Unmanned vehicles have become commonplace on battlefields today. From aerial reconnaissance to bomb disposal, drones complete a wide variety of tasks that are deemed too risky or too expensive for humans or manned vehicles. In spite of the success of drones in their respective fields of work, many countries, including the United States, have been hesitant to assign drones to actual combat roles. However, the Russian Federation has recently released a vehicle that could be the first drone to face front line duty.
Named the Uran-9 Vikhr (Whirlwind) by the Russian military, this UGCV (Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle) is the first, and the deadliest, of its kind. Weighing in at around 15 tons, the Uran-9 possesses an operational range of 600 km, a maximum road speed of 60 km/h, and a swimming speed of 10 km/h (1). Because of its size and weight, the vehicle can be airlifted by helicopter and is mobile enough to operate in nearly any terrain. This means that the Uran-9 will be able to provide fire support for infantry in situations where armored support would be previously impossible.
In addition to its outstanding mobility, the Uran-9 is designed to be completely modular, meaning that its weapons’ loadout can be altered depending on the mission. The standard armament for the vehicle consists of a 30 mm automatic cannon, a coaxial 7.62 machine gun, and six anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) (1). These weapons, combined with state-of-the-art optics, give the drone the ability to deal with infantry, soft targets, and even other tanks. The Uran-9 can also be equipped with anti-air missiles, flamethrowers, and even light artillery attachments, further expanding its abilities on the battlefield.
Despite its impressive abilities on paper, and in Russian military videos, the weapon has its limitations. The Uran-9 is controlled via radio by a team of soldiers operating out of a nearby trailer. This system severely limits the possible effectiveness of the Uran-9 as certain terrain can block line-of-sight radio signals (2). Not only that, but radios are also prone to jamming by enemy electronic countermeasures. Without a radio signal, the vehicle would be rendered useless and inoperable, likely at the expense of its supporting soldiers.
In reality, the actual combat capabilities of the Uran-9 are quite limited. Relying on multiple individuals to control a single tank at once brings up questions of how efficiently the system will actually run. This issue, combined with the relatively unreliable nature of radio signals lead many to believe that the weapon will not see active combat anytime soon. One thing is for certain, the Uran-9 will not be the last of its kind. Expect to see more countries trying their hand at their own UGCVs over the next few years.
(1) Novichkov, Nikolai. "New Russian Combat UGV Breaks Cover, Uran-9 Readies for Service." Defence & Security Intelligence & Analysis. N.p., 9 Sept. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
(2) Rogoway, Tyler. "Russia's Drone Tank Looks Cool In Videos But Is It Tactically Relevant?" Foxtrot Alpha. N.p., 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
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