While the domestic military-industrial complex is engaged in the Armata platform, the main distinguishing feature of which is the uninhabited tower, the Pentagon preferred to go another way. The U.S. is actively working to bring combat robots of all classes, from light to heavy, on the battlefield. And that creates great problems for our Armata, and not only for it.
The specialized American edition of Breaking Defense has published a publication about a very interesting project called Mission Enabler Technologies – Demonstrator. Based on the M113 armored vehicle, the U.S. Army Research Center created the so-called Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV). If successful, this experimental specimen could be the ancestor of a whole family of combat robotic vehicles. So what are they working on now at the request of the Pentagon?
The American military is completely changing the approach to armored vehicles. The solid size and high weight of any combat vehicle is a requirement for the safety of its crew. By making the tower uninhabited, the Russian developers were able to reduce the number of tank crew members from four to three. The U.S. intends to create a completely uninhabited tank, which will reduce the thickness of the armor, the size and weight of equipment, fuel consumption, and will increase speed. The weight of the lightest reconnaissance vehicle in the planned family can be only 7 tons, average – 20, the heaviest – 30 tons. The armament will be represented by a small-caliber gun plus a machine gun or a medium-caliber gun supplemented by a large-caliber machine gun. They will not be able to penetrate Armata’s armor, but this is probably all good news.
The main changes are the approach to the management of combat vehicles. At this stage, it is supposed to be remote. The armored vehicle is controlled remotely by the operator using an optronic tracking system and he also gives the command to open fire. Radar is not used to reduce the visibility of the combat vehicle. But this is today, and tomorrow the robot on the battlefield will be controlled by artificial intelligence (AI). US Army Colonel Chris Orlovsky, a project participant, explained:
The remote control is good; it works fine if you have the right radio modules and the right environment, but in the long run, when those environments are tested, I think remote control will become less viable and we will really have to promote automation and autonomy on those platforms.
Transferring control of AI’s combat vehicles is a very difficult task. It is necessary to teach the robot to recognize targets, interact with other armored vehicles and units on the battlefield, support them with fire, move around using folds of terrain and other shelters. However, the Americans are already doing this work: over 3.5 million different images have been analyzed to create a recognition algorithm. Unmanned vehicle control systems are already in place and are being tested on the roads. It will remain to teach artificial intelligence to make the decision to open fire on its own, which is a bit scary to imagine. On top of that, in the future, the combat robot may be equipped with its own UAV, which is still unknown, just a reconnaissance or reconnaissance strike vehicle, which will increase its capabilities.
Alas, but we are lagging behind again. We have not heard about combat robots with AI yet. A few years ago only the Uranus-9 robotic system with remote control was developed, but it proved to be very unconvincing during the tests in Syria. Problems with control, low speed, low firepower, and reliability of the cannon, as well as inability to fire in motion, were revealed. Open sources say that these problems have been eliminated, but to date, the robot is of no real interest to the military. Given the direction of design thinking in the potential enemy, it is necessary to change the approach to artificial intelligence development for the Russian army. Otherwise, it will be too late.