TOW missile gunners will soon be better protected from enemy small arms fire thanks to a new gunner protection kit designed especially for them.The same team of Picatinny Arsenal engineers that brought the Objective Gunner Protection Kit (OGPK) to service members has completed development of a new armor system that is customized for integration with the Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire command-link guided (TOW) missile and Improved Target Acquisition System (ITAS).The TOW missile is a long-range, precision anti-armor and anti-fortification weapon system. A gunner fires them from atop armored tactical vehicles.ITAS works with the TOW system to increase the missile's target detection and engagement capabilities."The new TOW/ITAS GPK is the latest Army solution for an armored turret that mounts to the common ring of tactical and armored vehicles," explained Thomas Kiel, lead design engineer for gunner protection at Picatinny's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC)."The kit provides the TOW/ITAS gunner with situational awareness and significant force protection against Improvised Explosive Devices and enemy small arms fire," Kiel added.Fielding of the TOW/ITAS GPK is scheduled to begin this May.It is approved for use on the MaxxPro Dash Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle with the proper Vehicle Integration Kit (VIK) for missile storage and safe operation of the TOW missile. The system is being considered for the Cougar, MATV and JLTV."As new requirements are received for TOW/ITAS GPK integration onto other vehicles, ARDEC will respond with the resources and hardware needed to support the needs in theater," said Kiel.INTEGRATION"The TOW/ITAS GPK is our most sophisticated Gunner Protection Kit to date," said Kiel. "The system integrates seamlessly with the entire suite of common weapons, while providing the protection and situational awareness required by the gunner."The most critical aspect of the turret design is gunner safety, he explained."Every aspect of the design was meticulously configured to maximize survivability while meeting the system requirement for enhanced firepower," Kiel said.The kit has provisions for four weapon mounts, with the ability to secure three weapons simultaneously. It has been designed to accommodate one primary weapon system (M2, MK19 or TOW/ITAS), one secondary weapon system (M240B, M249 SAW) and one tertiary weapon (M4).REDUCING WEIGHTAdvanced lightweight titanium armor was chosen in specific areas to reduce the weight burden on the turret and its motorized traversing unit to rotate the system."Every detail of the turret geometry, had to be approved by the user community in order to validate the overall functionality," said design engineer Kris Mayer.The ARDEC Prototype Integration Facility (PIF) was responsible for developing a production-ready process for each component of the GPK while fabricating evaluation and test-level prototypes of the system."The ARDEC PIF gives us the ability to rapidly develop armor systems," said Kiel. "Pulling this capability together with our in-house systems engineering effort ensures that our solution meets service member expectations."DEVELOPMENTThe original concepts for the current configuration were devised in theater by D-Forward Support Troop 1-91 Cavalry and 2nd Platoon DAGGER Company, 2-12 Infantry Regiment."The true ingenuity and creative spirit for this kit originated with the Soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan who operate in the turret with these high energy weapons and advanced targeting systems," said Kiel.ARDEC teamed with several organizations to jointly develop the new turret and VIK including the Joint Project Office Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center and Navistar Defense LLC (A subsidiary of Navistar International Corp.).Blue Grass Army Depot supported the initial quantity of kits required for immediate fielding.