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.

The upshot is that two soldiers can do the guard work of ten.

Tower Hawk is one of a number of technologies under evaluation at NIE, including 11 new energy systems designed to reduce fuel and water consumption. Among these is the Advanced Medium Mobile Power Source, or "amps micro grid," which is a smart system that controls six 60-kilowatt generators. The system brings the generators on and off line as needed rather than running them continuously. It also monitors the generators and warns when one is in need of servicing.

Another is a Water From Air System that works on the principle of a domestic dehumidifier to draw moisture out of the air at a rate of 500 gallons a day at even 10 percent humidity. In addition, there's a black-water purifier and a gray-water recovery system designed to recover water after use and to ensure that discharges are clean before being released into the surrounding environment.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Raphael Heflin, commander, 142nd Combat Service Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division, the arrangements at the test base make for much more comfortable living than is usually the case.

"I've got a few new soldiers here who've never been in field," he says. "Next time they go to the field they'll be disappointed."

The video below shows the Tower Hawk System in operation.

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