Army Counter Drone System Pops Out Of A Shipping Container

The U.S. Army showed off a containerized counter-drone weapon system armed with a four-round launcher loaded with laser-guided 70mm rockets at an exercise in Saudi Arabia earlier this year. This system looks well-suited for providing an additional layer of defense against lower volumes of drones that is readily deployable, even at remote and austere locations.

The Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, brought the laser-guided rocket-armed system out to the Red Sands 23.2 exercise back in September, according to pictures released yesterday. Red Sands 23.2 took place at the Shamal-2 Range in northeastern Saudi Arabia and was the second exercise run through a new U.S.-led test entity in the Middle Eastern country called the Red Sands Integrated Experimentation Center.

A target drone is launched during Exercise Red Sands 23.2 in Saudi Arabia in September 2023. US Army

The system comes from a contractor team that includes the Invariant Corporation and HDT Global.

The images from Red Sands 23.2 focus on a portion of the complete system, consisting of Arnold Defense LAND-LGR4 four-round 70mm rocket launcher mounted on a modified Commonly Remotely Operated Weapon Station II (CROWS II) from Kongsberg Defense. Laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II) rockets are used as the effector.

The CROWS II in this case has an additional sensor or other type of system fitted. This could be for helping with tracking enemy drones and/or for ‘lase’ them with a laser for the rockets to home in on. The remotely operated weapon station has its own electro-optical and infrared cameras already built in, too.

A close-up of the modified CROWS II fitted with the LAND-LGR4 launcher and the added sensor or other system (silver/gray rather than tan). US Army
A stock image of a standard CROWS II turret, seen armed here with a .50 caliber M2 machine gun and mounted on a 4×4 Humvee vehicle. US Army

The CROWS II/LAND-LGR4 launcher is fitted to a containerized base system that has been in at least limited Army service as a base defense weapon for nearly a decade. What is blandly named the Containerized Weapon System (CWS) consists of a modified 10-foot ISO shipping container with a hinged roof, through which a platform with the CROWS II on top can be raised and lowered as desired. This also means that the turret can be lowered to allow personnel to reload the weapons, conduct repairs, and otherwise interact with it from within the relative protection of the container’s walls.

Two soldiers can get the CWS, which requires an external power source, up and running in around 30 minutes, according to the Army. HDT Global says the system has an ethernet-enabled hub that allows it to be networked together with offboard sensors and fire control systems.

This networking capability is important for the new containerized counter-drone system, which actually consists of two separate containers. The one with the launcher is the “killer.” It is linked to a second “hunter” container that has a sensor suite on the elevated platform that includes an RPS-42 radar array from Leonardo DRS and a sensor turret with electro-optical and infrared cameras. Small radars like the RPS-42 are increasingly common components of ground-based counter-drone systems.

The “hunter” and “killer” containers side-by-side. Invariant Corporation

The elevated mast would give the radars and other sensors a good field of view out to the horizon to further help them spot and track incoming drones. It would also allow the container to be situated in a more protected position behind a berm or other cover.

As seen in the video below, in addition to the “hunter” and “killer” counter-drone containers, Invariant is also pitching a CWS version armed with a fast-firing 7.62x51mm M134 Minigun Gatling-type machine gun as an additional element that could provide even closer-in defense against drones, as well as other threats on the ground.

The containerized nature of the overall system makes it relatively easy to get it from one location to another, even to sites that are remote or austere, using trucks and other equipment designed to move standardized shipping containers. CWS’ relatively small size means that a single truck designed to carry a full-size 40-foot ISO container could carry more than one of these containerized weapons at a time, including both the hunter and killer components of the counter-drone system.

Standardized equipment for moving containers like the US Army M1074 Palletized Load System truck seen here could be used to readily move Containerized Weapon Systems in the counter-drone configuration from one location to another. US Army

CWS already offers immense flexibility by taking advantage of CROWS II, which can be armed with a variety of different small arms, including the .50 caliber M2 machine gun and 40mm Mk 19 Mod 3 automatic grenade launcher. The turret can also be armed with a Javelin anti-tank missile, which can be used in an anti-air role against helicopters in some circumstances.

Turning it into a counter-drone system with the help of the combination of the LAND-LGR4 and APKWS II makes good sense. APKWS II has already demonstrated its ability to engage aerial threats, in particular a variety of lower-tier drones. The containerized combo could also offer a precision engagement capability against ground targets, including light armored vehicles.

Since it uses CROWS II, there is the possibility the counter-drone system could be adapted for use on other ground platforms beyond the CWS, too. The requisite fire control and sensor capabilities would have to be ported over, too, or networked in from off-board systems.

Counter-drone-focused systems are, of course, very much in vogue now within the U.S. military, as well as foreign armed forces. Various tiers of uncrewed aerial systems, including weaponized commercial types configured to drop improvised munitions or operate in a “kamikaze” mode and just smash into their targets, are all very real, dominating threats now.

This is a reality that first really began to emerge on the battlefield in widespread fashion with ISIS’ use of weaponized commercial drones in Iraq and Syria. As The War Zone regularly highlights, this is something that has now gone mainstream among other militant groups and organized criminal organizations, as well as nation-state military forces.

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas notably used commercial types to drop improvised munitions during its unprecedented attacks on southern Israel in October that subsequently precipitated a major ongoing crisis. In the fallout from that, Iranian-backed groups have launched repeated drone attacks, as well as one involving other indirect fire weapons, at U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, causing dozens of injuries as a result.

Both sides in the current conflict in Ukraine have also been making heavy use of various kinds of armed drones. Interestingly in this particular context, Ukrainian forces are in the process of getting examples of an APKWS II-armed counter-drone system called VAMPIRE, seen in the video below, to help address Russian uncrewed threats.

At least one Ukrainian unit has already been making use of Humvee-mounted LAND-LGR4 launchers for attacks on ground targets.

When it comes to the counter-drone version of the CWS, it is not clear how far along the Army might be in any plans to field it in any significant numbers. Still, with APKWS II having a demonstrated ability to swat down uncrewed threats, there is a definite possibility that U.S. military facilities, including those in forward locales, might be guarded in part by these pop-up turrets.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.