The analyzes were made by Kristof Nagy for Soldat&Technik. Their assessments, opinions and comments on the topic do not reflect the position of BulgarianMilitary.com
BERLIN, ($1=0.92 Euros) — Images and videos from the current war zones provide important insights into specific tactics and weapon systems. But things that you can’t see on the numerous images also contribute to gaining knowledge. Sometimes the sheer absence of something is a clue to things that might otherwise be overlooked.
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So it could well be about unmanned combat vehicles, so-called Unmanned Ground Vehicle [UGV] or Unmanned Combat Ground Vehicle [UCGV], in the Ukraine war. They are not present on the battlefield in Ukraine, neither on one side nor on the other. The question is why?
The Ukraine war has already produced or strengthened insights. Some of these seem like truisms. Anti-tank handguns are extremely effective against an armored enemy not accompanied by friendly infantry. Unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV] are also continuing their success story, showing their value in a wide variety of categories and designs, both as reconnaissance or effective means or in a combined role.
Even commercial off-the-shelf products are sometimes able to serve as multipliers and – if used wisely – to hold their own against an opponent who is supposedly trained in the field of electronic warfare. The operations taking place before our eyes and their later evaluation will have a significant impact on the principles of use of these systems in the future.
Depending on the length of the conflict, it can be assumed that the impact on the tactical principles for the use of UAVs will even exceed the effect of the Nagorno-Karabakh war. But where are the UGV that have been shown frequently in recent years? In a conflict presented to the viewer in real-time, so to speak, they can hardly have hidden.
On the Ukrainian side, the UCGV designated RSVK-M2 by the Kyiv-based engineering team at Robotics Design Bureau has theoretically been available since 2015. According to the manufacturer, successful tests were said to have taken place in Donbas under combat conditions as early as 2017.
In addition to a medium and a heavy machine gun, Robotics Design states that a grenade machine gun and an unspecified anti-tank guided missile have also been integrated. Five years later, there is just as little to be seen of the system as of the Fantom UGV from the state producer SpetsTechnoExport, which according to press reports is also about to be introduced to the Ukrainian armed forces in 2017 and is also available in an export version.
Apparently, important reasons seem to have prevented this up to now. Other designs from different suppliers, such as the 4×4 vehicle Camel, have not progressed beyond the prototype stage to this day.
On the Russian side, however, concrete steps have been taken over the years to promote the use of UGVs and integrate them into the armed forces. The most prominent representative is certainly the Uran-9.
The comparatively heavily armed unmanned ground vehicle made its debut on the battlefield in Syria and disappointed the user in many ways. In addition to mechanical problems with the chassis and weapon system, the greatest weak point was the poor data connection and the sensors.
In spring 2021, the knowledge gained in Syria led to the Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, announcing the establishment of an experimental unit to test UGV systems. A year later, the unit appears to play no role in the ongoing conflict, provided it is already actually deployed and replenished.
Even the Uranium-6 explosive ordnance clearance vehicles, which are considered to be mature, are clearly presented to the local press in an event that looks staged in the hinterland. Nothing is known about their use at the front or immediately behind.
UGVs are far from an active role
Despite the sometimes ambitious-sounding announcements made by the manufacturers and concrete offers on the export market, the observations made give rise to the suspicion that none of the observed UGV models has the technological maturity to be used in a military conflict.
Teleoperated use, as with Uran-6, requires the user to be close to the UGV, which proves to be extremely cumbersome in tactical use. In fact, the driver of the UGV usually has to maintain a direct line of sight under ideal conditions, or without the effects of hostile electronic countermeasures.
Autonomous mission profiles that require waypoint management fail due to the complexity of the terrain and the fluctuating situation. Attempts to improve the situational awareness of vehicle-controlling artificial intelligence through systems such as continuous-emitting laser radars [lidar] are not only not fully mature, but also incompatible with the low signature required on the modern battlefield.
In short, it seems that, in marked contrast to UAVs, UGVs are far from ready to play an active role in a medium or even high-intensity conflict. Their contribution is limited, if at all, to absolute niches, as the example of Uran-9 shows. The UCGV category, however, is still in the experimental stage and will take years to become operational.
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