The Buzz

Russia’s Military Robots Are on the Move

Still, the paper noted a few home-grown surprises, such as the robot created by two sisters - Lyubov and Nadezhda Sagitovy, students of the Moscow Polytechnic Institute: “(Their) robot could bypass obstacles and hit the enemy on the move - during the conference, it was rumored that the students gave some large-scale military developers a run for their money.”

Forging new steps

Key to development of new complex systems, such as military robotics and drones, are formal and informal network, as well as experimentation, that allow for technical attempts and likely failures to evolve into next-stage successes. Government support in such an innovative environment can make all the difference between a break-through technology getting accepted or relegated to the distant background. Robust, ongoing and transparent dialogue between the government and industry is the hallmark of America’s development and advancement of various military unmanned systems into its armed forces. For Russia, such process is just starting out to take shape – during the Kubinka event, serious effort was made to forge dialogue among the government, industry and military: “Participants advanced practical recommendations on the operation of robotics and support of promising developments in this field – such discussions were in line with the official military concept on the use of robotic military complexes up to the year 2030.”

Keeping an eye on the emerging drone and robotics swarm technologies and debates, “Colonel Oleg Pomazuev, head of the Main Directorate for Scientific Research and Technological Support of Advanced Technologies of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, held a meeting to discuss possible directions of swarm use of robotic systems for military and special purposes. The participants also discussed possible composition of assault robotic systems for group use by the Land Forces, as well as the development and use of such systems in the Navy.” Furthermore, “at the initiative of numerous scientific organizations, the conference participants discussed prospects for the development of vision systems used alone and as part of robotic systems, the autonomous and group use of robotic military complexes in conditions of environmental uncertainty and counteraction, and the use of “hybrid” groups of mobile military robots.”

NVO noted that “over the past several years, Russian government has invested in interagency cooperation to understand and advance the use of military robotics in battle - in order to “equip units and divisions with robotic systems, the Ministry of Defense interacts with the Military-Industrial Commission of the Russian Federation and interested federal executive bodies… to carry out organizational and technical measures. Unified approaches to the creation of the military robotic systems are being developed... A military commission headed by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu promotes interdepartmental interaction that facilitates developments of robotic military systems.”

NVO highlights the slow but steady progress of domestic robotic systems in the Russian military: “Last year, the development of normative and technical documents of general requirements for robotic systems was completed. Today, the government, military and industrial bodies are clarifying current conceptual and policy documents that will determine the strategy for the development of robotics in the Armed Forces. There is also a state defense order for research and development work on creating promising models of such military robots.”

These discussions - and not the few exhibits presented at Kubinka – were the key achievement of this conference. Russia’s lagging behind the West, and especially United States, in development and fielding of key air, land and sea-based unmanned systems was as much the after-effect of the dissolution of Soviet Union and the loss of major government backing for military development and innovation - as the lack of a unified government strategy supporting research, development, testing, evaluation and policy formulation on the use of such systems across Russian armed forces. In fact, even following widespread use of UAV platforms in Afghanistan and Iraq following 2001, Russia still lacked a coherent approach towards using unmanned military systems in its armed forces.  Following the recently successful use of “military robotics” in eastern Ukraine and now in Syria, full support is now  thrown by the government behind development and use of “military autonomous systems,” as evidenced by the latest discussions on the Russian state armaments program that specifically outlined “unmanned systems” as a key procurement effort.