Our own Christian Lowe is embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan through June 1 and sends us this dispatch from Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan.
By Christian Lowe
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --- It was touted as the answer to critics who said the MV-22 didn’t have enough firepower on board to shoot its way into a hot LZ.
And here in Afghanistan, this deployment of the MV-22s with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 marked the first real-world test of the BAE Systems-made Remote Guardian machine gun system – known in the Corps as the Interim Defensive Weapon System, or “belly gun” for short.
The squadron based here at Bastion air field, adjacent to Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, has 12 aircraft and an inventory of five of the belly gun systems.
Problem is, they don’t want to use them.
Squadron commander Lt. Col. Ivan Thomas downplayed the difficulties with the system, saying simply that the manufacturer was sending over trainers who could help Marines learn how to use the system more effectively. The IDWS consists of a 7.62mm rotary cannon mounted in a retractable box near amidships on the Osprey’s undercarriage. There’s a targeting and control system inside the bird that uses an X-Box-like controller to steer the optics and gun for 360-degree coverage of the LZ.
Each Osprey also has a M240 7.62mm machine gun mounted to the ramp in the tail. Previous reports have indicated that the Afghanistan Ospreys would have .50 cals mounted on the tail ramp, but the squadron only does that when they think they’re going in guns blazing, which isn’t often.
Thomas said they’ve test fired the Remote Guardian system once, “and it’s extremely accurate,” he said. But with the kind of dynamic approaches these MV-22s are flying into the zone and the difficulty of looking through a soda straw at the LZ and firing at what’s firing at you in time, Thomas has opted to keep the IDWS off every one of his planes.
He argues that the rules of engagement here are so restrictive and the potential downside of a civilian casualty from a misaimed shot so high, he can’t take the risk of firing the Gatling gun if there’s a chance it will miss.
A senior crew chief I flew with agreed with the skipper, but added the controller/targeting station takes up too much room in the cabin (three seats) and devotes a crew chief’s entire attention to running the system.
“And you’d better have a strong stomach,” the gunny said. “Because sitting sideways and trying to keep that thing on target looking at the screen will make you pretty sick.”
The one thing these Marines loved about the IDWS was its highly accurate IR camera. Its crystal clear image and deep zoom capability make it a good capability for situational awareness when it’s getting hot.
“I can zoom in and track a guy as he’s walking around clear as day,” the gunny said.
But even with the high-speed surveillance capability, the Marines here don’t think the belly gun is right for their mission.