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Russia Wants Autonomous Fighting Robots, and Lots of Them: Unmanned Ground Vehicles

For Popular MechanicsDavid Hambling writes: A new video shows a Russian military robot doing something no American machine in service can match: firing a machine gun. It's hardly a technological triumph—the U.S. has been testing armed robots for decades. But while political and ethical caution has prevented the West from advancing with the concept, Russia seems determined to field a wide variety of combat robots. The Russians call such robots MRKs, from the Russian for Mobile Robotic Complex. The latest is the MRK-002-BG-57, nicknamed Wolf-2. It's basically a tank the size of a small car with a 12.7-mm heavy machine gun. In the tank's automated mode, the operator can remotely select up to 10 targets, which the robot then bombards. Wolf-2 can act on its own to some degree (the makers are vague about what degree), but the decision to use lethal force is ultimately under human control. russian-drones-0514-mdn Ramp-Up Although the U.S. military fielded thousands of robots in Iraq and Afghanistan, these were used for bomb disposal and reconnaissance only. In 2007 the widely publicized deployment of three Talon/SWORDS robots fitted with machine guns ended in fiasco. The robots were confined to their base and never sent out on patrol because of fears of what might happen if anything went wrong. Work continues with MAARS, the successor to Talon/SWORDS, but there is no sign yet of anything being fielded. And when the budget gets tight, unmanned systems tend to feel the squeeze first.

While research stalls in the United States, Russia’s leaders are determined to make their country a robot superpower. In January 2013, defense minister Sergei Shoigu announced plans to expand the army’s use of robots. A few months later, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced a new production facility for military robots and a research center for military robotics. Rogozin says that someday soon, one Russian soldier will do the work that takes five or 10 soldiers today, which would be impossible without advanced robots.

Not surprisingly, then, Wolf-2 is far from Russia’s only entry in armed robotics. In December, Shoigu visited Rzhevsky Proving Ground to watch a Jeep-size amphibious vehicle called Argo swim across a lake and fire at targets. In June Rogozin was treated to a display by the tank-like Nerehta with twin machine guns; the developers claim the stabilization is better than on Western models…(read more)

Popular Mechanics

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