Best known for their family of robust automatic firearms, it would appear as if Kalashnikov is testing its footing on new ground in an effort to address Moscow’s war aims in the 21st Century. According to Popular Mechanics, “the BAS-01G Soratnik (loosely, “Comrade -in-arms”) is something of a departure: the company’s first venture into combat robots. Soratnik is a 7-ton robot tank developed in response to a request from the Russian Ministry of Defense for a vehicle to support infantry in action. It has a road speed of 25 mph and can be operated remotely at a range of up to six miles. More importantly, it can also operate independently with varying degrees of autonomy. The Russians do not necessarily share U.S. concerns about keeping a human in the loop when lethal force is involved, and seem willing to give their killer robots a freer rein.
The Soratnik’s standard armament is, of course, a 7.62mm Kalashnikov PKTM machine gun, but it can also be fitter with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun, grenade launchers, or, for anti-tank missions, eight Kornet guided missiles with a range of three miles. It also bristles with various day and night sensors and secure communications gear.
Soratnik also explore the new trend of having robots operate in groups. According to Kalashnikov, it can go into action with two small Zala drones, made by one of the company subsidiaries, which would spot targets for the Soratnik to engage.
According to the company, they have customers lined up inside the Russian military and abroad. It will face plenty of competition. The similar URAN-9 combat robot is set to enter service this year, and in addition to various Russian machines seen previously, the Army 2016 show also saw the launch of the Vikhr (or “Whirlwind”), an unmanned version of the BMP-3 personnel carrier.
Kalashnikov still seems to be popular with the Russian elite. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented the company with a prize at the show for “achievements in the development of weapons, military and special equipment.” Perhaps their success will continue, and one day the name Kalashnikov will be associated with robots rather than assault rifles.”