manager for Crew-Served Weapons, manages the logistical support of the entire system. To accomplish his mission, Maj. Pottratz has devised a "building in a box" concept that enables the Field Service Representatives (FSR) that staff the support sites to independently set up sites in a matter of days. All they need is a piece of real estate and some fuel.
"We wanted to put together a custom kit for our Field Service Reps that enables them to get operational as soon as possible," said Maj. Pottratz. "All the components necessary to establish the support site come in a single container: tools, equipment, computers, classroom space and materials, generators, air conditioners, even a Gator ATV. Our FSRs can provide CROWS support within 48 hours after offloading."
Once operational, FSRs begin comprehensive, hands-on training sessions with soldiers. Lt. Col. Ascura recommends that every member of a unit receives training on the system, not just operators. CROWS training provides leaders with critical knowledge on how best to employ CROWS to support a diverse set of missions. With its day and night cameras, CROWS provides target identification and surveillance capabilities that are well beyond what small unit leaders have had previously.
"Soldiers learn how they can turn 'area weapons,' such as the M2 machine gun, into precision engagement weapons," said Lt. Col. Ascura. "Beyond the guns, leaders begin to think about how to integrate the system capabilities into their tactics. In the past, soldiers had to perform the same functions with the naked eye from an exposed position in the turret. Thanks to CROWS, those days are coming to an end."