Russia’s War Robots Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be

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In the future, robots might do most of the fighting on the battlefield, but war robots aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, for now. Military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) present the most striking image of the modern killing machine. But beneath the modern surface, they are slow, remote-controlled airplanes, with some fancy cameras and stabilisation software. Consider then, that these most advanced war machines are the product of the most technologically militaries in the world, those of the United States and its allies.

Russia has claimed that it has advanced fighting robots, and that it’s using them in Syria. State-owned media outlet Sputnik recently showcased LOBAEV Robotics’ RS1A3 Mini Rex, a robot that can fit in a backpack.

In the above video, the robot crawls over folds, crawls over rough terrain, and even shoots at some innocent mannequins. If Mini Rex can really reliably do everything shown in the video, then it’s a great machine for some very specific combat situations. What’s clear, however, is that it’s not an all-purpose, independent robot that will replace the soldier of today.

Sputnik frequently employs heavy handed hyperbole to beef up claims of Russian robotic successes in an attempt to bolster the reputation of the Russian army and weapons manufacturers. The truth of the matter is that these claims are vastly overblown. One recent example is a headline that read: “The Syrian Army Deploys Russian-Made Military Robots,” with the claim that these robots killed 70 people in battle. There has been to date no evidence produced to corroborate these events, but the state-funded news channel certainly makes a good attempt at boosting the standing of Russian arms makers.

One more thing Sputnik could do strengthen the claims is provide real combat footage that would serve as concrete proof. None have a bigger incentive to do so than the Russian establishment and arms manufacturers themselves. The fact that such evidence is not forthcoming is very telling to the obverse.

War robots will almost certainly be a feature of the future combat zone, but they’re not there yet. When they finally arrive, we’ll know, and the proof will come straight from the source. Until that happens, bold claims of robotic displays should be taken with a grain of salt.