The final assembly of the Kongsberg CROWS M153 combat module is in progress.
Remotely controlled combat modules are an integral component of army armored vehicles, and recent design developments ensure their steady domination in the theater of operations. Consider the state of affairs and trends in this area.
The past few months have been rife with purchase announcements of remote-controlled combat modules (SDMs) in a number of countries. In May, 2013, the company Kongsberg received a contract worth 16 million dollars from the Croatian army for the supply of their Protective Safety Sensitive Modules, which will be installed on Patria AMV 8x8 armored vehicles. In April, the company received a contract worth 25,5 million dollars for this system from the Swedish logistics agency, which followed an earlier January contract worth 12,34 million dollars.
The Swedish order is part of a framework agreement worth 164 million dollars for the supply of Nordic North-East Sea Project to the Norwegian and Swedish armies, which was signed in December of 2011.
Permanent orders received by Kongsberg testify to the urgent need for an SDS. In 2007, the company received a contract from the US Army to fulfill its requirements for a common remotely controlled Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station II (CROWS II) module, which corresponds to the M153 Protector variant of the same Kongsberg company.
The company received "floating" contracts for this system. The most recent contract worth 27,5 million dollars in manufacturing, system support and technical support was announced in October 2012. It is part of a new framework agreement with the US Army worth over 970 million dollars, announced in August 2012 for more than five years.
With approximately 6000 CROWS II systems currently deployed in the army (most of them in Afghanistan), the US Army highly appreciates these SDMAs. Major Jim Miller, Assistant Head of Direction for CROWS in the Directorate of Soldiers' Armament: "They allow us to perform various tasks with a limited number of soldiers, while increasing survivability and mortality."
With a mass of 172 kg, the M153 can accept 12,7-mm M2, 7,62-mm M240 or 5,56-mm M249 machine guns or the automatic 40-mm grenade launcher MK19.
Meanwhile, CROWS II is currently being developed also to protect military bases.
Kongsberg Vice President Rune Werner said that the new DBMS is mounted on a mast inside a stand-alone standard container. This will allow the user to ensure the safety of remote stationary bases and protect their perimeter, although the operator can be located in a safe place for many kilometers from the combat module.
Kongsberg has developed similar versions of the original BBN M151 Protector for 16 armies. According to Werner, at the same time at least 13 countries used this system in Afghanistan.
In March, 2012, the company Kongsberg received an order worth 17,1 million dollars from Renault Trucks Defense to its EUMA as part of a framework agreement worth 85 million dollars. These systems will be installed on the Renault VAB 4x4 French Army BTR, the modernization of which was originally announced in May 2008.
The combat modules are designed for installation on armored vehicles, and one of the crew members controls them from inside the vehicle. By controlling the weapons remotely, the operator remains under the protection of the armor of the machine, he does not need to manually direct the weapons outside, substituting for enemy fire.
With this in mind, the Australian Department of Defense acquired an anti-aircraft defense system for its Protected Mobility Vehicle and Australian Light Armored Vehicle (ASLAV) Australian light armored vehicles. In 2007-2012, a total of 210 DUBM, 116 modules from Thales Australia and 94 CROWS R-400 from Electro-Optics Systems were acquired. In 2005, 59 CROWS modules were purchased for ASLAV machines in two batches (40 and 19) from Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace.
Kongsberg Protector can rightfully be considered a market leader with real experience in operating its systems for more than ten years, including in battle conditions, but all this, not least thanks to real competition.
TRT combat module from BAE Systems Land Systems South Africa
Neighboring Kongsberg for Scandinavia, Saab launches its family OASM Trackfire. Also among suppliers are such European companies as the Italian Oto Melara with the Hitrole family; German Krauss-Maffei Wegmann with its FLW 100 and Rheinmetall with the 609N module; the Belgian FN Herstal with its deFNder family; and the French Sagem with a WASP module and Nexter with ARX20 DBMS.
In addition to Europe, the South African company BAE Systems Land Systems South Africa (LSSA) supplies the SD-ROW module (Self Defense Remotely Operated Weapon - remotely controlled weapons for self-defense) and TRT (Tactical Remote Turret - tactical remote tower) (see photo above). Reutech from South Africa manufactures Rogue RWS; the Turkish company FNSS manufactures Claw ("Claw"); Singaporean ST Kinetics supplies the ADDER DBMS.
The ST Kinetics ADDER can be equipped with an 7,62-mm machine gun, a 12,7-mm machine gun CIS or an 40-mm automatic grenade launcher CIS
Israeli industry is also strong in this market. Rafael launches the Samson family; IMI manufactures Wave 200; and Elbit is engaged in the release of ORCWS (Overhead Remote Controlled Weapon Station - rendered remotely controlled combat module). The latter company in its Brazilian subsidiary also manufactures ARES DBMS.
A number of programs for the replacement and modernization of armored vehicles around the world have attracted the interest of suppliers of DBMS. Jerry van der Merwe, Head of Business Development at BAE Systems LSSA, is looking at the Dutch wheeled vehicle replacement program with interest. The Netherlands wants to purchase a number of logistic machines with mini-cabs and light DUBM.
Although the BAE SD-ROW module is still to be put into service, it has already been installed on a number of testing machines, for example, on the RG35 4x4 (photo below)
In order to fulfill the requirements for the use of an SDS, LSSA expressed a desire to cooperate with one of the machine manufacturers for the Netherlands to supply its SD-ROW. A selection of the Dutch Defense Ministry is expected at the end of 2014. Van der Merwe is also interested in the Middle East, where there is enough money to buy such systems.
Izhar Sahar, director of marketing for the ground combat systems division at Rafael, pointed out several potential SDMD markets in Latvia, Poland, other European countries, as well as in the Asia-Pacific region and India. Several dozens of Samson Mini were delivered to Belgium under a contract signed this year; deliveries will begin in the first half of 2014.
In addition to the Rafael company launching the Samsun DBMS, its division Dynamit Nobel Defense (DND) has developed its own version of the Dubbed DBMS, based on Samson Dual. This is a two-axis gyro-stabilized system onto which two types of weapons are mounted (for example, 25-mm or 30-mm cannon and 7,62-mm machine gun). DND integrated the 12,7-mm machine gun into its new installation and it was shown in Germany in April 2013.
FN Herstal developed the deFNder DBMS family, which the company describes as a set of systems with large pointing angles - a very important feature in an urban and irregular war, where the DBMS should be aimed at tall buildings. With a Minimi 7,62-mm machine gun, the installation can have an elevation angle of + 80 degrees and a declination angle of –60 degrees.
The lightweight FN module deFNder Light has high aiming angles.
FN has successfully established itself in three major programs on SDM. Its modules were installed on the Belgian multi-purpose protected vehicles (MPPV) and armored infantry vehicles (AIV), as well as on the commanding VPC vehicles manufactured by French Nexter (former GIAT); in total, more than FN deFNder 400 systems were delivered.
Saab Trackfire Module Based on Universal tank and anti-air system. With this module, she won her first contract only at the end of 2011, when ATK chose this system to integrate its lightweight 25mm Bushmaster Chain Gun and supply it to the U.S. Army.
In December 2012, it was announced that the company had received its second contract for this system from the Finnish Navy; In 2014-2016, Saab will supply 13 installations. The Trackfire module will be installed on Alutech Watercat M18 AMC amphibious assault boats. The fire control system, on which the Trackfire is based, is currently rated by Canada as part of the requirements of this country's army for a melee vehicle.
The Hitrole Light module of the Italian company Oto Melara is currently deployed in the Italian contingent on its Iveco VTLM Lince and BTR Puma vehicles. The company received a contract worth 20 million euros (26,6 million dollars) in the 2009 year on the 81 system for these machines, which were delivered by the middle of the 2010 year.
According to the company, it has signed an additional contract with the Italian Defense Ministry to install Hitrole Light for special versions of the VBM Freccia machine from Iveco-Oto Melara. She also agreed with Iveco to install this system on its Multi-Role Multi-Role Medium Tactical Vehicle (VTMM) multi-purpose middle-class machines designed to carry out the tasks of mine clearance of VCA.
Module Hitrole Light Italian company Oto Melara
Further developments include an OEDS installed on the Super Amphibious Vehicle Iveco machine, which is just beginning to pass qualification tests in the Italian army. The new system, designated VBA, is designed to meet the requirements of the Italian army and naval special forces.
The company Oto Melara is looking to the future and according to the available data is considering the possibility of installing in the Hitrole module of machine guns not only the NATO standard. Currently, an analysis of the development of a suitable tower installation is underway along with towers compatible with 105 mm and 120 mm cannons.
With the increasing use of DBMS, these systems are becoming the standard for machines, and moreover, more large-caliber weapons are being installed in them than in the past.
According to Carl-Eric Lick, head of marketing for control systems at Saab, a renaissance has taken place in the world of OOBM due to miniaturization of electronics and greater availability of thermal imaging technology.
Lick said that the use of modern stabilized systems to enable firing on the move has now become the standard, while recent contracts have also demonstrated the need for systems with much greater angles of view that would provide better situational awareness and be integrated with the combat information network and onboard sensors of the car.
Oykun Eren, head of the weapons systems department at the Turkish company FNSS, said that the improvement of infrared night cameras and high-resolution daytime cameras will continue. The aiming systems are also beginning to include various technologies for generalizing images and multispectral sensors, which will allow shooters to better detect and identify targets at large distances and in bad weather conditions. These systems can help operators detect recently broken ground or road surface, which is a sign of buried IEDs.
He considers the situational awareness of the operator of the SDS as a primary task for the developers of these systems, since the remote user of the weapon system is deprived of peripheral vision and sound “prompts” and depends entirely on the front-view cameras.
The Claw FNSS module offers protection to the operator during replenishment of ammunition and replacement of other mechanical components.
Eren believes that in the future there will be significant improvements in the optoelectronics of the DBMS and other sensors, which will mitigate these shortcomings. Here one could use smart helmet displays, similar to those used in combat aviation. They provide the shooter with a computer image of the external environment of the machine and allow you to direct weapons with movements of the head and neck.
Tighter integration of the combat information and control system with the technologies available in the vehicle’s chassis will also improve the ability to detect and locate the shot. Threat detection systems will become standard, and their integration with fire control computers will allow the shooter to respond faster, automatically targeting and tracking the sniper.
According to Ehren, one of the trends that has recently received a powerful impetus has been the development of tower forms of DBMS. This path was chosen by FNSS and introduced its Claw system. Installing a remote-controlled turret eliminates the need for a turret basket, which is usually present in a traditional habitable turret rotating inside a combat vehicle.
With the standard EPRS installed, the crew from the inside of the vehicle can only replenish the ammunition, and in the case of tower anti-aircraft projectiles, weapons (except barrels), ammunition, loading chutes and associated systems can be replaced from the inside of the armored capsule.
The OAS developed by FNSS and the partner company Aselsan was created both for the Turkish army and for export. He is currently undergoing fire tests and is expected to be available on the market soon.
The company Oto Melara also offers its version of the tower OAK. Her version of Hitrole for armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles can be recharged from inside the car, while the crew is not at risk of enemy shelling.
The most important characteristic is the possibility of defeat from the first shot, and according to Sue Wee Wang, the head of the center of weapons systems in the Singapore company ST Kinetics, improving the stabilization of the weapon complex and the video tracking system for the target is considered as promising areas.
The convenience and ease of use of these technologies in combat modules will be the basis for development, despite the ever increasing complexity of the systems. "We will see the capabilities of the touch screen, which will allow the arrow to point the target on the screen with a finger, then turn the armament complex and that's it ... destroying the target," explained Sue.
Modularity and customization
The constructions of the joint stock conference are currently being created in such a way that it can easily suit any user. LSSA has focused on the simplicity and low cost of its SD-ROW and TRT modules, which makes it possible to refine them based on the requirements of various users. For example, a version of SD-ROW rotating on 360 ° was developed, although the original design allowed it to rotate only on 270 °. The idea of the initial version was that support and supply vehicles, as a rule, move in a column and it is unlikely that there will be a need to shoot backwards, but buyers have requested advanced features.
Saab has put modularity at the forefront and based on this concept has developed its TrackMire SDM. The Trackfire module began as a mature, proven in the military system, capable of carrying out ballistic calculations for all calibers, including calculations for the guns of the main battle tanks. This functional component was used in various versions of the Trackfire, including configurations for Russian and Western weapons (which requires the supply of ammunition from opposite sides).
OUBS should be quickly and easily installed on different types of machines without any modification of the module itself. One DBMS could be installed on one machine, and the next day on another. The ability to quickly modify systems for different requirements also simplifies logistics tasks: reusing components and technologies between different options simplifies procurement and reduces the cost of spare parts.
Due to the rapid development of relevant technologies and designs of armored vehicles, the Dubbedan Railroad Railways needs an open architecture from the very beginning of development. It is also necessary to update the learning tools of the DBMS. Currently, there is a great need not only for more desktop classroom simulators, but consumers also want to have (as part of the system supply) interactive and electronic operating and maintenance manuals, available from the operator console.
Mr. Sue stressed that there is a great need for what is called “immersion training”, it could complement the training in the classroom and on the simulator.
Mass is another problem. Since more armor is being attached to the machines for protection, there is less payload for other systems. “Compact design is very important. This ensures the minimum mass of the OCDM, but allows you to load the maximum ammunition ready-made shots in order to reduce the number of reloads, ”added Sue.
It is clear that the pace of change in the area of SDM is high, and designers, designers and manufacturers must devote a lot of effort to maintain this pace.