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Russian Robots: From combat to engineering


BMR-3M

For the past ten years the Russian army has been boasting about it’s upcoming combat robots, or  unmanned ground vehicles, UGV:s, as the parlance goes in the west. The focus has been on the swanky looking combat robots bristling with weapon stations and missiles.

The idea of a remotely operated tank for attack operations isn’t exactly new in the Russian army. The Soviet Red Army studied and tested radio controlled teletanks already in the 1930’s. These were simple remotely operated versions of the existing T-18, T-26, T-38, BT-5 and BT-7 tanks. These early UGVs couldn’t share any sensor data with their controllers, who were traveling in the accompanying regular tanks. This resulted in aiming problems, that were solved by arming the teletanks mainly with flamethrowers, machine guns and demolition charges that didn’t rely on precision aiming. 


T-26 Teletank

The teletanks saw their combat debut during the Winter War in 1939-40, but the success of the units were minimal, with many tanks bogging down and loosing contact with the controllers. The performance wasn’t unusually bad by the soviet standards and so the defending Finnish forces usually didn’t spot the teletanks being used from the failures of the regular Soviet tank crews.


Uran-9 (TASS)


The present day Russian teletank, Uran-9, was field tested in Syria. The Uran-9 boasts a far more advanced weapon and sensor suite than its 1930’s counterparts. The small tankette is armed witha 30mm 2A72 mod ABM M30-M3 auto-cannon and four ATGMs or short range surface to air missiles. It’s capable of relaying camera and sensor data to the operators a few hundred meters of few kilometres away.

While the official Russian fanfare about the Uran-9 before its combat deployment was loud, the silence with any official after action reports has been deafening. The unofficial accounts claim that the tests were a complete failure. Mobility and communication problems rendered the units unusable, just like the 1930’s teletanks. The lack of any artificial intelligence or rudimentary autonomous capability beyond “drive 100m straight, then stop” style commands just isn’t enough to survive, let alone have a meaningful impact, on the modern battlefield.


Uran-6 operated by a combat engineer equipped with an exoskeleton prototype


Another member of the Uran robot family has also been tested, but with a bit less fanfare. The Uran-6 is a smallish, remotely operated engineering and mine clearing vehicle. It has been successfully used to de-mine areas in Syria and in Russia. The vast artillery firing ranges used by the Russian military have been a prefect testing ground for Uran-6 and few other similar engineering robots. The level of autonomity that proved disastrous in combat, is fully capable of doing route and area clearing operations in rear areas without endangering service personnel.


Next logical step after the concept was proven with Uran-6 seems to be to employ the similar sensor and command components to a heavier vehicle that can be used to clear routes for attacking mechanized units under enemy fire. The Russian combat engineering units should be receiving the first test batch of the new remote-operated combat engineering vehicles called IMRTK-SR and IMRTK-RT. Judging from the public information fragments available, these vehicles will be optionally manned variants of the IMR-3M and BMR-3M.


IMR-3M

These vehicles would allow the Russian mechanized formations to clear obstacles and mines in advance of an actual assault that would most likely see the new manned UBIM combat engineering vehicles as the spearhead as well as acting as command vehicles for their robot minions. The UBIM is intended to replace a multitude of existing combat engineering vehicles in the Russian service, but it remains to be seen if there will ever be a full replacement of the legacy systems.


UBIM

With new bridge and pontoon vehicles, mineclearing equipment and upgrades to pipeline and railway engineering equipment, it seems that the Russian army is still committed to the preparations of a major land war against a peer- or near peer-level opponent. 

It also highlights the experiences from Ukraine, where field fortifications and minefields have been extensively used. 

Future of warfare isn’t all about agility and cyber-capabilities, the need for brute force is also still there.


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