Flying tanks: Russia’s robotic Armata system to have own scout drone

A T-14 tank with the Armata Universal Combat Platform at the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War. File photo. © Anton Denisov
The company that unveiled the Russian Armata supertank at last year’s Victory Parade in Moscow plans to turn it into a fully robotized “machine of the future.” What is more, Armata will employ a Russian-built unmanned aerial vehicle to gain a tactical edge.

“Unmanned Armata is the machine of the future, we have no doubts about it. Both we and the military are sure,” Oleg Sienko, director of Uralvagonzavod, leading Russia’s tank manufacturer, told RIA Novosti news agency in an interview Monday.

It will be not the first time the Russian defense company has tried its hand in the construction of unmanned armored vehicles. Back in 2013 it presented a cutting-edge firefighting truck which can be operated by remote control due to the cameras mounted around it. The truck can be essential in carrying out operations in highly dangerous environments with a huge risk of explosion, for example, at military bases filled with ammo.

“We are moving forward, we already have experience with designing a robotized firefighting vehicle on the basis of the T-72 tank…Generally speaking, even those vehicles shown on Red Square can be turned into unmanned vehicles or robots,” Sienko added, referring to the Armata’s impressive debut at the last year’s Victory Parade.

The innovative vehicle, which is the first Russian tank designed entirely in post-Soviet Russia, boasts an unmanned turret fitted with a 125mm smoothbore cannon.

Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) now intends to install a drone onto the heavy vehicle Armata-15 as part of the company’s strategy aimed at “moving away from crewed vehicles.”

“It is a necessary element at a tactical level. It is very hard to move forward in the column ‘without eyes,’ that’s why the UAV is provided there and we will be actively introducing it,” Sienko said.

It is not yet known which UAV will be used to fit into the vehicle, but it will certainly be one made in Russia, Sienko said, adding that it is for the Russian Defense Ministry to decide which device to choose as it runs the trials.

“We will install whichever one [the ministry] tells us to. But there will be one for sure,” he said.

Armata is not just a new model of tank, but rather a common platform that can be used for building various military vehicles, such as missile launchers, armored personal carriers and more than 20 other types, Sienko said.

“We have a military vehicle development concept based on the Armata platform. It consists of 28 units of prospective types of weaponry. They must be integrated into the same platform, be it anti-missile defense or heavy armored vehicles,” he said.

This transformer-like concept with a common base has other benefits, including easier maintenance.

“Then we will have the common repair kit, common spare parts so we can rapidly change any joints and components.”

Last month it was announced that the first batch of 20 Armata tanks were undergoing trials and are expected to be sent to the Russian armed forces in 2016 or 2017.

Sienko said that safety remains the main priority in the development of the cutting-edge tank. Although the basic engine power is estimated at 1,500 horsepower, the tank is yet being tested with an engine delivering 1,350 hp.

“Upgrading the engine is planned for the future, but we believe that the more you force the engine, the fewer are its resources,” he added.

The current engine’s power enables the tank’s operator to drive at speeds of up to 80 km/h, which already exceeds the stated speed, according to Sienko. This puts Armata in line with Russia’s legacy of extremely maneuverable “flying” tanks.

The Armata tank is currently armed with a 125mm cannon, which can be upgraded with an even more powerful 152mm cannon. According to the company’s deputy director, Vyacheslav Khalitov, the bigger cannon can “just blow a turret away.”

“The 152mm caliber is pretty effective and doesn’t require special ammo to deal with armor. A 152mm shell’s kinetic energy is high enough to just blow a turret away. So this is a promising direction and we are considering it,” Khalitov said last month.

Sienko confirmed that an order for a total of 2,300 tanks had been already placed by the Defense Ministry and approved by President Vladimir Putin. Uralvagonzavod announced its plans to create a remote-controlled tank in 2015 after its success with the Armata-14. China, India and some potential buyers from the Arab have shown interest in buying the tanks.