AUSA: As US forces draw down in Afghanistan, there will be ever fewer troops to stand guard on base perimeters — and ever less public tolerance for any of them getting hurt. That’s the opportunity Norwegian arms-maker Kongsberg wants to seize with its Containerized Weapon Station, a sort of jack-in-the-box machinegun to protect forward bases.
Kongsberg is already the leading manufacturer of remotely-controlled gun mounts for Humvees and other US military vehicles, the Army having ordered more than 10,000 of its CROWS system (Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station). Instead of having to stick their heads and shoulders out of a hatch to fire, gunners can use a CROWS system to scan for targets, aim, and shoot while safely inside and under armor.
Now Kongsberg has adapted that same technology for base defense. Besides the obvious fact that it can’t move — though it can be moved around by, say, a forklift — the Containerized Weapons Station has two big differences from the vehicle-mounted CROWS. First, because it’s built into a common ISO container, it looks like any of the harmless boxes that litter a US base — until the gun comes up. Second, it can be remotely controlled from up to a kilometer away — not by an easily jammed or hacked wireless link, but via a secure fiber-optic cable, which only takes orders from the included control box. Even if someone tapped the cable, said Kongsberg business developer and post-9/11 combat veteran Scott Burk, they could at most shut the system down, not take it over.
Given the international controversy about robotic weapons such as drones, putting remote-controlled machineguns on base perimeters instead of human guards may encounter opposition. But Burk argues the system safeguards not just American troops, but local civilians as well. The gun mount is more stable, the sensors more precise, and the shots fired are therefore more accurate than the likely results from a young soldier standing guard, he said,. Because the operator is at a safe remove from the action, he’s less likely to panic and fire wildly.
“You’re not going to have a kid in the tower who’s under a lot of pressure spraying [bullets],” Burk told Breaking Defense at last week’s Association of the US Army conference in Washington, DC. “It not only protects the force, it protects everybody.”
So far, Kongsberg hasn’t sold any jack-in-the-box guns to the US armed forces. The current budget climate certainly isn’t a good one for new weapons systems, especially one this specialized. But given the military’s passion for force protection, this is one new program that might have a chance.