Iran's Proxies Have Killer Ground Robots

By Jassem Al Salami

A new propaganda video from an Iraqi Shi’ite militia depicts ground combat robots in Iraq.

Yep, Iran’s proxies have killer ground robots.

The video, dated March 23, shows two remotely-operated ground vehicles moving and firing their weapons. One has a 7.62-millimeter PKM machine gun, and the other packs a heavier 12.7 x 108-millimeter DShK machine gun.

It’s not hard to spot who’s responsible. Prominent flags with the symbol of Saraya Al Salam — or the Peace Brigades — fly from each robot. The group is a Shi’ite militia with close ties to Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al Sadr.

During the brief video, an operator moves and remotely fires the robots’ weapons by way of a tablet computer. The PKM-armed robot also has an extendable arm, which appears to probe into the ground — presumably demonstrating its ability to inspect improvised explosives.

The U.S. has developed various ground combat robots over the years, and even briefly deployed them to Iraq. But Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias might have fewer reservations about using them.

The vehicles are somewhat crude. They appear to use commercial security cameras with LED flashlights — instead of military-grade optics that can overcome haze, recognize targets and acquire data for precise engagements.

Compared to aerial drones, UGVs have limited range, endurance and a narrow field-of-view. Their machine guns also pack a relatively light punch.

But they’re still useful. UGVs can scout narrow alleyways in cities, enter houses to attack snipers and inspect for booby-traps. They can cover checkpoints or act as mobile watch dogs. They can perform critical tasks without needing immense supplies.

Enemy fire can knock them out, but there’s a huge psychological advantage to using a remotely-operated machine that isn’t afraid of getting blown up.

There’s an obvious reason why the militia wants GCVs. The battle of Tikrit is inflicting a heavy toll on the Shi’ite fighters. The militants don’t disclose their casualties, but they’ve apparently suffered a heavy enough toll to halt their offensive into the Islamic State-held city.

Not counting the weapons, the three most important parts of an UGV are its optics, wheels and armor. This makes the difference between whether the robot can resist enemy fire, whether the operator can navigate through obstacles and terrain — and identify enemies on the battlefield.

Saraya Al Salam’s robots are considerably lacking in all three categories. One drone has an elevated TV camera, and the other doesn’t exhibit any sensor turret at all. And they’re both pretty small and have ordinary tracks.

But they’re still an example of the Shi’ite militias’ increasing capabilities.

This piece first appeared in War Is Boring here

Jassem Al Salami
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