Uran-9. Image source: RosOboronExport.

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.

Discovering Uranus
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.

OAO Izhevskiy Radiozavod Wolf-2. Image source: "Russian Military" on Facebook.

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.

Alone or in pairs, Uran-9 comes loaded for bear. Image source: RosOboronExport.

Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 251 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

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