What will be the effect of Russia sending unmanned combat vehicles against Western tanks? 

Recently, the Russian Army announced that it had deployed four “marked” unmanned combat vehicles to the battlefield in eastern Ukraine for actual combat testing. 

It is worth noting that the Russian Army stated in a very high profile this time that this advanced unmanned combat vehicle is mainly used to deal with various types of third-generation main battle tanks provided by Western countries to Ukraine, including the M1 “Abrams.” “, “Leopard” 2 and “Challenger” 2, and other models.

From the outside world’s perspective, the Russian Army seems to pin its hopes of fighting Western main battle tanks on unmanned combat vehicles. So, what is the combat performance of “marking” unmanned combat vehicles? Can it fulfill the role of “Western Tank Killer”?

The “Tag” UCAV is equipped with anti-tank missiles and machine guns.

Western tank fear Aftermath

Judging from the ground combat in the world’s previous local wars from the beginning of the Cold War to the present, it is a “serial drama” in which Soviet/Russian tanks compete with Western tanks. 

Tanks from both sides, from the T-34/85 in the Korean War to the T-54/55 in the Vietnam War to the “Century Captain”/M48 in the Middle East War to the T-62 and T-55 in the Lebanon War to the M60, fought fiercely.

In these ground operations, Soviet/Russian tanks did not lag behind Western tanks in terms of performance and even had great advantages in many battles in the Vietnam War and the Lebanon War. The first-generation light tanks could not confront the T-54/55 regarding firepower or protection. 

In the Lebanon War, the T-72 had always had an overwhelming advantage in the face of the M60, which was a generation behind itself.

However, in the “Desert Saber” operation during the ground warfare phase of the Gulf War in 1991, the Iraqi armored forces equipped with Soviet/Russian tanks were defeated by the powerful air superiority of the multinational forces and the sharp and fast armored assault tactics.

After the war, many people attributed the overall defeat of the Iraqi Army to the fact that the Soviet/Russian tanks equipped by the Iraqi Army were all export models after being technically downgraded.

They could not compete with the third-generation Western main battle tanks equipped by multinational forces at that time, especially The most cutting-edge M1A1 “Abrams,” which competed with the “Challenger” 1. The reputation of Soviet/Russian tanks plummeted.

After the conclusion of the Cold War, Soviet/Russian tanks performed poorly, and Western media assumed the lead in disseminating information. The reputation of Soviet/Russian tanks fell precipitously.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and other countries have indicated that they will provide Ukraine with third-generation main battle tanks. The total number is expected to reach about 300. 

 This may have touched Russia’s bottom line to a certain extent. After all, since the Gulf War, Russia has continuously improved the T-72 and T-80 series and developed a new generation of the T-90 series, trying to catch up with the West. 

The pace of rapid development of the third-generation main battle tanks, and, in the Gulf War, only the downgraded export T-72M1 of the T-72 fought against the third-generation main battle tanks in the West and finally failed.

 So, whether the latest models of the T-72, T-80, and T-90 series can fight against the third-generation Western main battle tanks, the Russian Army may not have a bottom line and may be more or less affected by the “fear sequelae of Western tanks” Influence.

What’s more deadly is that several of the latest models of the main battle tanks in active service in the Russian Army, namely T-72B3M, T-80BVM, and T-90M, were destroyed or abandoned on the Ukrainian battlefield.

 It is likely that Ukraine and Western countries have studied these tank wrecks and complete vehicles and have largely mastered their advantages and disadvantages to formulate targeted tactics. 

Presumably, this is also the reason why NATO countries dare to provide main battle tanks to Ukraine. Therefore, this situation is not suitable for the Russian Army. Then, under the premise that the Air Force’s ground support is weak, the Russian Army hopes to have a new weapon put into the battlefield as soon as possible to counter the third-generation Western main battle tanks effectively. Therefore, they first thought of unmanned combat vehicles.

In this Russia-Ukraine conflict, the turrets of Soviet/Russian tanks were frequently overturned, and the survivability of Soviet/Russian tanks has become a hot topic in the outside world. The slightly chaotic development of Russian unmanned combat vehicles Compared with the development of drones, Russia has invested more and paid more attention to unmanned combat vehicles. 

It is also the first time in the world to put unmanned combat vehicles into offensive combat. The author believes this is mainly due to the sharp reduction in Russian Army personnel since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, from the initial 2.6 million people to 320,000 during the Second Chechen War in 1999.

 Two hundred fifty thousand people were not maintained to the current scale of 280,000 until Shoigu became the Minister of Defense. On the other hand, the military reforms carried out by the Russian Army, especially the professionalization, have not been smooth.

From the “division to brigade” to the reorganization of division-level troops and then to the repeated tossing of “battalion-level tactical groups” coupled with tanks, The replacement of main combat equipment such as infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery is slow. 

As a result, the Russian Army is anxious to acquire a cutting-edge new weapon that won’t require more troops to operate. Additionally, its fighting performance has been vastly enhanced over its predecessor. And so, the autonomous combat vehicle has quickly become their weapon of choice.

However, compared with the development of unmanned combat vehicles in other countries, Russia’s development has shown a slightly chaotic “swarm” state. 

Various design bureaus, companies, and organizations, including Russian military enterprises, wanted to get orders from the Russian Ministry of Defense and get a share of the pie, so they launched many unmanned combat vehicles of different levels. According to incomplete statistics, there are nearly 40 models of unmanned combat vehicles developed by various units in Russia. 

The most famous “Uranus” series of unmanned combat vehicles have five models. The Kanishkov Company, known for its light weapons, also lost no time launching the BAS-01 “comrades” unmanned combat vehicles. The “mark” unmanned combat vehicle has a certain degree of autonomous combat capability.

The largest user of unmanned combat vehicles – the Russian Army, has neither launched a complete and long-term military unmanned vehicle development plan like the United States for many years nor conducted model bidding and selection in accordance with a scientific process, nor has it organized annual unmanned combat vehicles like China. 

The human-vehicle model competition leads the development direction of unmanned vehicles of various units but “catch the eyebrows and beards.” Therefore, various units in Russia are also seizing every possible opportunity, including first putting them on the battlefield for actual combat tests to prove the performance of their products.

For example, the “Mark” unmanned combat vehicle, which was highly publicized by Russia this time, was jointly developed by the Russian National Advanced Research Foundation, the Robot Technology Development Center and the Android Technology NGO, and the Ural Robot Technology Private Engineering Company was responsible for the production. 

The overall technical level of the vehicle is considered superior to the “Uranus” -9 unmanned combat vehicle that was previously put into the Syrian battlefield by the Russian Army, and the level of autonomy and intelligence is higher. Moreover, the car is also developed according to the concept of a car family, mainly including five sub-models. Three models are crawler platforms, and two models are wheeled platforms.

The “mark” unmanned combat vehicle deployed by the Russian Army for testing on the Ukrainian battlefield this time is a 3-ton oil-electric hybrid tracked vehicle in the vehicle family. 

Compared with the “Uranus” -9, the “Marker” unmanned combat vehicle is equipped with multiple lidars, and surrounding cameras, has a certain route planning capability, and can rely on the “GLONASS” satellite navigation to achieve a certain degree of autonomous travel Or follow along. 

Therefore, the “mark” unmanned combat vehicle does not have to rely entirely on remote control operations by personnel like the “Uranus” -9, which can greatly reduce the operators’ workload. The Russian Army has used the “Uranus” -9 unmanned combat vehicle on the Syrian battlefield.

Building an informationized combat system is the key.In the future, with the delivery of various types of third-generation main battle tanks promised by NATO countries to Ukraine, the Ukrainian Army has formed a new combat system based on NATO heavy ground equipment. 

Although in terms of quantity, more than 300 Western third-generation main battle tanks are not many, and the models are complicated, before that, NATO countries have provided Ukraine with large-caliber howitzers, rocket launchers, infantry fighting vehicles, and short- and medium-range air defense systems. 

With the support of the Chinese Communist Party, if these third-generation main battle tanks are used intensively at a certain key point on the eastern and southern fronts of Ukraine, it is indeed possible to achieve a campaign or even a strategic impact of “moving the whole body.”

Due to the small number, it is difficult to “mark” unmanned combat vehicles to change the battle situation, and more combat performance is tested through actual combat.

However, the author believes it is somewhat unrealistic for the Russian Army to pin its hopes of fighting against the third-generation Western main battle tanks on unmanned combat vehicles such as “Mark.” First, the “mark” unmanned combat vehicle itself has not completed the entire research and development process, and the number is too small.

 Even if it is put into mass production now, coupled with personnel training and establishing a logistics support system, it may not be able to meet the needs of the Ukrainian battlefield. The “Uranus” -9, which has experienced the baptism of war before, has exposed many problems on the Syrian battlefield and needs further improvement. 

In addition, Russian military enterprises have also developed two heavy-duty unmanned combat vehicles, the “Whirlwind” and UDAR, based on the existing BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles. Whether they can be put on the Ukrainian battlefield soon is also unknown. At least from the current point of view, the “Channel” -1 and “Uranus” -6, unmanned mine-sweeping vehicles belonging to engineers, play a role on the Ukrainian battlefield.

In fact, in the face of the Ukrainian Army’s increasingly “Westernized” ground combat system, the most important thing the Russian Army should do is to improve its own informatization level, make up for shortcomings as soon as possible, improve the combat system, and use the system to counter the system. 

One or two new unmanned combat vehicles can turn the tide of battle. Judging from the current signs, Russia and Ukraine are accumulating strength and planning a “spring offensive.” We have to wait and see who will win.

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