Vernon Kroeger, CEO of Midrand-based To The Point International, working closely with Vision24 Technologies, is well advanced with the development of a number of new turret designs, having just concluded developing its new Terminator turret.
To The Point International (TTPI) designs sights, fire control systems for armoured vehicles, small turrets, and remotely operated weapon systems. Subsystem design covers weapon mounts, weapon controls (cocking systems, remote triggers, gun drives and ammunition feed systems), sighting systems, and fire control systems (including ballistic algorithms).
Part of the design and development of a product is the testing and evaluation, and this covers first round hit probability tests as well as structural analysis tests to see how the turret handles recoil etc.
Existing products include slaved gunner sighting systems, stabilised commander sighting systems, fire control systems, thermal scopes for rifles and assault rifles, and video borescopes for hunting and sniper rifles.
Extensive track record
Kroeger has decades of experience in the industry, having designed nearly a dozen stabilised sights. He has worked on multiple projects, such as the commander and gunner sights on the Olifant tank upgrade for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), a full T-72 main battle tank fire control system upgrade, the Rooivalk attack helicopter’s sight flight clearance, and Project Hoefyster commander and gunner sight initial designs.
Previous work has resulted in the sale of intellectual property to Zeiss (for miniature stabilised sighting system) and Thales (for the stabilised sighting system for the Starstreak surface-to-air missile system (Thales Air Defence Limited) as well as for armoured fighting vehicles (Thales Optronics Taunton Limited). According to Kroeger, not many companies the size of TTPI can claim to have done this out of South Africa.
Kroeger told defenceWeb that TTPI has just finished developing its new Terminator turret, an open one-man turret in which the weapon is aimed, cocked and fired manually by the gunner. Although the gunner operates the weapon manually, an automated electrical assist enables the gunner to track and engage moving targets without releasing his grip on the weapon. Pointing the weapon left or right moves the turret accordingly when the weapon is going to hit the turret structure. The system also has a built-in safety feature that prevents the weapon barrel from damaging open hatches or injuring personnel in the weapon arc when it is rotating. The turret structure, which includes six vision blocks and a large gun shield, provides the gunner with NATO STANAG Level 2 protection.
Although the turret is open, a canopy with Level 2 protection can be added for protection from above in urban environments. The 10 mm armox500 hatch in the turret floor can be closed and locked from inside the vehicle. In the open position the hatch also increases the protection for the gunner from behind to better than Level 3.
The 480 kg Terminator Turret can accommodate 7.62 and 12.7 mm Eastern Bloc or NATO weapons as well as the 14.5 mm PKVT heavy machinegun or a 40 mm Mk19 automatic grenade launcher, making the turret extremely versatile and an attractive option for customers with limited budgets, Kroeger said. These turrets can be supplied fitted to new production vehicles or fitted quickly and easily to existing vehicles as an upgrade option.
Development of the Terminator started after a local armoured vehicle manufacturer ran short of the manual W&E Platt turrets it was using and so turned to TTPI for an alternative. These turrets can be upgraded to have add-on armour as well as smoke grenade launchers installed. Not many other companies can boast having smoke grenade launchers or an electric drive on turrets in the same class, Kroeger explained. These turrets are currently in production with the first batch due to be completed by early next year.
Kroeger told defenceWeb that TTPI also plans to manufacture a new version that has the weapon mounted inside the turret walls as opposed to on a pintle mount outside the front armour plates of the turret. This will increase protection of the gunner by reducing the ballistic window of the turret while at the same time enabling the installation of much larger ammunition storage bins. According to Kroeger, this will satisfy the requirement for larger amounts of ready rounds asked for by almost all users who look at this class of turret. Unfortunately, there is a small weight sacrifice but the benefit of a larger number of ready rounds far outweighs the additional mass penalty, he maintains. The new prototype, which will have all the features of the first turret, is due for completion at the end of Q3 2023.
High-capacity ring turret
Kroeger explained that on typical small open turrets and gun mounts, the gunner only has access to the 100 to 150 rounds of ammunition in the box next to his gun. TTPI has completed the design of a new, innovative, fully stabilised, remotely operated weapon system (ROWS) that can accommodate 350-450 12.7 mm ready rounds in a ring around the turret. This gives operators a significantly better supply of well protected ammunition before needing to reload. This system will take the form of either a remote weapon station or a closed one-man turret.
For the remote weapon station, the advantage of this type of ammunition storage system is the reduction of the cross-sectional area of the weapon mount/turret with the resulting reduced ballistic window. This will increase survivability and reduce the weight of the mount itself. For the one-man turret, the turret profile will be reduced, significantly reducing the ballistic window of the turret, reducing the weight and enabling fast response times to threats, Kroeger explained.
Kroeger also mentioned that in line with TTPI’s vision of producing affordable high performance turrets, both these systems will be fitted with an artificial intelligence (AI) early warning threat detection system which will reduce system response time as well as increase survivability on the battlefield. In addition to this, the gunner will be provided with virtual vision blocks giving all round observation capability. These vision blocks will also be fitted with the early warning AI threat detection software. Automatic designation to the main gunner sight for possible target engagement will be a standard feature.
All remotely operated turrets, which will be fully stabilised enabling firing on the move, will be fitted with integrated electro-optical payloads including a laser rangefinder, HD day camera and HD thermal imager with full HD graphics overlay. These turrets will also be fitted with obstacle avoidance systems to eliminate the possibility of weapon contact with parts of the vehicle structure or personnel on the roof of the vehicle when in motion. Firing of the weapon will not be possible if the avoidance detection system is activated thereby eliminating the possibility of hitting your own personnel or vehicle structure during weapon firing.
Lastly, these systems will all be fitted with new touch screen target designation capability which allows simultaneous situational awareness and target aim point refinement. This feature has not yet been contemplated by competitors. An aimpoint assist function for marine applications and ground-based fire control systems will also be incorporated as standard. If this feature works as envisaged the use of a video autotracker will not be required for gunner assistance during target engagement.
“As has happened in the past, we expect our competitors to pay us a compliment by copying our innovative ideas, but we intend to be at least two years ahead of them. Technology demonstration of prototype hardware is scheduled to be before the end of Q4 2023,” Kroeger said.
“There are an exciting few months left before the year ends. We want to reach the end of the year with three new, well-priced, high-tech turrets ready for production,” Kroeger told defenceWeb. He also stated that the company does not compete with existing designs but produces unique, well priced systems that give the user good bang for their buck, filling gaps in the product ranges on the market today.