Milrem Robotics unveils its new Type-X unmanned tracked IFV Infantry Fighting Vehicle
The Estonian company Milrem Robotics is trying to revolutionize the global defense industry by developing a new type of unmanned tracked IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) for mechanized units, a Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) designated Type-X. Although it is not a tank, the Type-X moves on tracks and has a turret.
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New MILREM Type-X unmanned tracked IFV, more precisely a Robotic Combat Vehicle designed to support mechanized units (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Milrem Robotics is best known for its THeMIS UGV which is operated by several countries, namely the French armed forces in Mali. Milrem Robotics founder and CEO Kuldar Väärsi said that a new long-term goal is to replace all old-style infantry fighting vehicles with new systems. He is convinced that, as in many other areas of life, the defense industry will become increasingly robot dependent in the future, and fewer and fewer people will be involved in the heart of combat operations.
What makes the Type-X unique, he says, is the combination of three elements: a hybrid transmission (electric and diesel), the ability to operate in a fully autonomous mode, and the absence of a crew. So far, some of the existing infantry fighting vehicles have been modified to provide remote control capability, and optional manned vehicles are also being created. "I think these solutions are similar to townhouses, which have the disadvantages of both apartments and houses at the same time, with almost no advantages," said Väärsi.
The company believes that the Type-X has a number of advantages over the current type of infantry fighting vehicles. First, it's almost twice cheaper. In addition, with its 12 tons (26,455 lbs), it is almost three times lighter than an IFV, which means that the Type-X has improved mobility and is easier to carry and drop by aircraft like the C-130. Being only 2.20 m (87 in.) high 2.90m (114 in.) wide and 6 m (236 in.) long, the Type-X also has a lower profile and smaller volume than most IFVs, making it difficult to spot in the field, a crucial advantage even more favored by its low heat signature. At the same time, it is fitted with a 2-ton turret armed with a 30mm automatic gun, optionally a 50mm one, which makes the Type-X as lethal as most of the other IFVs.
The system benefits from a low maintenance cost because it has been designed with maintenance in mind, using the LRU-principle. Hybrid powertrain and rubber tracks will reduce costs significantly.
Milrem Type-X is modular and, hence, can be adapted to many roles (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Type-X is easy to upgrade for it is built following a fully modular approach (sensors and other components can be upgraded), capable of carrying multiple payloads based on the same interface. Like the THeMIS, Type-X is multifunctional. This means that its cannon can be replaced with an anti-aircraft system, a mortar, or a radar if necessary. It can also be used as a transport platform for equipment and soldiers.
How Type-X will be used in combat depends largely on the structure of the armed forces, terrain and tactics. Autonomy-enabled systems like Type-X will deploy as force multiplier at all echelons from the platoon up to the brigade combat teams. It will decrease the reaction time and reduce the cognitive load of the commander, enabling the whole unit to be more effectively led. Also, unmanned platforms can support the MESH networking principle with automatic MESH planning and communication relay. The OODA (observation-orientation-decision-action) loop of the commander and the whole unit can be processed faster because of the help of automatic and autonomous functions and AI. According to Väärsi, the main task of the new robot will be to support the main tanks and mechanized units with advantageously a much superior range: 600 km (373 miles) with fully charged batteries and full tank of JP8. Batteries are recharged while the diesel engine is running. An amphibious capability is taken into consideration by Milrem for the future.
Milrem Type-X can be controlled from a station fitted in a safe and mobile environment like an APC (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Milrem Type-X control station (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Type-X is ideal for high-risk situations where the presence of troops would be too dangerous. The easy control station and the enhanced mobility capabilities will enable the unit to move into denied areas without compromising the security of human lives. Specific countermeasures could also be employed automatically, under certain operational concepts.
Who was the first to show interest in the new combat system? Väärsi said that Milrem Robotics has a very important customer in the armed forces of a country that has paid almost full price for the development. This does not mean that Milrem Robotics may lose its patent and its rights to the vehicle. The company is not worried about whether anyone will want to buy the products with which it enters the market. Rather, countries are lining up to cooperate with it.
Milrem Type-X chassis, as of May 28, 2020 (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
On 28 May, Type-X exists at the chassis stage. More components for the prototype are ready, but not yet delivered to Estonia. The company hopes to complete the prototype by the end of summer 2020. The product will take another three years to become a certified product ready for sale. Väärsi is not afraid that something will go wrong. Most of the work has been done, all the stages have passed the software tests, and all that remains is to assemble a real machine. “Milrem initially planned to unveil the mockup of Type-X at the Eurosatory 2020 event,” Kuldar Väärsi, Milrem CEO told Army Recognition during a webinar organized on May 27, but this major defense exhibition scheduled for June has been canceled. “We plan to complete the prototype of the vehicle by the end of the 3rd quarter of 2020 and begin mobility testing in October.”
Milrem Type-X only exists as a project but the company will have a prototype ready by the end of Summer 2020 (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Is the beginning of a major economic crisis a good time to launch a new project? Väärsi admitted that although Milrem Robotics has not experienced a 90-100% drop in revenue as a tourism sector, the crisis is also affecting it. Countries are cutting spending on defense and military development. New and interesting, but expensive robotic solutions are not considered.
Italy and Spain are the most affected countries by the Coronavirus pandemic in Europe, said they would have to postpone their cooperation with Milrem Robotics. However, many of the orders that the company has received have already been confirmed by contracts, which means that this year it should not face serious problems. Milrem Robotics, however, was forced to cut its salaries.
Kuldar Väärsi expects that the Estonian armed forces will prefer domestic contractors to foreign ones. The companies have the know-how and production facilities that allow them to keep existing jobs and create new ones. "Especially since our defense industry has flourished in recent years," Väärsi said. For the same reason, Milrem Robotics recently told the Estonian Defence Forces that it is possible to build several hundred of these companies.
Milrem Type-X unloaded from C-130 Hercules in a fast operation scenario. Type-X is light enough for airdropping or undersling transport by a heavy helicopter (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Milrem Type-X in target detection mode (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Milrem Type-X operating in a camp attack scenario (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Milrem Type-X operating in a spearhead attack scenario (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)
Milrem Type-X in a town attack scenario. The control station fitted in an armored vehicle works from some distance away (Picture source: Milrem Robotics)