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Iran Put A Battlefield Robot On Public Display

February 20, 2019

Via Iranian Media.

This month Iran held a rare arms show to mark four decades since its “Islamic Revolution” that overthrew the US-backed Shah Pahlavi. Dubbed Eghtedar 40, a vast exhibit took place at a venue within Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum complex while another one was held at the Holy Defense Museum dedicated to the Iran-Iraq War. Since the Islamic Republic is cut off from regional arms shows in the Middle East and elsewhere, Eghtedar 40 served as a valuable showcase for locally made weapons and military products. While some items did raise eyebrows (a two-person canoe was left in a corner) there were a fair amount of surprises as well, like a four-wheeled battlefield robot.

Autonomous mobile systems for military use, better known today as unmanned ground vehicles or UGVs, are an emerging trend sweeping the global arms market. To date, several countries (Canada, China, Estonia, Israel, Russia, Ukraine) have introduced models that perform basic tasks but full-rate production for any particular UGV hasn’t begun yet. It’s apparent defense ministries around the world are struggling to mainstream a doctrine for letting ground forces absorb UGVs in large numbers, although some exercises have sought to do this.

The UGVs that have come to light in recent years are an offshoot of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) robots, albeit with greater dimensions. They’re promoted as workhorses for infantry platoons and perform several jobs–as an equipment carrier, a direct fire platform armed with a machine gun, a scout and surveillance vehicle, and an ambulance for evacuating injured soldiers loaded on built-in stretchers.

The lone UGV at Eghtedar 40 show didn’t attract serious attention but its size and implied role are noteworthy. Mounted on a 6×6 trailer, its appearance matched the UGV printed on the tarpaulin behind it. This was the “Nazir” unveiled by the IRGC in 2015, an autonomous 4×4 with a rear compartment housing a collapsible arm for two MANPADS or shoulder-launched SAMs resembling Iranian-made Misag-2’s. This was a strange choice for armament since the arm could neither pivot nor adjust its elevation, defeating the use of MANPADS on it. It would have made better sense for a direct fire weapon, like a machine gun or a 73mm rocket, to be carried by the robot. In the photo above, behind the “Nazir” is a 107mm multiple rocket launcher (the design originated from China) whose measurements are applicable to UGVs.

Other details about the “Nazir” are suspicious. Be it the ornamental smoke grenade dischargers on its front and back or the missing CCTV camera gimbal that’s seen in the tarpaulin photo. Its rear compartment doesn’t appear very useful either if it houses just a mechatronic arm without enough space for holding light cargo such as backpacks and ammunition boxes. The performance characteristics of the “Nazir” are unknown, so whether it uses an electrical power unit–or how far it can drive–is anyone’s guess.

While Iran’s military-industrial sector boasts of its huge strides with unmanned technology, the “Nazir” looks like an outlier needing further improvement. Whatever mission it’s supposed to be tailored for is unclear compared to prototypes developed by Israel, for example. The 4×4 Rambow UGV from Meteor Aerospace combines a basic armament with the ability to haul cargo. Iran’s security environment does justify the use of UGVs since its forces must protect dangerous border areas, battle local insurgencies, and practice for large-scale open warfare over challenging terrain. Each of these scenarios lend themselves well to armed and unarmed UGVs accompanying soldiers in the field.

The “Nazir,” however, looks inadequate for any of these missions nor have there been official statements announcing a production line has commenced. Its existence does prove Iran’s state-owned military-industries keep abreast of present trends and are able to deliver functional prototypes. But given Iran’s notorious reputation for hyperbole and spin, there’s no reason to worry the “Nazir” will threaten anyone soon.

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