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Combat robots to change engagement forms

The robotization of arms and hardware is a breakthrough achievement of the 21st century which will exert a major impact on the concept and forms of engagement of the armed forces of the developed nations in the foreseeable future, the Military-Industrial Courier writes.

Combat roobots to change engagement forms
Kalashnikov Uran-9 multirole robot, optimized for street fighting (Picture source: Army Recognition)

In the 21st century, robots staged a revolution in military affairs. Various drones are widely used, robotics are introduced into ground, underwater and space spheres of armed standoff. There is a trend to create autonomous robots who will partner with people and operate in teams to create new combat formations.

Nowadays, some robots can deal with specific combat missions better than people. As the software develops, the engagement of robots in troops will considerably expand. By 2025, the U.S. ground forces are to comprise 30 percent of various robotized means. Accelerated development of new arms production technologies with artificial intellect will allow launching batch production of ground robotics for a whole range of combat missions.

U.S. experts believe that a fast pace of robotic development will reduce the strength of tactical brigades by a quarter in the coming years - from 4,000 to 3,000 men. The trend shows that quality changes are in store for the organizational matrix, technical equipment and combat capabilities of the ground forces in the near future.

Russia created the Uran family of robotic means for the ground forces. They have various designation. Uran-6 is used to clear mines. Uran-9 is a multirole device capable of street fighting and destroying tanks, armor and infantry. The vehicle can carry various arms depending on the modification. Uran-14 extinguishes fires and clears debris. Robots increase the combat potential of the Russian units, decrease losses and cut the strength of formations. Rapid and massive introduction of robots shall be promoted by their higher intellect and autonomy which will make them operate independently in various formations.

The creation of androids is a prospective guideline, however it is a much more difficult business than initially perceived. Decades and major achievements in machine vision technology, as well as effective motors and computers were necessary to produce the first androids capable of orienting in space, moving and doing simple work.

Nowadays, manlike robots learn to find their way, identify objects and recognize people by voice and face. Artificial intellect technologies make them act autonomously and independently make decisions. What will androids give in future? What are their advantages against specialized robots?

Firstly, androids can replace people in controlling sophisticated systems when human presence in an object becomes dangerous. Secondly, they can partially and then fully replace a soldier in arms engagement, i.e. driving armored vehicles, controlling aircraft and transportation means, firearms, etc. They will thus ensure a fast and cheap transition to a robotized army. Thirdly, androids are the most natural robots in psycho-emotional perception and rational and ergonomic indicators for interaction with humans. They can be conveniently transported in vehicles and operate with usual interfaces. Androids can assist people in any mission with ordinary tools.

Androids will be definitely engaged in the civilian sphere. Russia has created a man-like robot to operate in orbit. It is one of the most perfect androids in the world. The project was presented yet in 2013 at the Global conference of space research. In 2015, a combat robot-avatar was demonstrated to President Vladimir Putin by the Central Research Institute of Precision Machine Manufacturing (TsNIITOCHMASH). Developed nations continue to race in the development of perfect androids, however their introduction into the armed forces is likely to happen next decade at the earliest.

The robotization of arms and hardware is a breakthrough achievement of the 21st century which will exert a major impact on the concept and forms of engagement of the armed forces of the developed nations in the foreseeable future, the Military-Industrial Courier writes.

Drones have been rapidly developing of late and are used by developed nations also for combat missions. Artificial intellect is developing, as well as the range of missions and deployment methods of the drones. Single basic platforms are created for engagement in all theaters of warfare to increase the capabilities of unmanned forces and the speed and flexibility of reaction to emerging threats. Drones are becoming more autonomous. Prospective craft already have air interception functions and support to ground forces.

Drones have been engaged in an integrated reconnaissance force for electronic warfare missions, communications and reconnaissance. Their capabilities to jam adversary air defense are growing. A drone fuel tanker has to be launched into batch production in the near future. Modifications are created for rescue and evacuation missions, as well as airlift.

Unmanned control, hypersonic speed, electronic element base of onboard equipment built on photonic technologies and the use of optic-fiber communication lines are the basic requirements to the sixth-generation fighter jet in the United States.

Drone combat engagement concept includes the so-called swarm architecture for the use of a group of vehicles which exchange reconnaissance information and agree strikes. The technology helps break through existing and prospective air defense.

Drones have to develop and be included into the air and missile defense system and strategic strikes also with nuclear weapons. The United States leads drone design and production at present. It plans that unmanned vehicles will comprise 45 percent of all air attack means in 2025. So far, contractors of the U.S. Department of Defense have produced over 30,000 drones.

Let’s briefly analyze the experience of drone engagement and problems faced by potential Russian adversaries and thus strictly determine development guidelines to avoid mistakes.

Reconnaissance obtains target information directly in the combat area and drone operator who stays thousands of kilometers away receives a lot of contradicting reports. As a result, five out of ten missile launches by U.S. drones hit civilians. Besides, the big distance between the drone and the operator adds physical limitations on the speed of the signal. The situation may change a lot in several seconds and the target will escape the strike.

At present, the United States has over 2,000 operators capable of dealing with combat drones. It is necessary to train at least another 15,000 men to operate most of the vehicles. It is a major problem. Thus, the United States is in a dead end for the moment, but the trend is likely to change as artificial intellect develops.

Smart drones will leave no chance to manned aviation in the coming decades due to the development of artificial intelligence and the absence of any restrictions caused by the presence of the pilot: overload, reaction speed to information, biological protection, life-support, etc.

In July 2016, a new artificial intelligence system designed by the Cincinnati University in the United States quickly overplayed combat pilot Jin Lee on a precision simulator of air combat. The experienced pilot lost all fights with the computer and failed to win at least one point for adversary destruction. He admitted the artificial intelligence was fast and mortal. ALPHA artificial intellect won even when the speed, arms and radar capabilities were restricted. The designers said ALPHA can choose the desirable tactic 250 times faster than a human although its computer has a modest capacity. The United States wants to install ALPHA on unmanned aerial vehicles and use it for pilot training.

Mini and micro drones are being designed with software and ability to engage in reconnaissance and strikes against objects, arms and troops. In the past years, small drones became a popular monitoring instrument in defense and security. The vehicles are upgraded for military operations in city conditions. Nearly all countries are engaged in numerous R&D programmes. A Norwegian company won the tender to produce a miniature drone for the US armed forces. Prox Dynamics designed a helicopter of less than 500 grams which can be used by infantry for reconnaissance. The so-called personal reconnaissance includes a mini-helicopter and the basic station. The chopper can be easily carried in a pocket and launched in a minute. It operates without any noise and carries video cameras which transmit high-quality images even in the dark. As the power sources and the element base are upgraded, the intellectual software of mini and micro drones will expand the monitoring functions, as well as the destruction of adversary hardware and troops in the future.

There are trends in underwater unmanned craft to increase intellectual capabilities, produce small power plants, including nuclear ones, and equip the vehicles with weapons.

Underwater drones can act in groups or in coordination with surface warships, submarines and stationary stations that monitor the underwater situation. The craft will mostly guard naval bases and seaports, lay and clear mines, and protect areas for the operation of friendly forces.

Developed nations, the USA, in particular, create a major line of surface and underwater robots. The US military calls them Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV). The US research focuses on maximum autonomy of control when the operator is not necessary. Systems are designed to ensure simultaneous or subsequent operation of robots in groups.

The US Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) hold experiments to train big and small underwater vehicles to interact in the creation of an underwater minefield. The robots have to independently determine the gaps in the minefield and eliminate them.

Drones have to independently search for adversary warships. A specific vehicle with proper arms will be appointed to destroy a target. A big underwater robot will carry small torpedo robots which will independently search for and destroy targets after deployment. The United States is testing Proteus underwater vehicle which can carry a combat payload.

Russia also has some prospective designs of tactical and strategic underwater robots. Some of them have been tested and will soon become operational.

The knowledge of the main trends in military robotics helps better understand the main guidelines in weapon development. Russia spends much less on defense than the United States and other major opponents and therefore has to determine the most efficient and cheapest ways to counteract existing and predicted threats. It is clear that a catch-up strategy will make it lag behind even more. It is necessary to combine direct and asymmetric ways to create Russian arms. It is appropriate to find inexpensive and effective means to counter new adversary weapons and develop systems in which Russia is strong. They are attack weapons, including strategic ones. It is necessary to determine what will be in demand in 10, 20, 30 and 50 years and focus on the technologies.

One of the main trends in modern armaments decreases the role of humans who would be completely ousted from the battlefield. It is necessary to focus on the creation of the Russian element base of a new generation and artificial intelligence for military products and research optical and quantum computers (QC).

Scientists believe QC will produce the same effect as ordinary computers did in their time. QC will have a much bigger capacity and can engage in non-standard tasks, i.e. optimize information and operate big data. They will offer the basis for the design of new-generation intellect. It will open unlimited prospects for weapons upgrade.

Russia can cut a corner in the development of advanced arms and avoid mistakes of other countries by focusing on prospective guidelines, such as upgrading artificial intellect. It would be appropriate to engage a maximum number of enterprises and design bureaus. It is quite possible that we already have what we plan to buy abroad.

It is necessary to encourage competition in prospective research and provide the most favorable regime to Russian dual-purpose designs, as well as join the effort in technology development on the basis of common interest with other countries and create a common financial and production base with them. It will help Russia guarantee its military security and sustainable development, the Military-Industrial Courier said.

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