Able to spot enemies beyond line-of-sight, haul supplies, and with a little help from iRobot, to disarm improvised explosive devices, for years, robots have been a boon to soldiers on the battlefield. This year, they may become more of a nightmare.
In 2016, Russia's state-owned weapons dealer, RosOboronExport (literally, "Russia Defense Export") will begin producing and selling a new weapons system to client states around the world. The weapon in question, though, dubbed the Uran-9, isn't a tool to save soldiers' lives -- but to take them.
Uran-9 you see, is a tank. A robot tank.
Uran means "Uranus" in Russian, and also "uranium" -- either way, a curious name for a tank. But Uran-9 is no ordinary tank. Smaller than a full-size battlewagon, but larger than the Izhevskiy Radiozavod mobile robot system MRK-002-BG-57 "Wolf-2" that we told you about last year, Uran-9 is operated by remote control, and thus does not need to be as large as a "real" tank -- because it carries no crew. What it does carry is a lethal weapons load:
- Coaxial 7.62mm machine guns
- 30mm automatic cannon
- "Ataka" anti-tank missiles
While no price has been announced for the weapon, Uran-9 is likely to be very cheap indeed -- much cheaper than a main battle tank. Judging from photos of the weapon, Uran-9 weighs only a few tons at most. It's clearly larger than iRobot's PackBot, for example, and Izhevskiy's Wolf-2, as well -- which has been said to weigh 1.1 tons.
But it's much smaller than Russia's new 48-ton T-14 Armata tank:
Paid by the pound, that suggests that Uran-9 will cost somewhere between the $150,000 sticker price on an iRobot PackBot and the $4 million to $5 million that Russian media report for the Armata's cost. Ballpark guess? I'd guess Uran-9 will retail for under $1 million.
That's a small sticker price on a very powerful small robot tank, and less than the American military pays for an MRAP, with less offensive capability. In addition to the small price tag, RosOboronExport touts the Uran-9's small size as a selling point.
Smaller size means a smaller silhouette, after all, and that makes Uran-9 harder to hit. Plus, Uran-9 is designed from the ground up for use in "local military and counter-terror operations, including those in cities." As RosOboronExport representative Boris Simakin explains: "This is a fast-growing segment of the arms market, so RosOboronExport will develop and implement a long-term marketing strategy for promoting such pieces of hardware, including as part of integrated security projects."
What it means for investors
It's also a description tailor-made to appeal to buyers in countries like Syria and Iraq, where urban warfare has become a fact of daily life, and to other potential buyers engaged in (or seeking to engage in) combat in densely packed urban environments.
As such, Uran-9 is likely to compete for sales against established U.S. weapons exporters such as General Dynamics (NYSE:GD), which seems particularly at risk. General Dynamics has had a hard time finding a market for its powerful, but pricey, Abrams main battle tanks in the past. Demand is so slack, closing down its Lima, Ohio, Abrams plant is a possibility reviewed almost annually.
While the lightly armored Uran-9 might not be a match for General Dynamics' Abrams on the battlefield, in the war for global arms sales, Uran-9's low cost could make this weapon a winner.