CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- The Ramp Mounted Weapon System (RMWS) has been added to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron's CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, giving them 180 degrees of defensive fire from the rear of the aircraft.
Since their arrival in early April, HMH 461 has been instrumental in accomplishing the Combined Joint Task Force Horn-of-Africa's mission of detecting, disrupting and defending against trans-national terrorists by supplying organic operational reach and providing flexibility to a wide variety of counter-terrorism activities across the region.
The RMWS is currently being evaluated as a possible defensive weapon system for several assault support aircraft in the Marine Corps, but HMH 461 is the first Fleet Marine Force squadron to actually implement the system in real-word operations.
The RMWS is a Fabrique Nationale (FN) M3M .50-caliber machine gun modified into a weapon system specific for Marine Corps applications, said Maj. Andrew Butler, Marine Corps War Fighting Lab M3M project coordinator.
"The ramp system is so new it hasn't even had the time to be evaluated during a MAWTS-1 (Marine Aviation Weapons and Tatics Squadron One) WTI (Weapons and Tactics Instructor) course yet," said Butler. "HMH-461 is the first squadron to use the system, and we're really excited to have the RMWS out here providing HMH with an additional capability."
Maj. Archibald M. Mclellan, HMH-461 aircraft maintenance officer, said the RMWS is a much-needed capability due to the various missions the Super Stallion has been called upon to perform in the past.
During Operation Eastern Exit in Somalia in 1990, two Super Stallions launched from amphibious ships, flew 532 miles at night, refueling twice in flight to support the actions of U.S. and foreign allies at the American Embassy in Mogadishu.
"The CH-53 has tremendous capabilities and looking at just the last 10 years there have been several instances where this capability could have directly benefited Marines. If you take a look at the missions the CH-53 has been called upon to do, they have been long-range, over the horizon, sometimes with out escort missions," said Mclellan. "Durning the O'Grady rescue back in September of 95, they were able to take Cobras with them, but it was a relatively long-range, over the horizon mission. As we found out during that mission, the inability to have a rear-mounted suppressive fire capability could have cost them significantly. Fortunately, the missiles that were shot at them didn't impact the aircraft.
"During missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Marines were cargo strapping personnel on the ramp of the aircraft with M16's (Marine standard issue assault rifle) and M60's (medium machine gun) to provide a rear suppressive-fire capability."
The RMWS would have been ideal in these situations and would have served as a valuable defensive weapon, said Mclellan.
"The addition of the RMWS more than doubles the field of fire of both door weapons together on the 53," said Butler. "The rear defense capability of the Stallion has gone from zero to 180 degrees."
Mclellan was one of the early proponents for getting a RMWS on the CH-53E to improve the CH53's defensive fire capabilities. While at MAWTS-1 he was the project officer for Qualitative Assessment of a RMWS on the CH-53E that received a favorable endorsement during WTI 2-01.
During the summer of 2001, the MCWL in close cooperation with MAWTS-1 started assessing the effectiveness of the M3M System and the possibility of implementing it as the RMWS.
"The majority of the features you see on the machine gun are Marine Corps specific such as the soft mount and 300-round ammo box," added Butler. "The soft mount reduces recoil and increases first round burst accuracy, and we chose a 300-round magazine so one Marine can lift and reload but still have maximum firepower."
Other advantages to the M3M include improvement in the rate of fire (1100 rpm vs. 550), safety (open breech; eliminates cook off), improved barrel life (10,000 rds vs. current 3,000), reduced recoil (1/3 of standard .50 caliber weapons), accuracy, lethality, maintainability and reliability over the current fielded weapons.
Many problems and obstacles have been addressed and overcome in order to get the RMWS to where it is now, said Mclellan. One of the biggest obstacles was getting past the mind set that the CH-53E wasn't designed and therefore wouldn't be called upon to perform long-range missions without escorts.
"People have the mindset that we are suppose to be in the rear with the gear," said Mclellan. "But as we see now, how the aircraft is being employed, even here with CJTF-HOA that's not the case. In modern warfare you can't clearly define where the rear area is and where the enemy isn't."
From an engineering and production standpoint, working with Fabrique Nationale has been the biggest challenge due to distance, said Butler.
"Due to the distance between us and [Fabrique Nationale's] location in Belgum, it's not as easy as taking a two-hour drive to see the aircraft," said Butler. "To fully understand changes that needed to be made they had to fly half-way around the world."
Over the past 10 years, the idea of having a defensive capability for the Super Stallion has gone from just an idea to reality in the RMWS.
"This has been an acquisition success story, getting the weapon out to a forward deployed unit so quickly required considerable coordination between Head Quarters Marine Corps, NAVAIR (Naval Air), MCWL, MAWTS-1, and Fabrique Nationale. They all deserve a lot of credit in making it happen so quickly," said Mclellan. "Seeing it go from nothing in the early 90's to actually having a weapon system in our gunners' hands is truly amazing,"