Russia turns to drones and robots as army shrinks

Scan Eagle drone sits on the deck of the USS Ponce, on December 6, 2013 in Manama, Bahrain.

A Scan Eagle drone in Manama, Bahrain. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Russia’s military is only at 82 percent of its proper establishment strength and is likely to shrink even more than planned in coming years, thanks to demographic shifts and the continued failure to make it an appealing career choice. If deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin gets his way, part of this shortfall will be made up for by a major shift towards the introduction of drones and robotic weapon systems.

In an address to the Russian Duma, Rogozin — whose portfolio includes the defense industries — cited robotic weaponry, drones and advanced automated combat management systems as priorities for the new state arms procurement program to cover 2016-25.

As well as a general rationalization of systems, with fewer but modular and versatile vehicles and pieces of equipment, produced in larger and more cost-efficient runs, Rogozin wants to see a rapid expansion of Russia’s use of military drones on land, at sea and in the air.

In the Chechen war, Pchela-1T and Stroi-P drones helped vector helicopters and artillery fire at rebels. However, Russia has lagged behind the United States and even countries such as Israel and Italy in developing and deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Russia’s drones certainly proved relatively ineffective in the 2008 Georgian War. Only in 2012 did the Defense Ministry form a division to manage drone research and development.

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