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Soldier tester at Aberdeen Test Center helps Army develop Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station.

The hazards facing U.S. troops who traverse the terrain in Iraq in their Humvees impelled the Army to conduct a short-fuse test and evaluation program that provided them with better armor protection. But soldiers in Iraq also needed a weapon to engage the enemy from a light tactical vehicle without exposing the gunner. And they needed one that could do so at a distance. As the Army developed a weapon to meet those needs, the efforts of a soldier assigned to the Aberdeen Test Center (ATC)--Army Sgt. John Lowe--made a critical difference.

The test center, one of many belonging to the Developmental Test Command, has been a key player in the program to test and refine the solution called the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, or CROWS. Lowe not only provided soldier input as the system developed, but also took part in a rapid-reaction operational test and deployed to Iraq recently to train soldiers in its use.

Many of the weapon systems in the Army's arsenal are technological wonders, but they have had to undergo several phases of rigorous testing and evaluation by engineers and technicians before they were deemed capable of meeting the Army's evolving mission requirements. The war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq has changed that paradigm, forcing the acceleration of test schedules and other measures, including the issuance of "urgent material releases" so that systems badly needed by American troops get into their hands in the shortest possible time.

U.S. military police in Iraq had received the CROWS to conduct an operational assessment in December 2003; and in April 2004, the system entered its development and demonstration phase, one of the phases in the acquisition cycle that "is all about reliability," according to Lt. Col. Kevin Stoddard, the Army's product manager for Crew Served Weapons at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. That's when ATC and its test facilities played a significant role, Stoddard said. Lowe was committed to making CROWS an effective and reliable system, he adds.

While civilian professionals do much of the testing and evaluation of military systems, an essential part of the acquisition process is input from soldiers who can spot and help the Army correct problems that civilian testers may not see from the soldier's perspective. Lowe, assigned to ATC at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, provided a great deal of valuable soldier insight, making it possible to equip various units in Iraq with a system that works as it should, Stoddard says, adding that Lowe's experience with the system at ATC also made him the logical choice to provide training to soldiers in Iraq.

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Technologically sophisticated systems can have their idiosyncrasies, and it is the job of soldiers such as Lowe and others classified as "soldier operator, maintainer, tester and evaluator" (SOMTE) to find them, Stoddard explains. In addition to Lowe, he credits ATC staff and other SOMTE troops at ATC with helping to fine-tune CROWS and make it a more effective weapon system.

While the CROWS program was progressing through the acquisition cycle, the war in Iraq prompted an "urgent operational needs statement," which was sent to the Pentagon, Stoddard says, adding that the Pentagon response was to suggest that CROWS be fielded to soldiers in Iraq under an "urgent material release." CROWS was then classified as an operational test item, and it underwent testing by soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C. Lowe was sent to Fort Bragg to take part in that phase of testing.

"When I assumed responsibility for the program, I had a schedule that was looking out at the July [2005] time-frame," Stoddard says. "We were going to finish up then and go into operational test at that time, but because of the urgency of the system and the fact that we wanted to get it right, we cut six months off it. Chris Merrill, ATC's test director for the CROWS program, and his team were working weekends. Starting in the September timeframe, Sgt. Lowe and those guys were out [on the range] every day. In terms of taking the system out and running it through all of its wickets--environmental chambers, electromagnetic interference chambers, automotive testing--all that was done by Chris's team as well as Sgt. Lowe and the SOMTE soldiers."

Lowe arrived at Fort Bragg at the beginning of January 2005, and the operational test took place later that month. He also helped with CROWS training while there. "We had validated operations manuals and training manuals," Stoddard explained. "Sgt. Lowe helped with that. The reason it was so good to do that was that we were really moving fast on this program. We pulled out all the stops."

While various manufacturers produce remotely operated weapon systems, there is a difference among the systems in their level of "maturity" and effectiveness in meeting the Army's current needs, Stoddard said. The test team helped to identify what the Army really needs, he said.

Lowe received stateside training for his deployment to Iraq and then deployed there in early 2005 to link up with an equipping team that Stoddard's organization has in place. The Multinational Corps Iraq oversees a force-modernization group that coordinates fielding of systems there. They worked closely with Stoddard's team to develop a plan that identified several U.S. units under varying commands that need CROWS to conduct their operations.

Soldiers in identified units come to the fielding site with their vehicles so that installation kits and then CROWS can be placed on them. The work takes three days, Stoddard explained, and during that time the soldiers receive classroom training with Lowe's help. They also get about a week of hands-on training on a basic-skills trainer, where they go through all the system controls and get mission scenarios using the actual system software. After that they get additional training by getting the feel of the system while the Humvees drive around. CROWS nighttime capabilities and the 2,000-meter range of the weapon system mean changes in doctrinal tactics, for which soldiers need to train, Stoddard said.

As a reservist, Lowe requested to extend his tour of duty in Iraq to work any remaining kinks out of the CROWS. "He didn't have to go to Iraq, and he didn't have to go to my operational test," Stoddard said. "We are fortunate to have that type of dedication. He always wanted everything to be right. When we did demos he was out there early, making sure the rehearsals were done, that everything performed correctly. He took a lot of ownership and pride in this product. No money in the world can buy that."

Cast is with Developmental Test Command Public Affairs, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

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RELATED ARTICLE: CROWS--The Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station

CROWS, a system manufactured by Recon/Optical, Inc., of Barrington, Ill., a leading manufacturer of tactical reconnaissance cameras, is designed to be mounted to a number of vehicles, including the M1114 up-armored Humvee for armored scouts and military police. Four crew-served weapons have been integrated into and demonstrated on CROWS: the M2 heavy barrel, .50 caliber machine gun; the MK19 grenade machine gun; the M240B, 7.62-millimeter machine gun; and the M249, 5.56-millimeter squad automatic weapon.

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The CROWS sensor suite includes a daytime video camera, a second-generation forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sight, and a laser range finder for day and night missions. The system also features a ballistic computer and stabilization system so it can operate effectively when a vehicle is driving over rough terrain.

With the aid of its streaming video and the laser range finder, a gunner can continuously pan 360 degrees while on the move in an urban environment, zoom in on a target, and select a point of impact. The ballistic computer is designed to adjust the weapon's point of aim accordingly. With a stationary platform, the system is designed to be capable of identifying, targeting, and destroying enemy elements beyond 2,000 meters with one-shot, one-kill accuracy and no collateral damage.
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Title Annotation:Acquisition & Logistics Excellence
Author:Cast, Mike
Publication:Defense AT & L
Date:Nov 1, 2005
Words:1330
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