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Technology increasing Humvees’ protection

The 155th Brigade Combat Team, primarily composed of MississippiArmy National Guards troops, is among the first to receive a newweapons system designed to provide more protection to the exposedgunners on Humvees.

The weapon system, known as CROWS – or Common Remotely OperatedWeapon Stations – will be added to some Humvees using technologysimilar to that already used on the Bradley fighting vehicle andthe M1A1 Abrams tank.

CROWS employs a 15-inch color monitor with a joystick-operatedgun to allow the gunner to remain inside an armored Humvee ratherthan sit in the turret atop of the vehicle, where the soldier wouldbe exposed from the waist up.

The first of the $200,000 CROWS systems were distributed tomilitary police units, special forces, infantry and transportationunits, according to the Army.

Staff Sgt. David Sanders, a soldier from Monticello assigned tothe 155th Infantry Battalion, said his unit had not received any ofthe modified Humvees yet but said they are using the Warlocksystem, a defensive system designed to jam radio signals from thetrigger to improvised explosive devices.

“The only bad thing is it sometimes interferes with the radios,”he said through e-mail.

Mike Lobb, vice president of Barrington, Ill.-based ReconOptical Inc., which makes a component of CROWS, told The AssociatedPress that four of the weapon systems have been delivered in theU.S. and seven are in Iraq. An additional 250 CROWS will follow,but he did not give a timeline.

Lobb also said the system would enhance the performance of theturret weaponry by using computer technology to increase theaccuracy and distance of mounted weapons.

CROWS are outfitted with live video cameras for daytime use andthermal imaging cameras for night operations. The system includes alaser range finder and other features that allow it to maintain atarget while the vehicle is moving.

The system had been under development for five years, but withthe high activity of the insurgency in Iraq the military put theproject on a fast track.

“For the military, that’s lightning speed,” Lobb told BusinessWeek.

CROWS attempts to address one of the main criticisms of Humveesin a combat role – that the exposure of the gunner in the turretleaves him vulnerable to the weather, small arms fire and shrapnelfrom IEDs.

Wesson native Lt. Col. Jim Hampton, currently deployed to Panamaafter a tour in Iraq, is highly critical of the role Humvees areplaying in Iraq. He has continued a letter campaign to militaryofficers and public officials at all levels and the media since hebefore he returned from the combat zone.

“It doesn’t matter how heavily armored the Humvee is, the gunneris still stuck out the top of the vehicle with little or noprotection outside of what he or she may be wearing,” he said.

Hampton points to several other vehicles in the military arsenalor that are available that should be employed in place of Humvees,including the Armored Security Vehicle (ASV) and South AfricanWer’Wolf. Both of Hampton’s suggested substitutions are totallyenclosed in stronger armor with the turret gun operated from insidethe vehicle while providing others in the vehicle with gunports, afeature lacking in even the armored Humvees.

“Like the Redcoats continuing to march into a hail of musketfire, we continue to send our troops out on patrol and convoys invehicles that are ill-suited for the task,” he said. “Even if itwere valid to say that’s what we had when we went into battle, itis not valid now knowing that other options are available.”

Despite criticism, the government has taken steps to addresssome of the shortcomings with systems like CROWS and Warlock.

In addition, Navy and Marine officials will drive a prototypearmored Humvee on Capitol Hill in June to present the newstate-of-the-art, anti-IED Humvee to members of Congress, accordingto Aerospace Daily and Defense Report. The vehicle, called Ultra,was developed by Georgia Institute of Technology, with help fromNASCAR, Ford Motor Co. and the Army.

The prototype is supposed to represent everything Navy andMarine researchers have learned about defending the vehicle againstthe roadside bombs plaguing U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.