Armed UGVs for a Future Robot War : Ukraine response to the hybrid warfare with the Russian Republic

Phantom – occasionally spelled "Fantom" in promotional literature – was designed with input from frontline Ukrainian troops / Photo from UNIAN

In response to the hybrid warfare with the Russian Republic, industries across Ukraine were called to improve the warfighting capabilities of the Army by improving existing hardware and producing innovative concepts that could meet the current and future hybrid challenge.

The Russia’s quest for the weapons of future wars

After years of research and testing, multipurpose unmanned ground vehicles are finally being accepted for service alongside Russia’s troops.

Many remote-controlled systems, such as the armed Uran-9 combat multifunctional robotic system and the Uran-6 mine-clearing robotic vehicle, have been combat-tested by the Russian military in Syria.

Syria has become the testing ground for Russian technology that has not yet been officially accepted for service. According to media reports, some of the systems will be improved and upgraded based on field test results.

Ready for service acceptance

Lieutenant General Yuri Stavitsky, Chief of Russia’s Engineering Troops, said on Tuesday, May 22, that the Uran-6, along with the Skarabei remote-controlled inspection robotic system and the Sfera remote-controlled robotic system are expected to be accepted for service for Russia’s engineering troops this year.

“Work for their acceptance for service is planned in 2018,” Stavitsky said, adding that all were tested in Syria.

Several Uran-6s, developed by JSC 766 UPTK, were delivered to the engineering units of the Southern and the Eastern Military Districts in 2015.

The system, which weighs about 6 tons and can be transported by road, sea or air, consists of a lightweight demining robot, remote control unit, and payloads.

The robot, which is built on a tracked platform, is equipped with four video cameras that transmit real-time imagery to the remote control system. It can be fitted with several operating tools, such as mine sweeping devices.

According to Stavitsky, Russia is currently working on “promising” engineering equipment.

“In particular, this refers to the multifunctional robotic complex for clearing anti-tank mines, the TPVK-43 capacitor-type exploder for blasting mines and the IMP-3 induction mine detector,” the general said.

Russia Uran-9 robot tank
Russia’s Uran-9 armed unmanned ground vehicle. Image: Russian MoD/YouTube

Uran-9 robot tank

The Uran-9 multipurpose unmanned ground combat vehicle, which was unveiled by JSC 766 UPTK in September 2016, is another robot successfully tested in Syria. It was showcased by the Russian military during the annual Victory Day parade on May 9.

The armed system is designed to provide remote reconnaissance and fire support during urban counter-terrorism and reconnaissance operations, while protecting military personnel and improving their combat effectiveness.

It consists of four unmanned ground vehicles, one mobile command station and a tractor for transportation.

The Uran-9’s turret is equipped with a 2A72 30-mm cannon capable of firing high explosive, incendiary and armor-piercing ammunition. Mounted parallel to the cannon is a Kalashnikov PKT/PKTM 7.62-mm machine gun.

The tank is also fitted with four 9M120-1 Ataka anti-tank guided missiles, which have a range of up to 6km and can penetrate up to 900mm of armor. Depending on the needs of the operation, it can be equipped with other light weapons, including four Igla-S short-range surface-to-air missiles.

The 3km range of reliable communication between the robot and the control station can be increased with the help of drone transponders.

Use of artificial intelligence

The use of robotic systems managed by an operator is reportedly the first step in the Russian military’s technology upgrade.

First Deputy Defence Minister Ruslan Tsalikov said the Russian Armed Forces are already using artificial intelligence.

“Artificial intelligence is going to develop [further] in almost all areas of the Armed Forces’ activities,” Tsalikov said in March. “Some elements of artificial intelligence … are already being actively used, for example, in unmanned systems and robotics.”

According to Russian state-owned media outlet RT, the Ministry of Defence is planning to introduce more autonomous artificial intelligence-driven equipment.

Vladimir Neelov, a military expert at the Russian Center for Strategic Perspectives Research, told The Defense Post that in the past five to six years, Russia has been actively engaged in the development of robotic systems such as drones, land and marine systems.

“This process intensified after the establishment in October 2012 of the Foundation for Advanced Studies – an analog of the American DARPA,” Neelov said. “Even though in terms of developing and launching new UAVs Russia lags far behind the U.S. and other states, when it comes to land complexes, [they] develop faster and are more elaborate from the conceptual point of view, which has been noted by foreign experts.”

However, it is still difficult to draw any far-reaching conclusions about the capabilities and effectiveness of these systems due to the lack of sufficient information, according to Neelov.

“Strictly speaking, this is the answer to the question of why no contracts for the purchase of Uran-9 have been concluded so far: as of now, it is still used by the Armed Forces at the experimental combat level,” he said.

Rostec Corporation subsidiary Rosoboronexport began promoting the Uran-9 internationally in 2016. Neelov said results of the tank’s combat use in Syria will allow potential customers to draw more established conclusions about the machine, which should enable them to make more informed purchasing decisions.

“From a technical point of view, the key components which ensure the effectiveness of such complexes like Uran-9 include the communication systems (to increase the distance at which the robot can work under operator control), the optics (the “eyes” of the robot, through which the operator sees), as well as power sources (to make the combat mission longer).”

“It is the successes in the development of these components that can make robots truly autonomous. Apparently, in recent years, Russia has achieved significant results in these areas,” Neelov said.

The Ukraine response for future wars

Risultati immagini per Armed UGVs for a Future Robot War ukraine

Remotely operated systems and capabilities were high on the agenda, with several remotely controlled weapon stations, turrets, and robotic ground vehicles.

Two types of combat robots have evolved in Ukraine in recent years – the Phantom and Ironclad.

Both are configured with radio and fiber-optic links to ensure operability in EW contested environment and maintain operability under radio silence.

Both support flexible configurations to support dismounted operations, either as load carriers or remotely controlled weapon carriers.

Supporting mesh network communications, the Ironclad may be more suitable for close-in integration with troops, in a ‘forward command’ style operation while the Phantom is designed to provide fire support commanded from few kilometers back.

With the rapidly evolving combat UGV class of weapons on both sides, it is likely that Ukraine could become the first robotic battlezone, where robots could engage each other as they support government forces on one side and paramilitary forces on the other.

The Ironclad articulated robotic vehicle was unveiled by Global Dynamics from Ukraine on October 2018. Photo: Photo: Aleksandr Naumenko

Ironclad Robot UGV

Global Dynamics – Ironclad (first displayed in the Security Expo in Kiev in October 2014).

A reconnaissance robot that weighs 1,100 kg, GVW, carrying 200 kg of payload. The wheeled robot comprises two sections, each using two wheels.

The front carries the Shablia lightweight weapon station that mounts a 7.62/12.7 mm machine gun and two guided missiles.

At a dry weight of about 100 kg, this maximum load configuration takes most of the payload capacity.

Alternatively, users may opt to unload the RWS and carry loads on the rear module on logistical support missions.

This articulated design enables the vehicle to cross obstacles. The robot is powered with a 12kW diesel generator that charges the batteries and power the four drive motors. The system sustains up to 10 hours or 130 km, traveling at a road speed of up to 20 km/h, or one hour of operation on battery power.

Ironclad uses an advanced radio link that supports mesh networking, to automatically extend radio coverage in areas where multiple users operate such radios.

This capability provides better resilience and resistance to jamming and electronic warfare to the network as a whole, and to each subscriber. Fiber-optic control is also provided to enable operation under radio silence.

The Fantom 6×6 robot can carry remotely controlled weapon complement comprising four Barrier missiles and a machine gun.

Fantom II UGV

A wheeled 6×6 tactical multipurpose vehicle, the Fantom (a.k.a Phantom) was developed in Ukraine and unveiled in 2016 at the Arms & Security Expo in Kiev, Ukraine.

At a combat weight of just over one ton, the Phantom uses a 30kW diesel-electric hybrid system to accelerate to a maximum speed of 38 km/h.

The vehicle can be used to assist forward guard positions, providing protection, firepower and fire support to manned guards, assist in reconnaissance missions and provide energy support for forwarding troops.

The system uses a radio control channel with a distance of 20 km, or fiberoptic link spanning five kilometers. The vehicle is equipped with a stabilized, remotely operated weapon station mounting a 12.7mm heavy machine gun and Barrier guided missiles

The Fantom 2 control unit commanding the vehicle and its payloads and weapon systems by remote.

The latest variant of the Phantom, the 8×8 Fantom 2, was displayed by SpetsTekhnoExport at the Unmanned Systems Exhibition and Conference) in Abu Dhabi in October 2017.

This vehicle weighs 2.6 ton GVW. It can travel to 130 km powered by an 80kW hybrid propulsion system accelerating the platform to a speed up to 60 km/h. It operates a secure radio control link extending up to 20 km range, of jam-proof fiber optical link that extends to five kilometers.

As a longer platform, the 8×8 Phantom 2 can carry bigger weapons such as a full RS-80PO rocket pod or a twin-barrel 23mm cannon and four Barrier anti-tank guided missiles with an effective combat range of up to 5,000 meters.

A model of the 8×8 Fantom 2 was unveiled at the IDEX defense show in February 2017. In October of that year it was displayed at the US AUSA expo in Washington.


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