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Manned tanks are still best, says defence industry expert

Photo: Photo: Cpl Rebecca Brown / MoD Crown Copyright


The march of autonomy continues in the defence industry, with unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) in development for armed forces around the globe.

GlobalData’s Army Technology writer Harry Lye said tanks had dominated battlefields for the past hundred years since being introduced in World War One to devastating effect.

“Now, with autonomous vehicles seeing a flurry of development in the military arena, the tank as we know it may be on its way to become a thing of the past,” said Harry.

“The merits of these new UGVs are size, affordability and survivability, a cocktail that militaries across the world are keen to get hold of as they face threats from increasingly unconventional foes.

“Coming in different sizes and configurations, these vehicles fulfil different missions and different roles; they point to a future of augmenting ground forces with unmanned systems that is seemingly just across the horizon. But will they ever be able to replace the manned vehicles that came before them?”

Although a number of militaries and defence contractors are busy developing them, unmanned tanks won’t be on the cards anytime in the near future, according to Royal United Services Institute land warfare research analyst Nick Reynolds.

Reynolds told GlobalData: “I am sceptical about the future tank being unmanned any time soon. UGVs may be controlled remotely or they may be autonomous. If they are controlled remotely, they are reliant upon data links, which present a vector for attack – they may be hacked, or the signal may be disrupted. Alternatively, UGVs may be autonomous, but this presents its own problems – the technology must be mature enough for the vehicle to be useful.

“Humans are still far better than their robotic counterparts at performing even the most basic functions, such as navigating around obstacles, determining suitable off-road routes through rough terrain, and interpreting the surrounding environment. Most UGVs intended for combat roles are still quite a way off from being practical.”


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