Russia has been providing Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime with direct military support throughout the past seven years of the nation’s ongoing civil war, which has provided Russia with a testing ground to feature some of their more advanced weapons systems and platforms. Everything from Russia’s latest cruise missile, the Kalibr, to their oft-touted but rarely flown fifth generation competitor, the Su-57, has seen some time in the conflict — though it’s not always clear if Russia is looking for an opportunity to test their new gear, or if they’re just playing the media game, drawing headlines toward platforms they’re looking to drum up interest for in the export market.
Russia’s foreign efforts, however, are perhaps more widely recognized for their perception management endeavors, rather than military ones, and Syria has been no exception. With a history of misrepresenting actual military engagements and even claiming fabricated ones throughout Syria’s ongoing operations against rebels and Islamic extremists alike, it can be difficult to take anything Russia says about Syria at face value. Perhaps that’s why many defense experts are hesitant to believe Russia’s latest claims about the success of their Uran-9 in Syrian operations. The autonomous ground combat vehicle is effectively a heavily armed, ground based drone that it intended to supplement Russian ground troops in contested regions.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Uran-9 earned its place in Russia’s recent Victory Day Parade thanks to operations conducted in Syria alongside another autonomous ground vehicle, the Uran-6, which specializes in anti-mine operations. Deputy Minister of Defense Yuriy Borisov told Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti,
The defense ministry announced that the robotic Uran-6 complexes designed for mine clearance were well-proven in Syria, as well as Uran-9 multifunctional reconnaissance and fire support system.”
The problem with these claims, however, is that observers and media outlets alike have heard nothing about the deployment of Uran-9 vehicles in combat anywhere in Syria — despite the Uran-6 being mentioned and even shown on numerous occasions. Indeed, like the appearance of SU-57s in Syria drew headlines earlier this year, the first combat operations of Russia’s terminator-type combat robots would certainly have garnered some attention — especially because Russia has sought publicity for their Uran-9 project for the sake of export sales. Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses explained,
In reality, Uran-9 tests in Syria should have garnered major attention from all major Russian news outlets, given how proud Russian are of their remote-controlled tank … Still, such tests may have taken place in secret – the way Russians supposedly tested Soratnik UGV in ‘near-combat conditions.’”
It is possible that Russia managed to successfully sneak the heavily armed drone into Syria for testing, despite it being out of character for the nation to fail to film it or even take any pictures of the platform in use. Some officials did claim to release a blurry image of the Uran-9 in combat in Syria, but that image is widely believed to actually show a modified Soviet era T-55 MBT belonging to the Syrian army.
The Uran-9, first announced in 2015, comes equipped with a 30 mm 2A72 autocannon as it’s primary weapon, along with 7.62 chambered PKTM machine gun, four anti-tank missiles and 6 thermobaric rocket launchers. Controlled by an operator as far away as a claimed 3 kilometers, the Uran-9 is expected to begin bolstering Russian ground troops by getting right into the thick of the heaviest fighting, and thanks to its relative size and firepower, it should be able to take on larger, well protected vehicles.
Again, with such an impressive list of capabilities claimed by the Russian military, it’s surprising that there’s no evidence to support the claims being made by Russian officials about its performance. In an objective vacuum, this could sound like an a conspiracy of coincidences (no media noticed the platform reaching Syria, no one within the Russian military thought to capture images or footage of its use, and so forth), but through the scope of recent history, claims of the Uran-9’s effectiveness in combat now being “well proven” are a bit difficult to entertain.
Nonetheless, it would appear that although Russia’s aerial drone programs are well behind their international competitors, they may have their sights set on entering the drone arena in a very real, and rather grounded fashion in the coming years.
You can see the Uran-9 in action in the video below:
Image courtesy of YouTube