The Russian military continues to modernize and innovate as it pushes forward as the lead component of President Putin’s Russian ‘great power’ strategy. In its latest effort, Russia’s Ministry of Defense, based on its recent combat experience in Syria, is hoping to start fielding a robotic ‘Terminator’ army by 2025.
As Kelsey Atherton writes in Forbes, “For Russia, the question of robots taking over the role of soldiers on the battlefield is a matter of when, not if.” This is a top military priority for the Kremlin. At the forefront of this effort are what the Russians call UGVs — or ‘un-crewed ground vehicles’ — essentially robotic mini-tanks.
They are also referred to as ‘multifunction combat robots.’
According to Defense World, “The Russian Armed Forces are set to receive multifunctional combat robots consisting of five machines being controlled by a single platform…Dubbed “Marker,” the experimental platform was developed by Russian Scientific and Technology Association, Android Technology. It is capable of guiding five unmanned machines, and can solve various combat tasks, simultaneously.”
The Marker vehicle is intended to improve dramatically on the shortcomings found in the Uran-9 robot vehicles tested in combat in Syria since last year. That vehicle was equipped with an Attaka anti-tank guided missile, a 2A72 30mm automatic cannon, and 7.62mm PKT machine gun.
“Shortcomings were identified during the tests in Syria. In particular, the issues of control, reduced mobility, and unsatisfactory military intelligence and surveillance functions had been considered by engineers and were rectified,” said Vladimir Dmitriev, General Director of Kalashnikov Concern, in Defense World.
Samuel Bendett, at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) said in Forbes, “There is a still-classified Russia’s military robotics road-map that sketches out various stages of Russian unnamed military developments, which undoubtedly has been influenced by Russian military actions and experience in Syria.”
While expected to be a significant improvement over the Uran-9 — as part of Russia’s ongoing military robotics development — the Marker is expected to be as much another test bed, as a battle-ready weapon. Nevertheless, Russia is committed to fielding robotic armies beginning in 2025.
“Living fighters will gradually begin to be replaced by their robotic ‘brothers’ who can act faster, more accurately and more selectively than people,” said Vitaly Davydov, deputy director of Russia’s Advanced Research Foundation (akin to DARPA in U.S.) in RIA Novosti, and quoted by Forbes.
But how will these robots be employed in battle? According to Bendett, they will likely be in swarms.
As he explains, “The Ministry of Defence is discussing the eventual use of robotic swarms in combat — and Marker is definitely the platform to test that out… As envisioned, it will be able to launch swarms of UAVs or loitering munitions, making it a truly versatile robotic platform.”
In 2019, the Advanced Research Foundation released a video showing mini tanks operating alongside infantry, with swarms of quadrotor drones, reported Popular Mechanics, explaining that “The idea is that both the tanks and the robot swarm could relay target information back to a killer robot that could do the shooting.”
The primary initial focus of these robotic swarms appears to be geared toward urban combat.
No matter how they are eventually employed by Russia, the United States and its allies probably need to be prepared to deploy their own ‘Terminator’ army soon, to counter this growing Russian threat.