Cleaning up explosives is a job best left to robots. What demining robots lack in human dexterity they more than make up in expendability, and the ability to send even a pricey robot to clear explosives gives battlefield commanders much better options when trying to navigate a dangerous area. To that end, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced it is acquiring 12 more Uran-6 demining robots in 2019.
The Uran-6 isn’t the flashiest robot, but it has seen operational use in Syria. While much attention has gone to the potential and implications of its sibling, the armed Uran-9 robot vehicle, combat performance for the Uran-9 suggests further refinement is needed before it can be an asset and not a liability in combat. No such hesitations appear to exist with the Uran-6s that were present in Syria as proof-of-concept and technology demonstrations.
“The Ministry of Defense said on several occasions that this UGV performed well in Syria, so we are to expect that these 12 are not the last vehicles of its kind to enter Russian service,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. “The Ministry feels confident enough with Uran-6 to start accepting it into service. In Syria, it did not experience the range of issues that plagued Uran-9 trials.”
Demining in places where it has active combat operations in support of local allies is an obvious use case for robots like Uran-9, but it’s hardly the only one. Once deployed, mines are a persistent threat until actively removed or detonated accidentally, which means there’s a sort of humanitarian mission possible for robots like the Uran-6.
“Right now, this UGV is used in Syria — but Russians also made a big deal of clearing “American mines” in Laos recently, ordnance left over from the Vietnam War,” says Bendett. “While we did not see Uran-6 in that mission, its expected that as this UGV will become more widespread across Russian engineers forces, we may see it in future combat, as well as friendly missions where Russian forces will help clear unexploded ordnance.”
On the scale of military acquisitions, 12 specialized robots is modest, but it suggests a capability that is seen as useful and worth expanding. Robots that can clear paths through explosive barriers will remain valuable as long as war features mines.
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.