Lieutenant Colonel Raphael Heflin, right, commander, 142nd Combat Service Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division, and another soldier pass near a remotely-controlled weapons system (Credit: US Army/David Vergun)
One of the more unpleasant aspects of army life has always been guard duty. It’s also very labor intensive. In the US Army, it takes four to six soldiers standing for up to 12 hours to man a single perimeter weapons system. To free up personnel for more important duties, the Army is testing the Tower
Hawk System, which uses tower-mounted, remote-controlled weapons for base perimeter security.The tests are part of the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 16.1, which is currently being conducted at an experimental expeditionary base camp at Fort Bliss, Texas. The camp consists of 15 air-conditioned billeting containers – complete with latrines, laundries and shower – that can house ten soldiers each, plus two containers for tactical operations. It’s here that 9,000 participants from the US Army and a 14-member coalition made up mainly of NATO nations are evaluating new technologies designed to make forward base operations more efficient in terms of energy, water and manpower.
The Tower Hawk System replaces conventional guard towers with unmanned towers set around the edge of the razor wire. It’s shipped in the form of containers and the towers that can be erected in less than an hour by six soldiers with only minimal training. Each tower is equipped with a Browning M-2 50-caliber machine gun and a 338 Lapua sniper rifle, though any other gun system can be swapped in.
Meanwhile, two soldiers in the base tactical operations center sit in front of large screens providing normal, thermal, and infrared vision for watching outside the perimeter. The operators use handheld controllers, at least some of which appear to be commercial video game controllers (that’s clearly an Xbox gamepad in the image below) that allow them to raise, lower, and rotate the weapons by 360 degrees, as well as fire them remotely. These are linked to the Joint All Hazard Command Control System software, which can differentiate between friend and foe, and can automatically track identified hostiles.