CROWS arrive in Iraq to keep gunners out of sight

A reader tips me off to this story on the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, or CROWS. Contrary to what many might think, I’m not plugging the CROWS. I’m just dissatisfied (well, for an armchair general, anyway) with the unstabilized RWS and the CROWS seems to be a similar system with motion stabilization. (The pic is from the PEO Soldier site. Click for larger version.)

The CROWS is getting quite a workout so far in Iraq:

At LSA Anaconda, four CROWS were issued to 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Ar Ramadi and the 155th Brigade Combat Team on FOB Kalsu. Prototypes were installed on vehicles belonging to the 42nd Military Police Brigade in December, Lozano said.

Since then, more CROWS have been installed, bringing the total up to nine systems serving troops at LSA Anaconda.

Presently in Iraq, CROWS are only assembled and fielded at LSA Anaconda. Crews are issued the system there and receive training on how to operate it, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Januchowski, the project’s training developer.

The nearly $200,000 system is designed to replace the turret gunner on Humvees to improve combat effectiveness, Lozano said.

I don’t know if the CROWS targeting and visual systems are as good as, worse than, or better than those on the RWS, though I do know that the CROWS view screen is color rather than the black and white of the RWS. The RWS has been criticized, though not too strongly, for less-than-stellar optics. The upgraded RWSes for future Stykers and for the TUSK M1 tanks will feature improved visual systems.

One nifty feature of the CROWS that I was unaware of:

Both cameras use a laser range finder, which allows the gunner to zoom on targets, lock onto them and maintain that lock accurately while the vehicle is in motion. The camera and the weapon can be used together or separately.

The camera allows the gunner to look one way with the weapon pointed another. This feature becomes particularly useful when observing suspicious subjects from a distance, Soldiers said, adding that way people are not scared off by a weapon pointed at them.

It seems to me that this would be particularly useful in urban settings, and especially in the sort of low-intensity combat our guys find themselves in most of the time. The CROWS gunner could be acting all innocent and everything while he spots for a sniper on the next rooftop or while he calls in artillery or an airstrike. All from the comfort of his vehicle.

I also saw (within the last couple of days) a photo of a Stryker with a weapons mount other than a RWS. I meant to revisit it and try to determine what it was, but I forgot and now I can’t recall where I saw it. If it comes to me I’ll check into it.

Hat tip to the reader who sent this in to MO.

UPDATE: The Ft. Benning Bayonet also has a story on the CROWS. It notes that the CROWS deployment base at LSA Anaconda was called the “CROWS Nest”.


  1. It sounds great. Just what the soldier ordered. Hopefully mounts can be developed for all vehicles (HMMWV, Stryker, M113, M2, M1, etc.) if it’s successful. Sounds like it gives the operator roughly the same capabilities as an MBT in the sense that it’s stabilised, rangefinding and automatically tracking (and I’m assuming it also elevates automatically), and can be operated under armour. Of course, the firepower isn’t the same, but most of the time when fighting this kind of war this is what you need. A vehicle with two or three of these pointed in different directions ought to be pretty formidable against guerillas.

  2. The cost of the CROWS may explain why the Stryker got stuck with the less capable RWS. I’ve always wondered whether the RWS was deliberately picked to keep the overall price tag down, or because some contract weenies were sloppy with the performance spec.

  3. It seems to me $200k is pretty much nothing in terms of military spending. Strykers cost around 14 times that including the RWS. Instead of $2.8m they’d maybe cost $2.9m with the CROWS. That seems like little to pay for a lot of extra capability to me. I’m pretty sure it’s worth it to the military to spend at least $1m to save one soldier’s life or make one more operation more successful. Seems like cost would be a very poor argument in this case for degrading capability. Personally I’d rather have one less Stryker and equip at least 14 others with CROWS. That’s assuming the RWS was free. One another note, I had a kind of cool idea last night. One could take M1A1s which lack the commander’s periscope and replace the M2 machine gun with a CROWS w/M2. Not only would this allow the commander to fire his machine gun under armour accurately whilst moving but would also give him something similar in terms of capability to the periscope without having to upgrade the tank to M1A2 spec. You could also give the loader a CROWS w/M240 and (s)he could use it for under-armour surveillance and fire-on-the-move. That would be pretty cool. I realize this sort of thing is being considered in what Murdoc calls the ‘Streetbrawler’. I just thought I’d point out some of the extra benefits of it.

  4. How tough is this thing? If I was in a firefight against one of these, I would try putting a few rounds into that camera / laser pod on the side. I suppose it is a relatively small target but it might be worth trying if it’s mounted on a well armored vehicle that I can’t hurt otherwise. Would this render the $200K system useless? Is there an ability to still aim and fire manually if this happens?

  5. Bram, even if you could take out the CROWS with a few well-placed shots, most armoured vehicles have weak points like that. Even an M1A2 can be semi-crippled by a well-placed shot from a 20mm anti-tank rifle (like those which were widespread during WW2 back when tank armour was thinner). You can take out the gunner’s sight quite easily, the ‘doghouse’ doesn’t have armour that’s all that thick. Without it the stabilisation and fire-control is basically useless and the gunner has no thermal imaging. (s)He has to resort to using the coaxial telescope and manual aiming. I’d expect this CROWS to be armoured to survive hits from medium machine-guns. I doubt it could stand up to much fire from a heavy machine-gun and a small caliber cannon would probably destroy it almost immediately. Thing is, the only weapon that I’d expect terrorists to have which could effectively disable it would be an RPG and they’re just not accurate enough, unless you walk right up to the vehicle, especially if it’s moving. Remember, the advantage of this is it can be fired while moving – making hitting anything specific MUCH tougher. Speed is no replacement for armour, but speed and armour together are very useful indeed. Even if you can hit a moving vehicle you can’t usually choose where you’re going to hit it, which means you can’t really effectively defeat the armour with smaller weapons.

  6. Interestingly enough that tactic of shooting the viewing glass was used by the russians in WW2, while not so incrediable amazing in sucess, it did work. They used their anti-tank rifle in this way against the large tigers etc.

  7. Stryker ‘got stuck’ with RWS because of their contract mechanism. The RWS was part of the overall contract with GM, and its performance was not specified in terms of accuracy, etc. On several occasions I tried to convince Stryker (Col Ogg) to replace RWS with CROWS). Even organized a demo showcasing CROWS ability to shot and hit targets while moving. Chester, former CROWS PD

  8. If the CROWS system is anything like the aerial recon cameras my dad and his team of engineers used to design at Recon Optical, this should be a pretty good system. I’ve only recently seen some of the test video footage, anything that will enhance protection and survivability for the gunner is a good thing. Looks pretty lethal too.

  9. Hey there. I am a Field Service Engineer at Recon Optical Inc. working in Iraq with the CROWS. I have a new spot open. I would like you all to take a look at. It is still in infantsy, but it will get better. Leave a comment if you like. I, and others would appreciate it. Thanks

  10. Now your talking, Put a GAU-2B/A 7.62mm Mini-gun in place of the 50 cal and you’ve got a killer fire supression tool.

  11. They didnt choose the CROW for the Stryker initially because it wasn’t out yet. I am assigned to 3/2SBCT and my second tour with this great unit is coming soon. We have recently been trained on an drastically improved RWS. It is the same as the CROW, but mounted on the Stryker…so it is still called the RWS. Just upgraded with all the high tech features. I can tell you that this weapon system is outstanding in combat. Even the first generation RWS was better than anything we had back in 03-04 deployment. Endstate, this is my opinion from the front lines. I love it.