Tested in Syria, Russia's Ground Killbots Aren't Up to Snuff, Yet


A while back Russian military officials looked at the complex, violent battlescape of the Syrian conflict and said to themselves, "Here. Here is where we will try out our killer ground robots."

Lethal aerial drones have been a feature of combat for nearly two decades at this point, but their ground-based brethren have proved to be a much harder nut to crack -- what with complicated terrain and buildings being a bit harder to navigate than the open skies.

But that doesn't mean that militaries the world over have given up. A post on the Mad Scientist Laboratory blog, which is hosted by the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command, recently detailed how the Russia's experiment in Syria with the Uran-9, a tank-like terror, revealed how far the battle bots have come, and how far they have to go.

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The Ural-9 was built to be operated from a distance of nearly two miles and features armaments including a cannon and a machine gun that can be fired as it rolls along on its own.

"However, just as 'no plan survives first contact with the enemy,' the Uran-9, though built to withstand punishment, came up short in its first trial run in Syria," reads the blog post by Samuel Bendett, a Research Analyst at the CNA Corporation and a Russia Studies Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. 

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Bendett cited a revealing presentation by a Russian military researcher who said publicly that the Uran-9's range of operation was terrible, that it blinked out of operation a few times, the running gear had problems and the cannon only worked when the thing was stationary.

"On one hand, these many failures are a sign that this much–discussed and much-advertised machine is in need of significant upgrades, testing, and perhaps even a redesign before it gets put into another combat situation," the blog says. "On another hand, so many failures at once point to much larger issues with the Russian development of combat UGVs [unmanned ground vehicles]" including low levels of autonomy, communications range and "command and control processes."

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"It appears that the Uran-9’s full effectiveness can only be determined at a much later time if it can perform its mission autonomously in the rapidly-changing and complex battlefield environment. Fully autonomous operation so far eludes its Russian developers, who are nonetheless still working towards achieving such operational goals for their combat UGVs," Bendett writes.

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