Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has confirmed plans to create the country’s first robotic military unit. These plans draw on existing research and development (R&D) within the domestic defense industry, which has made advances in the field of applying artificial intelligence (AI) for military purposes and experimented with prototype systems during military operations in Syria (Tvzvezda.ru, April 9).
While the formation of the country’s first military robotic unit is a step forward in the process of using AI to increase Russian combat capabilities, significant challenges stand in the way of effectively introducing this as a force multiplier. Nevertheless, Shoigu’s comments indicate that the defense ministry is moving beyond robotic systems to improve demining, streamline command and control (C2), or to enhance the accuracy of battlefield fires (see EDM, June 19, 2019).
The specifics of Shoigu’s remarks during a recent visit to the defense company playing a leading role in this area of the State Defense Order imply continued experimentation and features of Russian military thinking on AI. In Russian military terminology, robotic systems used in this way are denoted as “robototechnical complexes” (robototekhnicheskiye kompleks—RTK). Shoigu explained that a new unit is being created “to develop methods and forms of using units with robotic systems.” In the future, based on this new structure, the training of army personnel will be conducted within the framework of these units to operate shock robotic systems in combat units. Shoigu added, “We intend to continue expanding the line of robots, which, of course, are already in demand among the troops today. As expected, these will be heavy robots (demining) and everything related to the further development of radiation and chemical reconnaissance robots; this concerns surface and underwater robots” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, April 15).
The formation of the robotic strike unit envisages human personnel playing a secondary and supporting role. The strike unit would consist of a two-ton RTK system armed with Ataka supersonic, anti,-tank thermobaric ammunition from a Shmel flamethrower, along with 30-millimeter cannons and heavy machine guns; robots of the Uran family would take up combat duty. Shoigu inspected the autonomous unmanned vehicles at the AOA 766 production and technological equipment management facility (upravleniye roizvodstvenno-tekhnologicheskoy komplektatsii—UPTK), located in Nakhabino, near Moscow. This enterprise is the developer and manufacturer of the Uran RTK family—the Uran-6, Uran-9 and Uran-14 (Interfax, Moskovsky Komsomolets, April 9).
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