Army Vehicle Upgrades Could Benefit From a Common Remote Weapons Station
The Army’s plans to develop a new Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle and combat robots have dominated the public discussion of how the Army is going to replace the venerable Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Yet, the Army is making great strides in making the rest of its armored fighting vehicle fleets more capable. A new variant of the Abrams main battle tank and a replacement for the M-113 are entering production. The Army has initiated a program to upgrade at least three Stryker brigades with a new turret housing a 30mm cannon and, potentially, anti-tank missiles. In addition, the Army is about to start procuring the Initial Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense system, also mounted on a Stryker vehicle. As the need to increase the lethality of most of its ground platforms continues to grow, the Army should consider investing in a common remote weapons station.
The U.S. Army has a plan to develop a new generation of armored fighting vehicles. This is largely the responsibility of Army Futures Command's (AFC) Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team (CFT). This CFT’s mandate is to manage both near-term modernization programs such as Mobile Protected Firepower and the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle while simultaneously pursuing longer-term efforts to find replacements for existing armored fighting vehicles. The CFT’s most prominent and eagerly anticipated program is the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV), a replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Proposals to design an OMFV plus a sample vehicle were due to be submitted to AFC on October 1. The OMFV is envisioned as a next-generation armored fighting vehicle with a large caliber gun, advanced sensors, enhanced maneuverability, a high degree of survivability, and lots of electric power. In addition, the CFT is making a serious effort to develop a family of robotic combat vehicles that would operate alongside not only the OMFV but all the Army’s fighting vehicles.
Most of the public attention is focused on the OMFV and related efforts to develop combat robots. What tends to be less well recognized is what the Army is doing to enhance the performance and lethality of its existing fleets. Virtually every Army combat platform is either being upgraded or replaced. As a result, even before the OMFV or a robotic “tank” is fielded, the Army will have enhanced the combat power of its fighting vehicles.
One of the most important upgrades is to the world’s premier main battle tank, the M1 Abrams. The Army is beginning to receive the latest version of the Abrams, the System Enhancement Package Version 3 (SEPv3). This provides the M1A2 with new computers, sensors, radios, and power management systems. The SEPv3 also will enhance the Abrams’ lethality by adding an improved Ammunition Data Link for the fire control system and new rounds for the 120mm main gun, including projectiles designed to defeat the explosive reactive armor on the latest Russian tanks.
Much of the Army’s vehicle modernization program is centered on the Stryker Armored Fighting Vehicle. Once called an Interim Armored Vehicle, intended to act as a place holder until the Future Combat System was fielded, the Stryker is proving an increasingly capable and versatile platform. With the return of great power competition and the prospect for a clash of armored forces, the U.S. Army found a need to up-gun its Strykers, which only possessed a 50-caliber machine gun. Responding to an Urgent Operational Need statement in 2016 to develop and field an enhanced lethality capability to the 2d Cavalry Regiment (CR) in Europe, General Dynamics integrated a Konigsberg turret with a 30mm cannon and put it on a Stryker vehicle. This variant was called the Infantry Combat Vehicle–Dragoon.
Based on field testing conducted by the 2nd CR, the Army now wants to develop an even more lethal capability for the Stryker. The Army is particularly interested in a weapons station that could also carry anti-tank missiles such a Javelin and a tube-launched drone. The current plan is a full and open competition to provide a 30mm Medium Caliber Weapons System (MCWS) to equip at least three Stryker brigades.
Another upgrade program currently using the Stryker as its basic platform is the Initial Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) system. Leonardo DRS is integrating the mission equipment package for the IM-SHORAD, which consists of a Moog Reconfigurable Integrated Weapons Platform turret with an XM914 (30mm) cannon, a 7.62mm machine gun, sensors and multiple ground-to-air missiles. The Army plans to acquire 144 IM-SHORAD vehicles to equip four battalions.
Both the MCWS and the IM-SHORAD turret could be deployed on other armored vehicles, notably the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). Oshkosh has already demonstrated that it can put a remote weapons station with a 30mm chain gun on a JLTV.
With lethality upgrades going on many Army platforms, there appears to be a need for a common turret that can support the range of weapons, sensors, and launchers the Army wants to deploy. The Army already has experience in proliferating remote turrets, most notably the Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station (CROWS), which was widely deployed on trucks, MRAPS, and even tanks as a result of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. But CROWS is a limited capability; it cannot support a 30mm cannon or anti-tank missiles.
Developing a common remote weapons station has a number of advantages. First and foremost, it will maximize integration efficiencies for similar weapons configurations or different configurations on similar platforms. Second, it will create efficiencies in training. Third, cost savings can be realized through reduced sustainment and maintenance burdens. Finally, the costs of vehicle mobility and survivability testing can be spread across different configurations and platforms.
With the Army planning on upgrading the lethality of many of its armored vehicles, it makes sense to look at the opportunity to acquire a common remote weapons station. Currently, each program manager gets to choose what remote weapons station to use, so long as it meets overall requirements. Army leadership should examine the value in making a top-down decision to press its vehicle program managers toward a common remote weapons station. Finally, use of a common remote weapons station would create a similar combat vehicle profile for several variants, reducing an adversary’s ability to preferentially target one type of vehicle.
Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full bio here.