Is Russia on the Doorstep of the Seventh Military Revolution?
Army General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, presented his reflections on future conflicts, on March 24. Notably, he argued that “the enemy’s economy and command-and-control system (C2) will be priority targets [for potential Russian attacks].” And aside from traditional warfighting domains, Russian forces will increasingly operate in the information sphere and outer space (Tvzvezda.ru, RIA Novosti, March 24; see EDM, April 3).
Gerasimov outlined five practical steps Russia needs to take to be ready for future wars (TASS, March 24):
- Develop an inter-service automated reconnaissance system. This should profoundly reduce the time cycle for completing fire missions (by 2–2.5 times) and increase the accuracy of targeting (by 1.5–2 times).
- Improve the C2 structures. This can be achieved through the creation of special informational support sub-units and reliance on advanced computer systems. Such developments would allow Russian forces to decrease the time (by 1.5 times) required for combat readiness of long-range precision weapons. For this purpose, the Russian side is developing modern, integrated C2 in a single information space.
- More broadly employ unmanned autonomous systems (UAS). This should include models based on “new physical principles” (beam, geophysical, genetic, psychophysical and other technology—see EDM, November 29, 2016). According to Gerasimov, these are already being integrated into the Russian Armed Forces). The development of multi-function UAS’s will enable the Russian side to carry out both reconnaissance (such as, for example, in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine) and strike missions.
- Develop additional means of Electronic Warfare (EW) as well as further elaborate anti-EW mechanisms. This is being dictated by the extremely rapid pace of development of the branch. Russian troops are reportedly being equipped with the most up-to-date EW systems, including aerospace assets, navigation systems and digital radio communications (see EDM, July 19, 2017; September 8, 2017; November 7, 2017; December 5, 2017).
- Prioritize precision weapons. Notably, hypersonic weapons (hailed by Russian military strategists) will purportedly allow Russia to shift the vast bulk of its strategic military deterrence from nuclear to conventional means (see EDM, October 14, 2016; March 8, 2018).
This speech by Gerasimov shines a new light on earlier remarks given by Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, in which he stated that “very soon, the Russian Military Industrial Complex could launch production of military robots on a large scale,” implying that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could soon partially assume responsibilities performed by human soldiers. Addressing progress in the domain of robotics and AI, Shoigu specifically emphasized the sizable quantitative increase in the number of UAS’s at the disposal of the Russian army, which “has grown from merely 160 to, presently, 1,800 pieces” (TASS, March 15). Shoigu also noted that the Syrian experience has had a particularly decisive role on the development of Russian UAS’s.
Robots and other autonomous assets have been especially useful within the so-called Engineer Troops (ET), where a vast bulk of works concerned with de-installation of mine fields has been carried out with the help of these devices. According to Russian sources, in 2017, the ET received 18 brand new and most up-to-date pieces, which had been thoroughly tested in Syria (TASS, January 21). It is worth mentioning that, in a January 2018 interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia, the head of the Engineer Troops, Lieutenant General Yuri Stavitsky, argued that robotization of the ET is one of the main strategic priorities for modernization of the Russian Army. He also emphasized that, so far, 19 units of this type have been created (Izvestia, January 19).
According to Stavitsky, the following UAS models have proven their high level of effectiveness during Russia’s Syria campaign (Izvestia, January 19):
- “Uran-6” (a multi-functional, mine-clearing robotic system): capable of performing tasks dealing with mine-reconnaissance and area-clearance operations by detecting and removing various explosive objects (including anti-personnel/tank mines). It is equipped with four video cameras, placed atop the robot with the possibility of a 360-degree field of view. The Uran-6 is capable of overcoming 1.2-meter-tall hindrances at a maximum speed of 5 kilometers per hour; and it allows the operator to execute operations from a distance of up to a kilometer away, thus dramatically decreasing potential risks to human soldiers.
- “Skarabei”: particularly effective in areas that cannot be easily accessed, including underground tunnels and wells. Merely 15 centimeters high, the robot can transmit images from a distance of more than 250 meters (which is the lower limit), and is capable of operating in difficult terrain, including ruins. Moreover, it operates virtually without any noise, which significantly increases its value under conditions of urban fighting.
- “Sfera” (wireless exploration device): scans the area, determining sources of noise/motion. Equipped with four cameras, a built-in monitor and a microphone, it transmits video within a range of 50 meters. The device can withstand a drop from a height of 5 meters and is capable of operating in temperatures that vary from -20 to +45 degrees Celsius.
The principle of “asymmetricity” (see EDM, September 26, 2017), which has captured the minds of Russian military strategists, especially after Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, looks to be expanding. Aside from previously indicated elements, current Russian strategy is now being supplemented by a growing reliance on the integrated use of AI and EW as a perceived “remedy” for improving Russia’s C2 capabilities (see EDM, December 5, 2017).
In their writing, military scholars MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray, of the United States, argue that the Seventh Military Revolution will be based on a combination of AI and unmanned systems. Thus, future wars will be fought with the use of autonomous weapons, swarms of robotic vehicles, self-organizing defensive systems, automated weapons, big data analytics, as well as machine- and deep-learning programs (MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray, eds., The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300–2050, 2001 as cited in Ssi.armywarcollege.edu, winter 2017)
But analysis of Russian literature on the subject (Cyberleninka.ru, accessed April 5) allows one to pinpoint an existing dichotomy between Western researchers’ over-theorized reading of the phenomenon (the Autonomous Revolution) and Russian (primarily, practice-oriented) efforts. Existing data suggests that the Western-coined Seventh Military Revolution concept is yet to be fully applicable to Russia. Actual Russian technological capabilities (with the exception of some notable achievements, which are yet to prove their effectiveness on a larger scale) should, therefore, be placed somewhere between what Western authors construe as the Information Revolution and the more intensive Autonomous Revolution.
Sergey Sukhankin is a historian from Kaliningrad and Associate Expert at the International Centre for Policy Studies (Kyiv). His area of scientific interest primarily concerns Kaliningrad and the Baltic Sea region.
This article appeared originally at The Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor.