“Harbinger of the Future”: A Unique Combat Robot Appeared in Russia


Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ

18th February, 2016


Remotely controlled systems, recently being present only in fiction, today are actively exploring the battlefield. The most advanced army in the world for quite some time used unmanned lethal vehicles (UAVs) for reconnaissance and the application of pinpoint airstrikes on the positions of the enemy.

Russia, who earlier was only buying, has now joined the ranks of their owners. Today, our country is returning to the international market of combat robots.

On 30th December 2015, the Russian Corporation Rosoboronexport announced the beginning of the promotion on international markets of robotic tank system “u-9”. It did not fail to provoke a response from foreign media, including the American magazine The National Interest (published at the Center of U.S. national interests, better known as the Nixon center), which published an article about the Russian robot tank, where it even called it “a harbinger of the future.” It should be said that the news didn’t blow up the Internet, but in the professional community the news from Russia was received with interest.

What is a robot tank?

Those who fear the uprising of machines can be calm – the tank is not equipped with artificial intelligence and, like all modern military unmanned system, it is operated remotely by an operator.

The idea of such combat vehicles has long been discussed in military circles – without exaggeration, it is over a hundred years old. In 1910, Charles Kettering suggested that the Department of Defense should use unmanned bombs. However, his idea received no practical embodiment.

But in the USSR in 1931, one was created and even given to troops – a remote-controlled tank based on the T-26. However, due to many technical problems the tank was not used.


The military multifunctional robotic system “Uran-9” is a complex of four machines: a control station (KAMAZ-based),  two robotic platforms and the truck for their transportation. Robotic platforms pose for us the greatest interest.

The robot is geared towards a means to support special forces during anti-terrorist operations and in combat operations in the city. The author of the article in The National Interest, Dave Majumdar, also specified that the robot may be used in light infantry – highly mobile infantry units lack heavy equipment (as an example it is possible to cite the American 75th Ranger regiment, familiar from the film “Black hawk down”).

Today the “U-9” is not a competitor and not designed to replace the Russian army’s T-90 and T-14 “Armata”, although we cannot fully rule out the option to replace manned tanks with  unmanned options due to the development of technology.

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Also, the robot can be useful with Russian paratroopers. But there isn’t any news about the adoption of “U-9” in the Russian army or power structures.

Relatively compact robots are a formidable force: they have a mounted 30-mm automatic cannon 2А72, 7.62 mm machine gun and 4 anti-tank guided missiles “Ataka”. As was emphasized by “Rosoboronexport”, this set of weapons can be changed upon customer request.

Let’s take a closer look at a “U-9” armed with a standard set of weapons:

1) 30-mm automatic cannon 2А72 is designed to fight infantry, lightly armored equipment and low-flying targets. Currently this gun is installed on BMP-3 and BMD-4;

2) 7.62 mm machine gun is needed to fight infantry. Most likely, “U-9” will use the PKT Russian standard for  armored vehicles. It’s task is to fight against enemy infantry at close range;

3) ATGM “Ataka”, depending on modifications and warhead, designed to kill armored vehicles (modification 9М120, 9М120М, 9М220), unarmored objects (9М120F with explosive warhead is particularly effective for explosions in a confined space) and aircraft (9М220О).

The ATGM are mounted on a sliding design to reduce the risk of electric shock from the robot and to open up wide tactical opportunities.

The robot is equipped with a warning system for laser irradiation and equipment for detection, recognition and tracking targets.

Details from the power plant about the booking procedure are not in open sources yet, but judging by the official video from Rosoboronexport showing the dimensions of the machine, the engine will probably be a diesel one, and the armour bulletproof and anti-armour piercing: this machine doesn’t need hard anti-tank armour.

Market prospects

Market prospects for Russian developments are large because in the international market today there are no such systems. The American army has been developing a counterpart, but a production model is still far off. While the Americans have only succeeded in creating unmanned aerial vehicles. The long-term program promising Future Combat Systems  that cost American taxpayers over 18 billion dollars, in 2009, was closed.

Other countries that are leaders in robotics: Israel, Japan and South Korea – today they do not develop robotic tanks. Israel has focused on UAVs and automatic armored cars to patrol the border, while South Korea leads the development robotic sentries and the Japanese make robot musicians and soccer players.

The size of the market of robotic systems in 2016, according to estimates by Russian experts, will amount to $9 billion and will only grow: the rate of growth of the market for military robots is already 8-10% a year. The niche of the “u-9” is not occupied by anyone. So, Russian arms exports will once again take the lead.

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