How Javelin-Armed Robots Could Render The Tank Obsolete

Military Tech

Pity the poor tank. As if armored fighting vehicles didn't have enough problems, from missiles and rockets to IEDs lurking in the dirt.


Now they are going to be hunted by anti-tank robots.

A prototype variant of the Titan unmanned ground vehicle, or UGV, mounts a Javelin anti-tank missile as well as a .50-caliber machine gun.

Estonian firm Milrem Robotics makes the Titan—a sort of jack-of-all-trades mechanical mule. It's a 1.6-ton, 8-foot-long tracked robot that stands four feet tall, travels at twelve miles per hour, and can haul about a ton of cargo. The Titan can be fitted with various modules for tasks such as IED clearance, casualty evacuation, and hauling cargo. The U.S. Army is now evaluating it to haul the equipment of an infantry squad.

Meanwhile, Norwegian defense firm Kongsberg makes the Protector remote weapons station, typically mounted on vehicles to enable the crew to fire external weapons, such as turret-mounted machine guns, while remaining inside the protection of the vehicle. The U.S. military already uses about 15,000 of Kongsberg's Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS) systems on vehicles such as the Humvee and Stryker.

So why not put a remote-controlled weapon mount on a remote-controlled robot? Hunting tanks isn't the safest of pastimes, so let a robot do it while the human operator stays safely out of the line of fire.

Milrem and Kongsberg recently conducted a live-fire demonstration near Kongsberg's Norwegian headquarters. “Further testing and demonstrations, including Javelin firing, are planned for the near future,” according to a Milrem press release.

“The UGV has previously passed live fire tests with FN Herstal’s deFNder Medium RWS, ST Kinetics ADDER, and ASELSAN’s SARP,” Milrem said. “An anti-tank system with MBDA’s IMPACT (Integrated MMP Precision Attack Combat Turret) system is also in development.”

Milrem emphasizes that the robot weapons will always have a human in the loop to authorize fire. “Equipping unmanned and robotic platforms with weapon systems enhances the safety of warfighters and keeps them from harm’s way,” said Milrem CEO Kuldar Väärsi in a company announcement. “These systems will always have a human operator controlling the weapon thus eliminating the concern about ‘killer robots.’”

2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division M1 Abrams fires during Live Fire Accuracy Screening Test (LFAST) prior to live-fire gunneryU.S. Army/ Maj. Carson Petry

But Väärsi’s assurance isn't likely to soothe those who fear that armed robots are a Pandora's box that will bite their makers, especially as advanced AI enables machines to function more and more autonomously. Israel and South Korea already have armed robots patrolling their borders, while Russia has tested its Uran-9—a mini-tank armed with a 30-millimeter cannon—in Syria. Even the United States is getting into the armed robot game as it develops kits that can transform a normal vehicle into an autonomous one. The U.S. Army already has an armed M113 armored personnel carrier as a remote-controlled test vehicle.

That the Milrem/Kongsberg tank-hunter has a missile launcher instead of a small cannon, like earlier robots, is just a matter of degree. What is interesting is the potential for swarms of small robot vehicles, armed with anti-tank weapons, to overwhelm a smaller number of manned tanks. There are still many hurdles before this becomes reality, such as situational awareness of the human operators, or what happens if the datalink between robot and operator goes down or is jammed (unless anti-tank robots become autonomous, which raises its own issues).

But in robot tank versus human-controlled tank, the laws of economics are on the side of the robots.

This article originally appeared on The National Interest

Read more from The National Interest

WATCH NEXT:

It's a photo for the ages: a Marine NCO, a Greek god in his dress blues, catches the eye of a lovely young woman as her boyfriend urges her on in distress. It's the photographic ancestor of the much-loved "distracted boyfriend" stock photo meme, made even sweeter by the fact that this is clearly a sailor about to lose his girl to a Devil Dog.

Well, this photo and the Marine in it, which hopscotched around Marine Corps Facebook and Instagram pages before skyrocketing to the front page of Reddit on Thursday, are very real.

The photo shows then-Staff Sgt. Louis A. Capozzoli — and he is absolutely not on his way to steal your girl.

Read More Show Less
Chris Osman (Photo: _chris_osman_designs/Instagram)

The former Navy SEAL among a group of eight men arrested earlier this week in Port-au-Prince on weapons charges says he was providing security work "for people who are directly connected to the current President" of Haiti.

"We were being used as pawns in a public fight between him and the current Prime Minister of Haiti," said Chris Osman, 44, in a post on Instagram Friday. "We were not released we were in fact rescued."

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland)

GREENBELT, Md. (Reuters) - A U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant accused of amassing a cache of weapons and plotting to attack Democratic politicians and journalists was ordered held for two weeks on Thursday while federal prosecutors consider charging him with more crimes.

Read More Show Less
Former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis (DoD photo)

A Richland, Washington city councilman thinks native son Jim Mattis would make a terrific governor or even president.

Read More Show Less
An undated image of Hoda Muthana provided by her attorney, Hassan Shibly. (Associated Press)

Attorneys for the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America have filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump asking the court to recognize the citizenship of an Alabama woman who left the U.S. to join ISIS and allow she and her young son to return to the United States.

Read More Show Less