Modern warfare comes with a far more complex web of influences than many may recognize at first glance. Gone are the days of developing new weapons systems solely for the purpose of winning wars or securing a strategic advantage over potential opponents — in today’s global economy, it’s not enough to build the weapon, more often than not, you’ve got to sell it too. Much of American and Russian rhetoric regarding ballistic missile defense systems, for instance, can be seen as a form of marketing, with nations like Japan and China purchasing these platforms from each nation respectively.
This foreign market methodology is important: sharing the cost of the F-35s development among allies has helped to offset some of the massive expense associated with the program, but one could argue that foreign sales are an even larger imperative for America’s economically struggling competition in the Kremlin. With an understanding that Russia’s claims of combat performance in theaters like Syria are tied to more than just a sense of national pride, but are really an attempt to help fund weapons programs through outside channels, you can begin to appreciate the ways Moscow uses their massive propaganda and disinformation machines for things like pretending a poorly performing combat platform is actually capable and worthy of outside investment.
Enter the Uran-9 combat drone.
Back in May, Russia announced that their remote-controlled tank-buster had seen combat in Syria, working alongside their Uran-6 anti-mine vehicle and earning its place among other combat hardened platforms in Russia’s annual Victory Day parade. At the time, we here at SOFREP wondered aloud about what sort of combat this new platform had really seen, since Russia had chosen not to publicize what would likely have been a significant marketing victory for the Russian military industrial complex. We weren’t the only ones — Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses opined at the time:
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.’”
The semi-autonomous combat vehicle comes equipped with a 30 mm 2A72 autocannon as its primary weapon, along with 7.62 chambered PKTM machine gun, four anti-tank missiles and 6 thermobaric rocket launchers. Russia claims it can be controlled by an operator up to three kilometers away, and if you’re looking for their opinion, they’ll tell you that platforms like the Uran-9 represent the future of ground combat support.
Now, months later, the truth about the Uran-9’s combat deficiencies are beginning to come to light, thanks in large part to discussions at a Russian security conference called “Actual Problems of Protection and Security” held at the N.G. Kuznetsov Naval Academy in St. Petersburg recently. During the conference, A.P. Anisimov, a Senior Research Officer from the 3rd Central Research Institute of the Russian Defence Ministry, laid out a series of serious problems operators had to contend with when attempting to use the drone in Syria.
In short, Anisimov concluded that the Uran-9 is not currently capable of performing the tasks for which it was designed, most notable, participating in combat operations. Despite claims of a three-kilometer range, operators lost control of their vehicles at distances ranging from only 300-500 meters when functioning around low-rise buildings. During testing, operators lost complete control over their Uran-9 assets for a short duration (up to one minute) seventeen times, with two more instances of loss of control lasting as long as one and a half hours.
Those weren’t even all the problems the tank-drone ran into. The chassis of the platform itself proved to be riddled with issues, forcing in-field repairs of things like supporting and guiding rollers and suspension springs. The drive train also proved unreliable, its reconnaissance capabilities proved to be extremely exaggerated (it could identify targets no further than 2 kilometers away) and the mighty 30mm 2A72 automatic cannon failed to function properly on six different occasions. Anisimov went on to note that the targeting system for the gun relies on a visual feed provided by a camera that isn’t stabilized, making identifying, tracking and engaging targets extremely difficult at any distance.
Like many other Russian endeavors (like nuclear powered cruise missiles), the Uran-9 seems to have proven to be more about novelty than capability, but that doesn’t mean these tests are without value. In time (and with funding) a successor to the Uran-9 may one day be a battlefield force to be reckoned with.
For now however, stories of the Uran-9’s successes in combat are, like so many Russian statements regarding operations in Syria, more a matter of propaganda than anything else.
Watch a promotional video for the Uran-9 below:
Featured image: The new “Uran-9” robo-tank has already been deployed in Syria | Facebook/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation