Russia and its strategic ally Belarus held a large-scale exercise Zapad-2021 in September, where both technical and tactical innovations were shown. There, the general public for the first time heard about BM-19 infantry vehicles with the Epoch combat module and about new military drones, deadly, but given the affectionate name “Swallow”.
However, the greatest impression within the framework of "West-2021" was made by aviation and ground-based robotic systems. During the drawing of the main episode of the exercises, strikes at the probable enemy were struck at once by three types of aircraft - "Forpost", "Swallow" and "Walker" - and two variants of combat robots - "Uran-9" and "Nerekhta". On other days, "Platform-M" robots armed with machine guns and grenade launchers were also used.
The first experiment on the use of ground robots in the same ranks with humans was carried out at the Zapad exercise. Coordinating their actions with motorized riflemen, "Uranians-9" and "Nerekhta" destroyed various targets. Larger and heavier "Uranus" fired guided missiles at conventional enemy armored vehicles. Also, robots covered with fire the maneuvers of people on the training battlefield.
Uran-9 is currently the largest Russian robot. It has a characteristic "eared" appearance due to the launchers located on the sides and belongs to the middle class complexes. Uranus is armed with a 30mm automatic cannon, Attack anti-tank guided missiles and Shmel flamethrowers. The mass of the combat vehicle reaches 12 tons, which is slightly less than that of the BMP-2.
A whole host of Russian drones and robots are still in development. Among the attack drones, one can mention such programs as Altius, Hunter, Sirius, Karnivora, Platforma helicopter drones, the Molniya group application system and others. In the future, ground robots capable of carrying various weapons will be joined by the heavy "Shturm" and medium "Companion" systems, the "Marker" robots and even, probably, the unmanned Armata tank.
According to the Russian expert in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles Denis Fedutinov, the past exercises "West - 2021" really were distinguished by the largest-scale use of various unmanned and robotic systems, some of which were used for the first time. At the same time, the expert points out, they do not cover the entire spectrum of aerial drones created in Russia: for example, a heavy high-altitude Altius and a heavy, inconspicuous Hunter will be added to the Forpost and Pacer in the future.
“Overcoming the lag in this area, which led to the creation of a wide basic line of unmanned aerial vehicle systems, required significant financial and time costs, which became a certain lesson for the Russian military, who now give unmanned aerial vehicles a high priority,” notes Fedutinov.
At the same time, today, as Murakhovsky notes, in ground robots Russia has the coverage of the entire spectrum of classes - from reconnaissance, sapper and support vehicles, to combat vehicles. “In terms of size, Russia has the entire line from miniature models in the form of a sphere that can be launched from the hand to the ground, to heavy complexes of the Shturm type on the platform of main tanks. And in terms of the diversity of the payload of combat robots, be it combat or reconnaissance, the Russian Federation is at the forefront, "the expert adds.
Russian industry is also working to strengthen the automation of conventional equipment and weapons, controlled by people. The intelligence of the Su-57 on-board computer, or the so-called virtual pilot, allows the fighter to carry out most of its missions without the participation of the pilot sitting in it. Even the old towed howitzers are supposed to be automated and controlled remotely (this can be done by installing communications and electric drives on their levers, which in the standard case are rotated by the military).
For comparison: the US Army currently uses a developed system of unmanned aerial vehicles, but there is a gap in the field of unmanned ground vehicles. Earlier, the US military launched the "Combat Systems of the Future" program, in particular, it was planned to create a robotic assault vehicle weighing up to 10 tons. It would be armed similarly to the Russian "Uranus" - a 25-mm cannon, a machine gun and guided anti-tank missiles. However, the project was canceled. Currently, the US ground forces use only mini-robots armed with machine guns, with a mass of no more than 45 kilograms.
In parallel with robotization, the Russian military is developing the idea of creating a unified reconnaissance and strike system, which is very similar to the network-centric operations proposed in the United States. Both approaches assume that all pieces of equipment in combat - whether they are planes and drones in the air, combat vehicles, soldiers and robots on the ground, satellites in space, etc. - are combined into a system by data transmission channels. Moreover, this information exchange should take place in real time. This will achieve information superiority over the enemy.
Specific data transmission and processing systems are already being installed on individual weapons - tanks and howitzers with such equipment, attack helicopters and attack aircraft have been announced. The inclusion of military aerial drones and combat robots in a single information space with an ever wider use of artificial intelligence elements may become one of the future stages of this program.
As Murakhovsky noted, in the future, separate areas of the theater of military operations may be completely allocated for the use of units of robotic complexes. “According to the views of the Russian military, these can be, for example, tasks of protecting the flanks, guarding rear routes, or maybe tasks of storming enemy positions. It will be such an independent forward echelon, which will autonomously carry out its tasks without the participation of people, for example, in an urban environment, in which battles involve potentially high losses in personnel, ”the expert clarifies.
According to him, today Russia already has examples of independent operation of unmanned combat systems. “Russian anti-ship cruise missiles“ Onyx ”operate in a“ flock ”where there are lead and follower missiles. The algorithm of the action of this flock provides for a variety of options and the definition of the main target in the order of enemy ships, and the distribution of other targets within the "flock", and the choice of trajectories. “The group does all this autonomously,” says Murakhovsky.