Russia is on a mission to modernize its military, and has made no secret about its plans to have robots be a huge part of its forces in the near future.
While many countries have begun to pursue robotic technologies for military use, few have made the progress that Russia has. With several ambitious projects in the works, the country plans to integrate everything from unmanned vehicles to fully autonomous artificial intelligence into its armed forces.
For nearly twenty years, weaponized aerial drones have been employed by military groups the world over. And though there have been attempts to bring those capabilities to the ground, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) are only just now coming to fruition, with the Russian military putting several different UGV designs through their paces to see which offers the most utility.
One of the most notable UGV designs to-date is the Nerekhta, which is outfitted with tank tread to help it navigate challenging conditions and could be equipped with large-caliber machine guns, a grenade launcher, and antitank missiles.
While the Nerekhta is designed to carry troops on reconnaissance missions, two other vehicles known as the Uran-9 and the Vikhr are being developed to fight infantry with a stronger focus on firepower with the Uran-9 carrying a 30 mm 2A72 automatic cannon, a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, and Ataka ATGMs. The Vikhr has a similar arsenal but with a grenade launcher instead of the ATGM mounts.
In addition to its UGVs, Russia is also looking into modernizing its aerial drone capabilities. The chairman to the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, Viktor Bondarev, even announced that the country is pursuing the concept of a drone “swarm” – potentially hundreds of drones connected to a single network that allows them to operate as a unit.
The end goal with these vehicles is to control them with artificial intelligence (AI), allowing them to operate with autonomy. “The day is nearing when vehicles will get artificial intelligence,” Bondarev said to reporters on November 1. “So why not entrust aviation or air defense to them?”
As Russia surges forward with its research into military robotics, it isn’t the only nation making these moves. The U.S. Army, for one, has taken notice of Russia’s growing capabilities and is now pushing for faster development of its own platforms. Russia’s development of weaponized AI could spark an arms race among first-world militaries, including the U.S.