Continually seeking methods to offset what it fears is a decided competitive edge centred on technology being introduced into the armed forces of potential opponents, Russia continues to fosuc significant effort and resources on development of robotic solutions to a wide variety of tactical issues.
Coordinated by the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects (RFARP, often referred to as the Russian DARPA) and by research institutes across the country, the principle effort continues to be focused on combat robots: machines that can replace as well as support soldiers on the battlefield. The NEREKHTA robot, developed by RFARP in collaboration with Degtyarev, features three variants (transport, artillery reconnaissance and combat) with weapons fits ranging from 7.62mm machine guns and 40mm grenade launchers to anti-tank missiles, all on a light tracked chassis. The four-legged LYNX, on the other hand, intended primarily for reconnaissance and surveillance, will operate in Russian winter conditions and even shallow water, equipped with automatic weapons and anti-tank missiles at need.
Combat aside, the use of robots to protect strategic facilities – such as the missile silos of the Strategic Rocket Forces – is also receiving close attention. One mobile armed system currently being evaluated has night vision capabilities and an armed engagement range of 400 metres. A system already in use for this application, known as the Mobile Robotics Complex (MRC), is equipped with both opto-electronic and radar sensors and will locate, identify and track targets in both automatic and semi-automatic modes. An unmanned surface vessel is also under development for coastal patrol and surveillance, able to navigate autonomously and operate for extended periods at distances up to 100km from the shoreline.
Robots able to provide simple medical assistance or evacuation have also long been a priority for the Russian robotics community. NGO Splav’s ANGEL nurse, for example, can provide diagnosis, develop and change appropriate treatment, monitor patients and assist in evacuation where required. ANGEL is destined for use by civilian agencies as well as the defence forces, with deployment to Russia’s Arctic outposts among the applications foreseen.
SPECIALIST, an unmanned lightweight tracked vehicle developed by the Ministry of Defence’s Robotics Centre, was designed originally as a vehicle to conduct mine clearance and unexploded ordnance operations, but is being adapted as a medical evacuation robot in addition.
Manned-Unmanned teaming is also under development, with Uralvagonzavod developing an unmanned version of the T-90 main battle tank to provide battlefield situational awareness to a manned tank. Using a ‘synthetic eye,’ the unmanned T-90 provides a collated digital picture of the battlefield using data from all external devices from multispectral cameras to laser rangefinders, enabling human commanders to make better informed and faster tactical decisions. A robotic version of the T-14 ARMATA is also said to be under development, with a prototype scheduled to appear next year. Its primary intended use is as a mine clearance vehicle with a high degree of autonomous capability.