The art of war is changing, and changing rapidly. While swarms of drones have taken control of the skies raining death and destruction from up above, the ground beneath, too, is vibrating under the weight of a slew of Unarmed Combat Ground Vehicles (UCGV). No, this is not an opening scene of some dystopian futuristic movie; it is a reality.
While the United States military is using drones to take out terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, Russia is quietly but steadily building a ground force of unmanned tanks that can function almost like the heavy beats which roll on the caterpillar tracks.
Itself a military giant, Russia knows that the United States is leagues ahead of its own unmanned aerial drone program. Though Russia has a formidable air force it has not made any particular advancement in the drone technology.
But Russia has its own plan to dominate a futuristic battleground. And that plan exploits an area in which Russia is somewhat unmatched in the world – tank technology.
Russian tanks are counted among the best in the world. In fact, Russia is so ahead in tank manufacturing that it has manufactured (and inducted) the next generation of tanks in the form of T-14 Armata. It is therefore obvious that the country will utilize this know-how of tank technology and merge it with unmanned vehicle technology.
Uran-9 and the brand new Nerekhta are the result of Russia’s military modernization. While the Uran-9 is more like an unmanned infantry fighting vehicle, Nerekhta is a small tank.
The Nerekhta has been described as both a “cruise missile on treads” and also as a machine designed to wage war like a tank. Russia is possibly planning many variants of this machine. One of the variants will act like a bomb on wheels, i.e. designed to explode.
Built by Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects, Nerekhta is currently undergoing tests. Like Uran-9, it is primarily meant to replace the boots on the ground. It can transport troops, fight other armored vehicles and conduct reconnaissance operations, besides of course that ‘self-exploding’ variant.
To be used by Russia’s Special Ops teams, the vehicle can be fitted with anti-tank missiles as well as grenade launchers. The gun turret is currently 12.7 mm caliber, enough to punch holes into armored cars. It is believed that Russia will fit Nerekhta with a more powerful cannon just like the 30 mm 2A72 autocannon on the Uran-9.
The 300 kg Nerekhta’s main purpose is to sneak into the enemy camp and blow it up using the payload while destroying itself. But the Russians are already working to ensure that the machine unloads the bomb and escapes to safety before detonation.
Data related to target is fed to the machine’s onboard computer, which then automatically charts a course to it. While there are similar UCGVs, for instance Israel Rambot, Nerekhta is the only one as of now which can destroy tanks.
Being a UCGV it is operated exactly the way a drone is – a human operator mans the vehicle from afar. But Russia intends to turn it into a fully AI-operated vehicle. And that’s the scary part. Imagine fully armed machines with their own intelligence on the battleground, like this robot dog from Boston Dynamics. (Very creepy!)
Terminator time, anyone?