There were sighs of relief in Norway and Pennsylvania late Friday, and doubtless groans in Australia and Arizona, when the US Army awarded a five-year, $970 million contract for 3,000 more CROWS weapons stations to Kongsberg Defense.
Norwegian arms-maker Kongsberg, the incumbent, beat out multiple challengers, including Canberra-based Electro-Optic Systems, which had partnered with US defense giant Northrop Grumman and had even opened a plant in Arizona as part of its bid. Kongsberg’s US plant is in Johnstown, Penn.
Kongsberg’s victory was not a huge surprise: Although it took the competition seriously, Kongsberg boasts it provides 80 percent of remote weapons stations worldwide. It had won both two previous CROWS contracts, and the odds were against the Army changing providers.
The Army’s 2012 budget had slashed this third CROWS contract in half — from about 7,000 systems to the current 3,000 — but remote weapon stations are likely to be a steady business even in tight budgetary times, because they’ve become a fixture of the modern era’s messy wars.
Traditionally, military vehicles from jeeps to tanks carried a machinegun in a pintle mount on top, meaning troops had to expose themselves to fire it: America’s first post-9/11 Medal of Honor recipient, Paul Ray Smith, died this way in 2003, exposed outside his M113 armored vehicle to fire its machinegun at attacking Iraqi troops. In the bitter guerrilla fighting of the past decade, with lightly armored Humvees in particular coming under attack from enemies at close range, better protection for their gunners became imperative. So the Army and industry developed a relatively simple way to remotely aim and fire the roof-mounted weapons from inside, under armor: the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, CROWS.
Even though the US military has withdrawn from Iraq and plans to get out — mostly — of Afghanistan, analysts don’t expect the threat to exposed gunners to go away. That’s why the Army has contracted to keep buying CROWS, albeit in reduced numbers, for five years to come.