Russia’s Military Is Writing an Armed-Robot Playbook

By Samuel Bendett

November 26, 2019

The Russian military is gathering proposed tactics, techniques and procedures for using robots in urban and coastal combat, the RiaNovosti state news agency said Sunday. 

The defense ministry has asked various military-industrial enterprises to provide proposals for review by early next year to the military’s Combined Arms Academy. The initiative is meant to address “the virtual absence of a unified concept for the use of military robotics by the Russian armed forces,” the Russian agency wrote.

The effort likely reflects Vladimir Putin’s desire for more unmanned systems as well as the military’s experience in Syria, where numerous ground and air vehicles have made their operational debuts. For example, the initial operating experience of the Uran-9 — Russia’s largest unmanned combat ground vehicle — did not go according to plan in “Syria’s near-urban conditions.” Practically all of the Uran-9’s major systems have failed, yet the ministry gleaned valuable lessons for designing and employing future UGVs in urban combat. Among them: unmanned combat systems need greater operational autonomy if they are to be effective without putting their human operators in harm’s way.

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In the meantime, Russia’s defense manufacturers have been offering more and more robotic systems, such as the Kungas family of UGVs; the Marker UGV testbed that will conduct autonomous firing tests next year; and larger unmanned combat systems such as Soratnik and Shturm going into further tests.

Now that some of these have undergone trial by fire, the MOD is getting to the hard part: developing a unified concept of operations that will allow military robotics to fight side by side with soldiers in difficult urban combat environments.

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By Samuel Bendett // Samuel Bendett an Adviser at the CNA Corporation and a member of CNA’s Center for Autonomy and AI. He is also a Fellow in Russia Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. The views expressed here are his own.

November 26, 2019