The Elbit UT25 and ORCWS Systems of the Philippine Army

A UT30 Mk2 Remote Weapons Station (RWS) mounted on an M113 of the Philippine Army. Photo courtesy of John K. Chua.
A UT30 Mk2 Remote Weapons Station (RWS) mounted on an M113 of the Philippine Army. Photo courtesy of John K. Chua.

The Philippine Army (PA) finally entered the age of Remote Weapons Station (RWS) when such units it bought were finally delivered. An RWS is a remotely operated weapons system that can be installed on various platforms. These systems became common when the major armed forces of the world like the United States of America (USA) and the major European countries started adopting them during the last decade or so.

The Army’s RWS turrets were bought in 2014 under the PNoy Administration from the Israeli company Elbit Systems as part of an upgrade program for the PA’s M113 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs). Four M113s were upgraded to have RWS turrets armed with 25 mm cannons while another six M113s were armed with .50 caliber Machine Guns. The .50 caliber RWS-equipped M113s were the first to arrive in September last year[1] and a year later the 25 mm RWS-equipped units were delivered.[2]

As revealed by Elbit during the recent Asian Defence and Security (ADAS) 2016 Exhibit at the World Trade Center in Pasay City, Philippines,[3] the 25 mm RWS turret turned out to be their UT25[4] model while based on its appearance, the .50 cal. turret is their Overhead Remote Controlled Weapons Station (ORCWS) product.[5]

’The RWS and Weapons’
The ORCWS is the smaller of the two systems which can be armed with weapons as light as 5.56 mm caliber Machine Guns to as heavy as 40 mm Automatic Grenade Launchers (AGL). In our case, the Army decided to use the Browning M2HB Heavy Machine Gun (HMG)[6] which is a standard weapon in our armed forces.

The M2HB is an automatic, belt-fed, air-cooled and recoil-operated Machine Gun which fires the 12.7 x 99 mm ammunition, also known as the “.50 Browning Machine Gun (BMG)”, with the “12.7 mm” referring to the caliber or diameter of the bullet, while the 99 mm refers to the length of the case of the ammo. The M2HB first entered service with the US armed forces in 1938, but it is still very common and very much in use by a lot of countries around the world today.

It weighs 38 kg, can fire at a rate of around 450 rounds per minute, and has an estimated effective range of 1.5 km. The M2HB was first produced by the American company Colt Manufacturing Co., but since then has been produced under license by many companies around the world.

The UT25 is part of Elbit’s UT-series of RWS Turrets, it is basically the same as the UT30 except that it uses a 25 mm caliber cannon while the UT30 uses a 30 mm caliber cannon. It is a bigger and heavier system than the ORCWS, and has a 7.62 mm caliber Machine Gun as a secondary weapon and can also be armed with Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM) as an option.

In our case, it doesn’t look like we took the option for the ATGMs, but space for them in the turret behind the sensors is available if ever we decide to buy them in the future. The version that we got seems to be the “Mark Two (Mk2)” which is the latest known version of the UT series as of 2016. Compared to the previous version, this one is much wider, but is shorter giving the vehicles where it is mounted on a lower profile.

The 25 mm cannon used is the M242 Bushmaster Cannon[7] which is an automatic, belt-fed, air-cooled and electrically operated Cannon which firing the 25 x 137 mm ammunition. It is the same cannon our Navy uses in their Mark 38 (Mk 38) gun system. It first entered service with the US armed forces in 1972, weighs 110 kg, can fire up to 200 rounds per minute, and has an estimated effective range of 2 km. It is made by the American company, Orbital ATK.

As for the secondary weapon, there is no indication on what exactly it is, but a good guess would be the FN MAG[8] since it is the most common co-axial Machine Gun used on the armored vehicles of western nations and their allies. The FN MAG is an automatic, belt-fed, air-cooled and gas-operated Machine Gun which fires the 7.62 x 51 mm ammunition.

It first entered service with the Belgian armed forces in 1958, weighs 12 kg, can fire around 650 rounds per minute, and has an estimated effective range of 800 m. It was was first made by the Belgian company Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal, but like the M2HB has since been license built all around the world.

Aside from the Philippines, other countries that have bought the ORCWS and UT-series systems for their armed forces include Brazil, Israel, Slovenia, Romania and Portugal, so we are in pretty good company there.

’RWS Features’
As for the features of the ORCWS and UT25, I am enumerating them below one by one:

* Fully Overhead – The weapons, sensors, ammunition, etc. are all contained in the same turret.

* No Deck Penetration – There is no protrusion or overhang that occupies the space underneath the turret.

* Dual Axis Stabilization – The turrets are isolated from the side to side and up and down motion of the vehicle, making them very steady even if the vehicle is moving.

* Ballistic Armor Protection – Both have modular armors, with the UT30 having armor capability up to a STANAG Protection Standard of Level 4, which is protection up 14.5 mm caliber HMG ammunition. [9]

* Target Tracking – Targets can be designated on the display screen and the turret can track it despite the movements of the vehicle.

* Electro Optical Sensors[10] – The turrets contains at least two types of Electro-Optical (EO) sensors or cameras: a “Day” camera, one that operates under normal or low light conditions; and a “Thermal Imager” which can distinguish the temperature variations of objects and its environment and can work under all lighting conditions, including when there is no light at all. These sensors have an unknown magnification capability that allows them to see objects at a closer distance even if they are much further away.

* Laser Rangefinder[10] – Allows accurate measurement of the distance of the target from the weapon.

* Ballistic Computer – These computers gather information on all of the factors that can affect the accuracy of the weapon, and then compute and show the correct compensation in the weapon’s sights in order for the bullet to hit the target. For example, it calculates the elevation needed to compensate for the drop in the trajectory of the bullet depending on how far the target is. If the target is moving, then it calculates the lead or how far in front of the target the weapon had to be aimed to compensate for that motion.

The combination of the Dual Axis Stabilization, Laser Rangefinders, Ballistic Computer and EO sensors allow the turrets to shoot the weapons at targets more accurately at longer distances even if the vehicle is moving than it would have otherwise been if these systems were not in place. Both systems also allow jams to be cleared remotely, and allows manual backup operation if needed.

’ABMs and Anti-Air Capability’
The UT25 allows the use of Air Burst Munitions (ABM) for its 25 mm cannon which improves its effectiveness against aerial targets, soldiers out in the open field, etc. As its name implies, ABMs are designed to explode near a target and shower it with shrapnel. This means that they don’t need to hit a target directly, they only need to get near enough to either kill or damage it. This is generally achieved these days by using Timed Fuses where the ABMs are set to explode at a certain time after they leave the muzzle.

The way it works is that first, the Laser Rangefinder determines the distance to the target and then the sensors determine the velocity and direction it is moving. The Ballistic Computer then computes how much time it takes for the bullet to reach the target. This information is then programmed into the ammo’s fuze as it is loaded into the weapon.[11] The only disadvantage of these ABMs is that they are more expensive than ordinary ammunition, increasing the cost of use per round.

Although it is not their only role, these ten units are some of the best ground based Anti-Air weapons in the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) right now, next only to the Mistral Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).[12] After these RWS equipped M113s, we only have the manually operated twin M2 Machine Guns and the 40 mm Bofors cannons of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) as land Anti-Air assets.

‘Vulnerability’
The most vulnerable part of these RWS are their sensors, which enemy snipers will probably try to take out. However, the sensors are pretty small targets and thus difficult to hit. And any sniper will need to be almost in front of the turret to see it, so that means the RWS’ weapons will almost be pointed in their direction also.

Plus the fact that the .50 and 25 mm caliber weapons far outrange the majority of Sniper rifles that are available out there right now, so if anybody tries to take out those sensors, they run a big risk of being obliterated themselves should they miss or take out only one of the sensors.

’Parting Shot’
This is the very first time our Army is getting RWS, and they represent a major leap in their capability. These RWS can shoot further more accurately even while moving, and can also provide good surveillance capabilities with their advanced sensors. We don’t have a lot right now, a total of only ten, but hopefully we can get a lot more in the near future. So congratulations to our Army for their new assets.

The leftmost M113 of the Philippine Army is equipped with the Overhead Remote Control Weapons Station (ORCWS). Photo courtesy of John K. Chua.
The leftmost M113 of the Philippine Army is equipped with the Overhead Remote Control Weapons Station (ORCWS). Photo courtesy of John K. Chua.

SOURCES:

^[1] Losing gunners now a thing of the past with RCWS-equipped APCs,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160923114351/http://retiredanalyst.blogspot.com/2015/09/losing-gunners-now-thing-of-past-with.html

^[2] Philippines Army takes delivery of first upgraded M113 with Elbit Systems 25mm unmanned turret,
https://web.archive.org/web/20150826031842/http://www.armyrecognition.com/june_2015_global_defense_security_news_uk/philippines_army_takes_delivery_of_first_upgraded_m113_with_elbit_systems_25mm_unmanned_turret_11506151.html

^[3] UT-25 Description Wall,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160929134951/https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:UT-25_Description_Wall.jpg

^[4] UT30 – Unmanned Turrets,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160923114704/http://elbitsystems.com/media/UT-30_Unmanned_Turrets.pdf

^[5] Overhead Remote Controlled Weapon Stations,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160923114753/http://elbitsystems.com/media/Overhead_Remote_Controlled_Weapon_Station.pdf

^[6] Browning M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160914190806/http://www.inetres.com/gp/military/infantry/mg/M2.html

^[7] M242 25mm Automatic Gun,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160327164155/http://inetres.com/gp/military/cv/weapon/M242.html

^[8] MAG FN Herstal Machine Gun,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160113122203/http://www.armyrecognition.com/belgium_belgian_light_heavy_weapons_uk/mag_fn_herstal_machine_gun_technical_data_sheet_description_specifications_information_intelligence.html

^[9] Protection Level,
https://web.archive.org/web/20151021033807/http://www.generalarmour.com/pagesGA/protectionlevel.htm

^[10] Mechanized Infantry Division showcases new armored tanks,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160922124241/http://news.pia.gov.ph/article/view/3341474398232/mechanized-infantry-division-showcases-new-armored-tanks

^[11] 25 x 59mm LW25 Programmable
Air Burst Munition,
https://web.archive.org/web/20150915122922/http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2011gunmissile/Thursday11790_Gloude.pdf

^[12] The Phoenix Journal, Doris’ Corner – The Roving Eye on Malacanang’s Mistral Missiles p. 18,
https://web.archive.org/web/20041218010039/http://www.phoenixsourcedistributors.com/001115.pdf

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4 thoughts on “The Elbit UT25 and ORCWS Systems of the Philippine Army”

  1. congrats PA, long way to go…
    10 rws is not enough but surely a good start.
    previous admin already laid out the plans, it’s the new admin’s cal whether to continue or halt the program.

  2. just to make sure if the sensors are hit or malfunctioned…can the weapons be fired manually…cause if not…it should have a secondary weapon that can be fired manually…

  3. ok thats good enough…at least is a workable weapon system even the hi tech will not worked. i also suggest that just in case, some units can be fitted with anti tank missiles. in absence of a MBT, we have still anti tank capability. Specially. i think in the ASEAN, we are one of those dont have MBT’s yet.

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