Military robotics and unmanned systems are gaining popularity across the globe. The United States is the leading developer and user of various unmanned air, land, and sea systems, but other nations are not far behind in their desire to field these platforms.
Over the past few years, Russia has made significant technological breakthroughs in the development and exploitation of unmanned systems, although their quality is the subject of domestic and international scrutiny. Most notably, Russia supplied reconnaissance drones to rebels in Eastern Ukraine. These have bolstered rebels' accuracy in targeting Ukrainian government forces. Despite the Russian domestic industry's inability to meet its nation's full demand for such systems - a shortcoming that prompts foreign technology purchases - the Russian Ministry of Defense has big plans for unmanned and robotics platforms and has been working on several concepts.
Russian daily Izvestia recently learned of one such development - an unmanned battlefield complex resembling the Terminator, designed by Defense Ministry's 766th Production and Technology Agency (JSC UPTK 766). Earlier, the UPTK developed auxiliary equipment such as robotic crawler machines used for demining (Uranium-6) and firefighting (Uran-14). The current development features armed coaxial machine guns and several fighting modules. Izvestia obtained an image of this battlefield complex, which includes a tracked chassis on a soft suspension, an optical-radar station, cameras, thermal imaging and night vision devices. The machine appears to be armed with a coaxial machine gun; additionally, there are boxes on each side of the machine that remotely resemble aircraft nacelles. JSC 766 UPTK refused to comment to Izvestia on the functions and features of this technology, citing military secrecy, and the Defense Ministry's press service also declined a request for comment.
Izvestia then interviewed several military experts, who differed in their assessment of the product. Military expert Aleksei Ramm thought that since there are many modules in the design, "the machine is versatile. If it is used for intelligence purposes, the nacelles may house reconnaissance and signaling systems. For example, the machine can activate intelligence-signaling devices and crack enemy secrets. Actually, according to their estimated size, the nacelles may also carry anti-tank guided missiles or, alternatively, remote mining equipment - everything that would be necessary for the operators. As far as small arms, this system may use a Kalashnikov coaxial machine gun."
Victor Murahovsky, chief editor of Homeland Arsenal magazine, told Izvestia that through the use of robotic systems for engineering and reconnaissance in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Americans were able to significantly reduce personnel losses. "They lost about a hundred robotic machines, which may have saved the lives of about 150 U.S. soldiers." Izvestia noted that during Soviet times, the Military Academy of the Armed Forces experimented with remotely controlled tanks. "We already have control algorithms and approaches to solving automation problems (for unmanned systems)," said Murahovsky. "Such new unmanned systems require new technical approaches and improved software, though their development costs significantly less than retrofitting existing and even new military platforms such as Armata."
For now, this machine will remain a concept drawing, but given recent Russian activity in developing new military platforms to match the Americans and the West, this design may at some point come to fruition.