2009/01/31

Unmanned ground vehicles - history and smoke

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Unmanned ground vehicles are in fashion. Thousands are in use in Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly as short-range scouts to inspect possible bomb sites - a task very similar to the one of police robots since many years.

A lot of buzz was surrounding the Guardium UGV at Eurosatory because it was a somewhat autonomous, potentially armed UGV - as in general attention is guaranteed once "weapon" and "robot" are combined.
I miss a much less known and certainly obvious application for battlefield robots, an application that is relevant in conventional warfare; smoke laying.
It's been a miracle to me why such vehicles are apparently not remote-controlled - I considered it as an obvious choice for remote control since the day when I learned about these smoke-laying vehicles that are apparently in use in the USA (M56 Coyote, M58A3 Wolf and M1059A3 Lynx) and Russia.
The U.S. systems might actually be remote-controllable; I just never found any source that confirms the suspicion.

Either you lay smoke by indirect fires or (certainly logistically more efficient) you do so with such vehicles. Other methods obscure merely point targets, not areas. It's obvious that such vehicles could lay the smoke farther forward if they're unmanned. It's a Himmelfahrtskommando, a suicide mission anyway.

By the way; the first UGVs in combat were apparently Russian teletanks in 1939 or 1940 (edit: wrong, the Japanese had the lead), followed by unmanned German demolition midget tanks (ironically named Goliath), based on a French prototype.
Remote control by radio was used to convert aircraft into target drones for a Royal Navy exercise around 1930 (the Royal Navy embarrassed itself with the lack of effect of its anti-air firepower).

Just to make sure everyone gets it: The armed, unmanned and remote-controlled by radio tanks/ground vehicles are at least a 69 year-old technology. The current buzz about the modern examples is extremely ridiculous.

Almost nothing is truly new, many innovations in the art of war and the tools of war are decades old when they still get great press as novelty.
Get yourself a Jane's Weapon Systems issue from the 70's; you'll find the predecessors and first projects of much of what's today "brand new", "revolutionary" and "innovative" in it.

It would be quite embarrassing if dedicated smoke-laying vehicles (if in use at all) were not set up for remote-controlled use, about eighty after the first application of remote control by radio. They deserve priority over fancy armed robots.

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