The introduction of unmanned or remote weapon stations (RWS) has altered the design parameters available to combat platform designers. Eliminating the human crewmen from the weapon station opens a range of options in configuring the platform to enhance its capabilities and performance. Although the RWS is more generally applied to combat vehicles, its unique attributes are equally relevant to naval craft and even fixed ground sites.
The RWS is built around a weapon, its ammunition storage and feeding, and optics for acquiring and engaging targets. All are integrated into a structure that can be mounted with minimal intrusion onto a platform. Controlling the station and its functions are done remotely. Advances in electro-optics, digital controls and networks, and high definition displays as well as the introduction of stabilisation are resulting in performance of essential tactical tasks equivalent to a manned turret. The RWS is increasingly becoming a preferred solution for light and medium armament. Ground and naval forces in the Asia-Pacific have joined this move with several defence companies in the region taking leading roles in offering unmanned stations.
A primary benefit of the RWS is the increased flexibility that can be provided in armament. In a combat vehicle, the operator can be positioned inside protected by its armour while the roof mounting frees interior space. Eliminating the ‘crew basket’ of a manned station allows a vehicle to carry more infantry or equipment. For a naval vessel the weapon can be placed for optimum coverage without exposing an operator to weather and other adverse conditions. In addition, an unmanned station can, with its lower weight, allow a larger calibre weapon to be employed while staying within the capacity of the platform. Adopting an unmanned, remote weapon can enhance the combat capability and expand mission possibilities of the host platform. The largely bolt-on configuration of the RWS allows it to be relatively easily installed, increasing combat effectiveness with minimal impact on the base design.
The adaptability of the RWS has been further demonstrated with the added integration of guided anti-armour missiles, such as the Raytheon/Lockheed Martin FGM-148 Javelin. Improved optronics, the availability of high resolution cameras and the introduction of networking that integrates all onboard sensors are addressing one of the past shortcomings of remote and unmanned stations – their ability to maintain adequate situational awareness. New surveillance and target acquisition packages, such as panoramic sights and full perimeter cameras, have come far in compensating for the reduced heads-out observation possible in a manned turret.
On land or sea
The RWS is increasingly common on combat vehicles and naval craft. Often the configurations are quite similar with those for use on the small craft and patrol boats being ‘marinised’ to resist salt, spray and submerging in rough water. The weapons fit to the RWS range from medium 7.62mm machine guns, to .50 calibre (12.7mm) heavy machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, and 30mm auto-cannon such as the M230 Chain Gun. With a stabilised mount, the operator in a secure position and ability to incorporate both aiming aids and ballistic correction, can provide more accurate and effective fire whatever the platform conditions or movement.
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