There was a time when May Day in the former Soviet Union featured huge military parades in which the latest generation of advanced weaponry was rolled out for public view. Although such large scale spectacles have mostly disappeared, it is perhaps no coincidence that press briefings took place on 1st May that indicate a focus on unmanned systems for the Russian military.
Russia is modernising its armed forces in a massive programme aimed at updating or replacing 70% of its hardware by 202 – at a cost of 20 trillion rubles ($284 billion). Part of that modernisation, it seems, will be a focus on unmanned systems in the air, on the ground and in the water.
Unveiling some of the new systems to be unveiled at the Army 2016 exhibition, which will take place 6-11 September at the Russian Armed Forces’ Patriot Park in Kubinka, a western suburb of Moscow, the Ministry of Defence stated that it would include “the latest remote-controlled underwater vehicle ‘Pantera,’ the autonomous remote-controlled underwater vehicle ‘Gavia’ and other robotic equipment.”
Deputy Minister of Defence Colonel General Pavel Popov, in an interview late last year, indicated that Russia has an ambitious target of up to 30% of its combat power stemming from remote-controlled and robotic systems by 2020. The applications range from surveillance and reconnaissance through obstacle breaching and mine clearance. Some of the systems currently under development include:
Uran-6: a counter-mining vehicle capable of remote control at distances up to 1,000 metres;
Uran-14: an obstacle-breaching and firefighting vehicle;
Platform-M: a reconnaissance and patrol vehicle equipped with gerande launchers and automatic weapons;
YULA-N: a mini-robot, under 1 kg, with a two-hour endurance;
Kadet: a mini-robot for both reconnaissance and light cargo applications;
Argo: an amphibious robot for supporting Marine landings, equipped with automatic weapons and three RPG-26 launchers.
Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, in Kaliningrad, developed a robot cockroach in only seven months for an undisclosed sponsor, widely believed to be the military. Using biologically inspired engineering, researchers had to meet a requirement that the robot would not only be similar in size and appearance to a ‘live’ insect, but would also mimic its behaviour. The first generation of the resulting construct has a 10 gram payload, sufficient for a basic camera mission fit and an endurance of 20 minutes, with work ongoing to enhance that capability significantly.
Unmanned systems are valuable development projects in their own right, but the Russian defence community is also focused on the issue of command and control of multiple robots. United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation is already trialling a silicon-based mobile supercomputer, initially intended to control up to ten unmanned aerial systems, of different makes and roles, in the Vologda UAV control complex. The mobile computer will also potentially provide much needed control functionality for terrestrial unmanned systems, for which the issue of use in significant numbers remains a challenge for developers.