Israel unveils new modular unmanned combat vehicle

The IAI RoBattle UGCV. Image courtesy of IAI.
The IAI RoBattle UGCV. Image courtesy of IAI.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has this week shown off a new unmanned ground combat vehicle (UGCV) to the public for the first time.

The new vehicle, called the RoBattle, was presented at the Eurosatory 2016 international air land defense and security exhibition in Paris.

Unlike existing UGCVs on the market, the RoBattle is designed for a number of mission types including reconnaissance, surveillance, fire support and convoy protection.

In order to achieve this, the RoBattle is built around a modular design, where components can be easily swapped out in order to change functionality.

These payloads include manipulator arms, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensors and radars, and remotely controlled weapons.

“With the modular ‘robotic kit’ methodology, designed to meet specific customer requirements, RoBattle is one of the most advanced combat, maneuvering, ground robotics in the market.” said Meir Shabtai, IAI’s deputy general manager of ground robotics systems.

Beyond its modular layout, the RoBattle, which is the size of a small car, features a novel system for overcoming obstacles. Each of the axles of its 6 wheels is free to rise and fall, enabling movement patterns which allow large vertical rises to be climbed.

Killer robot debate set to intensify

While the RoBattle the system is built to allow for a number of different levels of autonomy, there has been no information released by IAI on whether this extends to autonomy on the use of lethal force.

Currently there is significant debate in military and political circles about the use of autonomous weapons systems in battle. Among the most prominent examples of this is the so-called ‘Stop Killer Robots’ campaign lead by Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and others.

The development of UGCVs like the RoBattle makes the eventual deployment of such systems more and more likely, as land vehicles do not require the same level of human input as a drone aircraft, and a gun turret does not have the same level of collateral damage as an air-to-ground missile.

While there has as-yet been no confirmed buyers for the system, converting this platform to an autonomous fire mode would be a trivial task for most militaries. Nonetheless, whichever nation is the first to implement such tech could face significant political backlash.