Four Marker unmanned combat ground vehicles have arrived in Donbass and specialists have started testing algorithms of conducting warfare within a group of combat robots. The head of the group of military advisers announced on January 15 that Marker combat robots would be tested in the zone of the special military operation in Ukraine. By working with Marker, Russia has been able to explore how combat formations designed from the start to incorporate autonomous robots might work, and if those formations can augment existing forces. The Russian Ministry of Defense is pursuing swarm and group development for its aerial, ground and maritime robotics systems.
Better communications, scouting, and control tools, tested on the Marker, could let robots work in formation with crewed human vehicles, and this is a direction Russia has clearly indicated it wants to take its military robot design. Integrating uncrewed ground vehicles in a common operating environment with crewed weapons and systems is high on the Russian Ministry of Defense’s agenda. The country’s Ministry of Defense has announced plans to test its existing Uran-9 combat robot, its Kungas family of combat and scout robots, and the in-development Soratnik and Shturm robot tanks.
The Marker platform was engineered under a joint project of the National Center for the Development of Technologies and Basic Robotic Elements within the Advanced Research Fund and the Android Technics Research and Production Association (Russia’s U.S. DARPA analog). Marker is built to be modular, with open information architecture. One configuration for the testbed arms it with a Kalashnikov-produced machine gun and a part of anti-tank grenade launchers. The Marker combat module can swivel 540 degrees in just one second. Various anti-tank guided missile systems, grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, and other weaponry can be installed on the module.
The Marker has been a showcase vehicle in demonstrations since at least 2019. In that 2019 demonstration, the Marker’s turret followed the movements of an infantry spotter’s rifle scope, suggesting a human could aim the vehicle’s weapon remotely. The Marker, and presumably the unmanned combat ground vehicles that will be based on it, can also be guided remotely, which makes the human spotter a bonus and not a limitation. Russian forces have tested robots and fought against drones in Syria, and so the Marker-and-swarm combo might be another instance of battlefield inspiration leading to state-sponsored imitations.