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Why Russia’s Flamethrowers and Robot Drone Tanks Aren’t That New (Or Impressive)

On April 18, Moscow announced that it would feature its Uran-9 robot-tanks in its military parade celebrating the seventy-third anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The compact Uran-9 bristles with a 30mm cannon and anti-tank missiles—and it is of course, unmanned. The defense ministry also periodically insists that it will develop an unmanned version of its new T-14 Armata main battle tank.

Curiously, Moscow has been developing robot-tanks for nearly ninety years. The Soviet Union’s first tanks were French FT-17 light tanks captured from White Russian forces. In 1929, an FT-17 was rigged with a simple MOST-1 radio system, allowing it to follow three simple commands—stop, turn left or turn right—while crawling forward at 2.5 miles per hour. Soviet technicians tried do one better by installing a more sophisticated command system on seven T-18 tanks, a domestically built version of the FT-17 with a new turret.

Being able to move the tank into danger without exposing the crew was promising. But the command crew, observing from up to a mile away, could have a difficult time gauging the terrain the robot tank was driving through.

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