Force multiplier: A capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.
Considering any applicable force multiplier is a simple concept, which also helps guide the process for choosing what and how missions are executed, from an equipment-and-weapons prospective. But sometimes it’s hard to decide what to select, or even what direction to go in an organization the size of the U.S. Army. The reason for this is as old as war itself—By the time an element as large and complex as the Army learns what is needed, and a direction is chosen, the face of the battlefield has already changed. What works for one year, may be something that will not be the choice in the next. In the case of the CROWS II (Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station) system, the decision was easy as this system is definitely a force multiplier, and one that will have mission applicability for a long time to come.
The salient benefits of the CROWS II are twofold. First is its combat effectiveness, and second is its combat survivability. This first attribute is something all soldiers need in a weapon system, and/or platform for their assigned weapons. The CROWS II has many things working in concert to assist the gunner in any type of training or combat operation. Its simplest definition would be, that of a weapon station that is mounted on top of a vehicle. These were originally deployed on the Army’s HMMWV, in place of where the gunner would normally be while manning an M249 SAW, M240B, MK-19, or M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun. But with the increase of IED’s in the War on Terror, the vehicle of choice became the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected), and now the new generation of MRAP, the MaxxPro Dash.
Facilitating Tactical Changes
The capability offered by the CROWS II has created a drastic change in how units conduct patrols. They now have a weapon platform that stabilizes one of the four weapons, considerably more than the older mounts. Additionally, the gunner has the ability to scan an area beyond what the naked eye can see, and be able to identify what potential targets are doing in light or dark. The CROWS II has the ability to zoom in and out with a day optic, and thermal capability for scanning at night, which also can magnify. It has a stabilization system, such as one might see in tanks or infantry fighting vehicles. This system allows the gunner to operate the weapon while the vehicle is on the move, without the weapon being affected by bumps or debris in the road. Now the operator can track a target without worrying about his ability to stay on target: It’s all done for him/her with the assistance of computers and gyros. In addition to all of this, it also adds a safety feature, not present before on the M2 .50 heavy machine gun. The M2 wasn’t designed with a safety, but with the CROWS II a safety can be engaged to prevent the possibility of a negligent discharge.
With all of its optics, this system wouldn’t be complete without the added capability to laze targets to get an exact range prior to engaging. In addition to that, the computer will adjust the gun when the target is lazed, allowing a 90% increase of first-round hit probability, and a large decrease of collateral damage while in firefights. Also, with the added size of the ammo box, soldiers can upload more ammo for each weapon system than was doable in the previous weapons mounts that vehicles used.
The second attribute that makes the CROWS II system so invaluable is the fact it took the gunner out of the open turret and put him inside the vehicle for added protection. This keeps the gunner safe from IED’s, sniper fire, and even vehicle rollovers. One thing the Army has been actively addressing in the past few years is the problem of vehicle rollovers, because a gunner can be thrown from a vehicle—or even be thrown by the blast of an IED. The CROWS II also allows better communication between the troops inside the vehicle, when trying to call out targets or pass along information. Thus in addition to increasing combat fire power, the CROWS II allows for added safety for the gunner, and added communication between the operators.
All Scenarios Covered
In the contingency of any of the optics being hit by an IED, or being shot out by small arms, the CROWS II has an added feature that still allows the gunner to employ the weapon. In the event of such a scenario, all the gunner has to do is open the turret hatch, unlock the CROWS II system with a pull of a single lever, and manually engage a target as would be normal in the older-style turrets. The system even has the ability to know when a hatch or door is opened, using sensors all around the vehicle. When a door or hatch is open, the gun will be adjusted in a safe direction outside of the surface danger zone of said hatch or door. There still is a manual override that the gunner can employ by simply flipping a switch on the display console. As with all types of training in the Army, gunners are taught to use and employ this added safety feature. All cocking of each weapon system is also done by a push of the button on the display. So if there is ever a jam, the gunner can remain in the vehicle and clear it.
The heads-up display that the gunner uses to identify and engage targets, is a simple screen they view with controls placed around the whole unit. The display has every feature someone could possibly need or want, to utilize the CROWS II to its full potential. The Army is taking advantage of the increased ability of soldiers today, to be able to use these complex systems that have a multitude of controls and options. With systems like this, soldiers are finding that the platforms are becoming more complex, with the need for further training to stay current on these systems. The new generation of soldiers makes these systems look easy, and simple to use and control, as if it were no harder than playing a video game—but the fact is, these troops are good, and well-trained. This expertise allows more freedom for leaders to more efficiently command and control their soldiers in combat.
Thus we see how the CROWS II system fits the classic definition of a force multiplier. And the soldiers speak of it daily, especially after patrols. They speak of situations where normally they wouldn’t have been able to spot an enemy combatant at night until he started shooting, by picking up his muzzle flash: This is now not a concern, with the added capability of the thermals. They speak of how good the concept of putting the gunner inside the vehicle is—anyone who is able to walk away from an IED unhurt knows the value of the system. The days of manning a weapon system, where the gunner is exposed to all the elements and enemy fire are numbered, and the future will see the integration of today’s “smart soldier” and the technology to come. All can appreciate how this need was met by the Army, especially those loved ones who are waiting for their soldier to return home.