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The Russian Military Likes Robots Too

November 13, 2014

Russian Sentry Robot

By “like” is meant on a practical and limited scale.

Pictured above is a remote controlled sentry at a demonstration in last year’s Russia Arms Expo. The model is now being deployed to guard sensitive nuclear installations.

Russia’s beleaguered Ministry of Defense (MoD) acknowledges its need for armed robots, including a requirement for underwater drones.

If state media is to be believed, the MoD’s research and development branch is making a composite cyborg infantryman.

Robots are now fixtures in Russia’s leading government sponsored arms shows. At the 18th Interpolitex in Moscow last month various drones for aerial and maritime deployment were displayed.

The latest Interpolitex drew 16,500 visitors and 473 companies from Russia and abroad. There was significant participation by companies from China and South Korea, two countries investing heavily on automated systems.

Despite the ubiquity of UAVs and various drones among NATO members and the US, Russia’s own sprawling military industrial establishment isn’t keeping up.

Russia’s troubled defense contractors have revealed prototypes over the years, but not a single domestic model has entered large-scale production. According to the writer Frank Tobe only 8% of Russia’s robotic sector is connected with either defense or aerospace.

This doesn’t mean Russian firms aren’t trying. Organizations like the State Scientific Center for Robotics and Technical Cybernetics are committed to advancing their reach. Today the State Scientific Center can boast of its growing product line.

The state-owned industrial conglomerate Rostec is allocating some of its enormous resources to robotics–a field sometimes referred to in other countries as “mechatronics” to describe its applications in the private sector.

It’s a small effort and Russia’s military has no doctrine for unmanned systems. For the US military, on the other hand, its successful use of UAVs in the Middle East paved the way for conceptualizing a near future armed forces that deploys fighting robots alongside human soldiers.

An excellent primer on current US views on battlefield robots is the 300-page anthology Robots on the Battlefield (the title explains itself) published in January this year.

Russia’s shortcomings in battlefield robotics exists for a number reasons. These are:

  • The Russian military has an enormous conventional arsenal that functions without unmanned systems.
  • Russia’s manufacturing complex, specifically its electronic and aerospace sector, is in shambles.
  • Funding is limited.

Will combat robots ever figure in the battlefields of tomorrow? For Russia, not yet.