Russia’s Ministry of Defense is bringing two robot tank designs in-house, following progress from industry in developing these forms.

The two robots, the heavy tank-like “Storm” or Shturm and the lighter “Ally” or Soratnik, are complementary machines, designed for heavy combat and assisting infantry, respectively. The two tanks represent an effort to incorporate more robotics and more autonomy in force planning going forward.

The Ministry’s decision to pursue the projects in-house was announced in late December by Oleg Salyukov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Ground Forces. The Shturm and Soratnik robots were initiated by industry first, without a guarantee that the Army would pick them up, but the bet appears to have paid off.

Shturm, the heavier vehicle, was designed by Uralvagonozavod, which makes main battle tanks for Russia. Shturm is a collective class of four heavy vehicles, all based on the same T-72 MBT chassis. Building a robot tank on top of existing tank parts, and a popular tank at that, means that spare parts and able repair (at least when it comes to the mechanics) is easy and already available.

As sketched out, the Shturm is designed to operate with a 125 mm cannon. That, plus a rugged body designed for urban combat, would make it a robot ready to rumble in cities. The concept design features a range of alternative armaments, specializing in everything from anti-infantry machine guns to 30 mm to anti-tank missiles to a lighter (though still powerful) 57 mm cannon.

“The names indicate their potential use - ‘Soratnik,’ as an ‘ally’ could function in a [manned-unmanned teaming] arrangement,” said Samuel Bendett, a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. “The heavy ‘Shturm’ could be used for storming heavily fortified adversarial fire points and positions, or offer protection to advancing manned and unmanned formations in heavy urban fighting.”

Made by Kalashnikov, the Soratnik has reportedly been tested in near-combat conditions. More recently, Russia has tested it as a platform for human-machine collaboration on the battlefield. While it’s expected armament is much lighter than that of the Shturm, weapons range from machine guns to heavy machine guns to grenade launchers and anti-tank missiles.

“The reason why the Ministry of Defense has announced that it will develop UGVs based on Soratnik and Shturm is that it is now taking over the development initiative from private enterprises as it begins to formulate actual [Concepts of Operation] and [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures] requirements,” said Bendett, an adviser at the Center for Naval Analyses. “Going back to 2017, the Ministry of Defence launched an annual military conference and review called "Robotization of the Armed Forces of Russia" that aimed to consolidate unmanned systems production and acquisition by developing common vehicle requirements and standards.”

As Russia draws on its experiences in the wars of the 2010s, it is leaning heavily towards a more robotic force for the wars of the century to come.

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.

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