This week, state-owned Russian defense firms have set the internet ablaze with claimed new technologies being rolled out within the nation’s struggling military-industrial complex. Despite the U.S. led sanctions stifling the Russian economy so thoroughly that they’ve chosen to defund or significantly limit endeavors commonly considered necessary to the Russian defense apparatus like the refit of their sole aircraft carrier, the construction of the T-14 Armata tanks or the development of the Su-57 fighter — Russia is still eager to present the image of a nation that’s at the forefront of military technology for the purposes of international sales. With that in mind, one Russian firm recently announced plans to unveil a new active camouflage system that they claim can adjust color and design to suit the soldier’s environment — though thus far no images or videos of this system functioning have been released. Likewise, another Russian creation is now making the rounds on the internet: the Kalashnikov bipedal combat “walker.”
The thirteen foot tall, desert tan robot bears a striking resemblance to the kind of tech often seen employed in science fiction movies — like a short AT-ST from Star Wars or a manned version of the Ed-209 in Robocop, continuing with Russia’s recent theme of announcing new technologies that seem aimed at making a splash in the arms market rather than actually being effective in combat. Russia’s autonomous combat robot, the Uran-9, was touted as a success in combat operations in Syria last year, for instance, despite the platform utterly failing to reliably conduct even simple operations in a field environment. This new robot, designed by the same folks that are responsible for the legendary AK-47, however, seems like it’s capable of even less. Based on the images and data available on the internet, it seems much more likely that this is an entirely non-functional mock-up of something Kalashnikov hopes to make work someday in the future.
Although most combat vehicles today rely on wheels or treads, there are potentially some advantages to a bipedal form of armored transportation — it could potentially traverse a wide variety of terrain that traditional vehicle couldn’t, including simply stepping over obstacles in its path. However, as one of the globe’s leading robot developers has demonstrated, designed a robot that can reliably function on two feet without taking enemy fire is no simple task in itself. Their Atlas robot may be among the most capable bipedal bots on the planet, and it’s taken years of specialized research and development to get it there.
The Russian robot is far larger and more top heavy, with clearly fewer moveable joints in the lower half of its body. This means the Russian bot will likely have to maintain extremely low speeds and its ability to correct its balance will be severely limited. This may not be too big an issue for a lumbering construction mech, but in a combat environment, where the robot would theoretically need to be able to absorb rounds from enemy fire, it seems very unlikely that this robot would be able to stay standing, let alone get out of its own way in the pursuit of cover.
The “controlled bipedal walker” won’t be demonstrated this year, though Kalashnikov claims it will be ready by this time next year. The cockpit appears to be clearly designed for a single occupant, though no details about the vehicle’s capabilities, including armor or carrying capacity have been unveiled. In effect, what Kalashnikov really released was a picture of an art installation that resembles the robots we grew up watching on TV… but nothing that promises to serve any actual combat role any time in the near future.
In fact, real giant robots have already started going to battle with one another in the private sector, and despite a great deal of hype leading up to the event, it turns out giant robots tend to be too slow and clumsy to even put on a good show when their fights are staged on level terrain designed specifically for robot combat.
You can watch American and Japanese robots duke it out for almost a half an hour in this video, in case you don’t believe giant robot battles can be underwhelming:
Ultimately, this “unveiling” is likely nothing more than PR stunt, but even if Kalashnikov manages to put their robot into production, it will almost certainly offer no strategic or tactical value to Russians in the fight. Of course, with their limited budget and focus on experimental missile technology — even if the robot could run circles around U.S. forces, it’s unlikely the funding could be found to place an order.