Autonomous, remote-controlled, and robotic weapons are the future of military conflict, and they’re already having an impact on the lopsided, chaotic battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. This time, the Iraqi Army has rigged up a remote-control fighting vehicle, and it looks completely bad-ass.
The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Unit designed “Al Robot.” (The Robot) is a squat green vehicle that looks a bit like a weird cross between an ATV and the bottom of a Humvee. Except instead of a crew cabin, it just has an oblong body with a big-ass turret on top. And it’s packing some serious heat: the Robot is armed with a 12.7mm cannon (roughly equivalent to the U.S. Military’s .50 caliber BMG) on top and can launch Russian-made 70mm Katyusha rockets from tubes on the side of the turret, according to the Baghdad Post. The PMU says the Robot saw combat for the first time yesterday during an engagement near the Iraqi city of Mosul, although video of it in action (presumably in training) has been online for months.
According to the PMU, it has a thermal optic sight, which can help identify targets at night and through thick clouds of smoke, which are commonly used on Iraq’s battlefield when retreating soldiers light oil wells on fire. The Baghdad Post reported (Google Translated from Arabic) that the vehicle was “Invented [by] two brothers who live in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.” It can be controlled by remote operators from up to about 1100 yards (or a full kilometer) away, and requires a two man team of a driver and gunner. The Post reports that its weapons can engage targets up to 1.8 miles (or three kilometers) away.
The PMU also says it’s working to add a “stabilized gun turret,” which would let the Robot fire accurately while moving over rough terrain, like the uneven highways and urban rubble.
The idea of any uncrewed vehicle is to protect human soldiers from harm. A spokesperson for the PMU told Motherboard that “all soldiers have felt safer with the robot deployed alongside as it offers exceptional capabilities without endangering our troops lives.”
The spokesperson also told Motherboard a bit more about the Robot’s roles in combat. “The combat robot is used in three primary missions,” the spokesperson said, “Nighttime hunter missions, daytime combat missions and all-day support role for any troops requiring it. Hunter operations utilize the very high quality thermal optical camera on the robot to find ISIS targets at night. The target information can be given to either our designated sniper or relayed to Iraqi central command for Iraqi Air Force F16 strike or Mi-35 gunship strike with ATAKA guided missiles.”
You can see a bit more of the Robot in action in this Baghdad Post video from mid-August:
It’s far from the first remote-controlled combat system — Milrem has been working on a modular, tracked vehicle for years, which can perform a variety of functions as well as carry weapons systems. But few of these platforms have been deployed in combat — the Iraqi army is one of the first to use them in battle.
ISIS has also taken to using autonomous systems as well. The terrorist group used an armed suicide drone to kill several Kurdish peshmerga troops in early October. So while the Iraqi army’s deadly RC-car is one of the first systems on the battlefield, it certainly won’t be the last.