Armor: Robotic Combat Vehicles For Everyone


September 30, 2016: A Russian firm recently introduced a remotely controlled (RC) version of its Tiger-M military vehicle. Range of the control station is 3,000 meters and the operator can drive the vehicle and operate the 30mm autocannon in the turret. This 8.2 ton unmanned vehicle is armored and carries 200 rounds for the 30mm cannon and 1,000 rounds for the coaxial 7.62mm machine-gun in the turret. The remotely controlled Tiger-M is meant for risky reconnaissance missions, including being the lead vehicle of a column headed down a very dangerous route. The RWS (Remote Weapon Stations) can be armed with other weapons and devices making the RC suitable for police work as well. This concept, and technology, has been around for a while and that’s what makes it attractive to Russian weapons manufacturers. Russia can build such stuff cheaper and will sell to anyone who can pay.

For example the Tiger (Tigr) vehicle has been in service since 2005 and is remarkably similar to 1980s American HMMWV "hummer". In 2013 an upgraded and better protected Tiger-M appeared. This was similar to the armored version of the U.S. hummer (the M1114 model) called Tigr-M (Tiger-M). Initially the major buyer was the Russian Interior Ministry, for its police and paramilitary units. Chechnya was a particularly popular destination for this new vehicle. Nearly 2,000 of all versions have been produced so far, mainly for Russian military and police use but there have been a growing number of export customers. .

Tigr is based on the Russian hummer-like SUV, the Gaz-2330. Like the M1114, the Tigr weighs five tons empty, carries a crew of four, and a load of about a ton (or an additional five men, if configured for that). The Tigr costs about 40 percent less than the M1114, and is being offered as a less expensive alternative to the M1114. The remote control driving systems can be installed in a few hours. Normally the Tiger has a 12.7mm machine-gun in the RWS turret. There are many other variants of the Tiger, some customized for carrying cargo or more (up to nine) passengers.

Remotely controlled combat vehicles have been around since the 1990s. The pioneers in the area have been the United States and Israel and firms in both these nations have moved on developing a practical (and affordable) robotic (autonomous) UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle). The U.S. Army is developing small RC/robotic vehicles for use as battlefield scouts. These robotic scouts have enough armor to make them bullet proof and able to survive nearby explosions, enabling it to survive some ambushes or light resistance. A Stryker platoon (four Strykers) could be accompanied by two or more robotic vehicles for scouting, especially in areas where there is likely to be strong resistance. Such UGVs would also be equipped with speakers, enabling an interpreter in one of the Strykers to question locals. The UGV can also be operated remotely but new sensor systems are effective enough to let the vehicle do all the driving, with the operator just directing the vehicle in a general direction.

By 2009 the U.S. Army had used several prototype UGVs that successfully passed realistic tests. One of the test subjects, controlled from a Stryker wheeled armored vehicle, successfully approached a village (equipped with mannequins set up as pedestrians along the streets), did a perimeter sweep at speeds of up to fifty kilometers an hour, then patrolled the streets, avoiding the pedestrians, and finally departed the area. The sensor systems used a combination of ladar (laser radar), digital cameras and heat sensors, to provide the software with sufficient data to enable the onboard computers to identify and avoid obstacles. The key element here was the software, which, in turn, benefited from five years of competitive events that delivered software advances faster than expected.

This UGV technology is part of efforts, since the 1990s, to develop systems that could turn cargo trucks into UGVs. In 2006 the army was testing the use of robotic trucks, escorted by manned, and unmanned, combat vehicles. Experiments are also being made with robotic Strykers. Robotic trucks have many advantages. In addition to cutting manpower requirement, in situations like Iraq, having fewer non-combat troops in the convoy would make things easier for the escorting troops. Most convoys don't move that fast, which means the robotic vehicles don't have to make a lot of quick driving decisions. The army doesn't expect to use robotic trucks this decade but by the 2020s army expects to need fewer truck and more robotic vehicle technicians. This is a trend that has been going on the military since World War II.




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