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Land Warfare

Russians hope Shturm can weather UGV problems

14th June 2021 - 14:35 GMT | by Alex Tarasoff in Moscow

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Design image of heavy UGV variant with low-velocity cannon. (Photo: TSNII)

Unresolved problems over the reliability of heavy UGVs fail to stop a decision to proceed with a prototype of the Shturm system.

Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) is working on initial prototypes of a new type of heavy UGV, according to a recent RIA Novosti report citing unnamed sources in the Russian defence industry.

The Shturm (‘Assault’) system will be based on the proven T-72B3 chassis and is intended for urban warfare.

In May 2021, UVZ reported that Shturm is in the R&D phase, which usually culminates in the production of a prototype. The other three NIRs seem to have fallen by the wayside.

Industry sources indicate that a Shturm robotic system will comprise a manned C2 vehicle (possibly also based on the T-72) and several unmanned heavy UGVs.

Its modular design would allow the UGVs to carry various weapons, armour packages and auxiliary equipment such as bulldozer blades or mine rollers.

One of the possible variants of the main armament is a 125mm low-velocity tank gun with a shortened barrel and a 7.62mm PKT machine gun. The other variants mentioned include RPO-A Shmel flamethrower pods, 30mm twin autocannons or 220mm thermobaric rocket pods.

It is worth noting that the Russian military identified a requirement for heavy robotic ground vehicles as early as 2015-2016.

In July 2016 the Russian MoD approved a theoretical scientific research project (NIR) called Uspekh-OPK, to develop tactical and technical requirements for the ‘multipurpose assault heavy modular robotic system’.

In 2017, the 3rd Central Research Institute (TSNII) of the Russian MoD unveiled four NIRs related to heavy unmanned platforms, including an R&D project for the teleoperated Armata, an unmanned heavy strike platform on a T-14 tank chassis (Tachanka-B) and Shturm — described by the MoD at the time as an ‘automated robotic system for its use with the [Russian] Ground Forces, including assault operations’.

In 2019 the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Forces Oleg Salykov announced that the R&D project of the ‘heavy and medium robotic systems - Shturm and Soratnik’ will be launched in 2020.

Proposed structure of a heavy UGV company in the Russian Ground Forces. (Photo: TSNII)

The commitment to the Shturm project by the Russian military takes into consideration recent warfare in Syria and Iraq. Clearly, the Russian MoD recognises that a future conflict could erupt in an urban environment, so there is a need to minimise the threats and risks from this type of fighting.

On the other hand, the hard reality is that the military has had to scale down its heavy armed UGV ambitions since 2016, as shown by the shift from the T-14 to the T-72 as the main platform. The reasons behind that change might be budgetary or technology-related.

Uran-9 and Soratnik UGVs had been tested in Syria in 2016, but several serious issues became apparent — such as С2, mobility and lost connection with the operator.

Also reported were instability issues with the main armament and spontaneous missile launches.

Shephard understands that many of these problems remain unresolved, which means that a cloud hangs over efforts in Russia to evolve heavy UGVs.

Yet another problem area is how the Russian Ground Forces can integrate UGVs into its force structure and tactical units.

However, the main issue lies at the doctrinal level. While most NATO and NATO-allied countries make significant efforts to achieve qualitative superiority through the introduction of AI and robotics within the new doctrine of multi-domain operations, Russia lacks this overarching objective and has insufficient resources to achieve it.

As a result, any UGV that progresses from the drawing board to the front line may enhance Russian capabilities — but it is unlikely to deliver a qualitative leap.

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