Russia Says It's on the Brink of Robot Warfare

Courtney Linder
Photo credit: Jon Feingersh Photography Inc - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

  • An official at Russia's Advanced Research Foundation says that live fighters in the infantry will soon be replaced by robotic "brothers."
  • These robot soldiers would be faster and more accurate at target selection than human fighters.
  • The claims build on Russia's continual attempts to introduce lethal autonomous weapons into the military, despite pushback from the United Nations.

A new report out of Russia's military research center suggests the Kremlin is close to realizing an army of Terminator-like robot soldiers that could soon replace humans in battle.

"Living fighters will gradually begin to be replaced by their robotic 'brothers' who can act faster, more accurately and more selectively than people," Vitaly Davydov told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti on April 21, according to a Forbes report. Davydov is the deputy director of the Advanced Research Foundation, which is Russia's version of the U.S. Defensed Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


Davydov argued that not only will military robots be faster and more discriminating in target selection, but they'll also be more accurate, he says. While machines can already respond to sensor data, no algorithms exist yet that have transferred over the firing response to the machine, alone.

"At this point, the Ministry of Defence says that robots replacing humans saves human soldiers from danger," Samuel Bendett, an adviser at the Center for Naval Analyses, told Forbes. "Built into that statement is the assumption that a sophisticated unmanned system would be able to eventually distinguish military targets from civilian ones, avoiding unnecessary casualties."

To be clear, Russia has been wanting robo-fighters for some time now. In February 2019, the Advanced Research Foundation released a video (above) showing mini tanks that the army could deploy right next to infantry, plus swarms of quadrotor drones. The idea is that both the tanks and the robot swarm could relay target information back to a killer robot that could do the shooting.

Later in 2019, an unnamed Russian official told RIA Novosti that the armed forces would use ground robots in urban street battles as early as 2020, building on experience that the military gained in Syria.

That source said that the greatest challenge Russia faces in the eventual deployment of a robot army is a lack of central focus. However, they said, by 2025, the Kremlin expects to roll out groups of multifunctional robots that can solve combat missions by deploying each for a particular purpose.

Considering that Russia has a history of sabotaging conversations surrounding autonomous weapons systems, this adds up. Last summer, when the United Nations convened a meeting about lethal autonomous weapons, Russia spent its time "aggressively undermining the Chair's attempts to reach consensus on the draft report," that could one day be a treaty against them, according to a report by Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

According to the report:

Russia objected to references to any international law other than international humanitarian law. Despite extensive debate and agreed language from previous GGE sessions it tried to remove all the references to human control, ethics, and morality and it attempted to redirect the object of discussion to specific weapon systems rather than emerging technologies—even though the latter has been the framework of CCW discussions on autonomous weapons for years.

The U.S. similarly rejected references to a need for human control alongside these autonomous systems, and is also heavily investing in automated robotic technologies for the battlefield, including robotic swarms (Russia has plans to deploy those this year).

Vladimir Putin has a history of puffing his chest out when he talks about the Russian military, even when some of its efforts have quite literally crashed and burned.

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