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Transforming Warfare: The Rise of Unmanned (UGVs) and Autonomous Ground Combat Robots (AUVs)


Serving as the land counterparts to aerial and marine unmanned vehicles, UGVs are transforming military and civilian operations.

The landscape of modern warfare is undergoing a profound transformation with the integration of Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) or autonomous ground combat robots. As militaries worldwide embrace advanced technologies, these robotic systems are emerging as crucial assets on the battlefield.

In this article, we explore the deployment and impact of UGVs in the evolving theater of war. We will delve into the capabilities, applications, and the future trajectory of UGVs.


UGVs Capabilities and Applications:

An unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) is a vehicle that operates while in contact with the ground and without an onboard human presence. Unlike Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), UGVs operate on the ground, bringing a unique set of advantages to various applications. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can travel long distances, have an excellent vantage for seeing large areas, and have easier lines of sight for communications. In many ways, aerial vehicles are easier to build, deploy, and control. Some jobs, however, must be done from the ground. UGVs have the potential to carry heavyweight payloads, to look inside buildings and under tree canopies, to persist for days, and to operate in all weather conditions. They also occupy ground: in some cases, the physical and visible presence of an armed unit on the ground is itself important.

Predominantly these vehicles are used to replace humans in hazardous situations, such as handling explosives and in bomb disabling vehicles, where additional strength or smaller size is needed, or where humans cannot easily go. They are also used in industries such as agriculture, mining and construction.

Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) are robotic platforms designed to operate in challenging environments, ranging from urban landscapes to hostile terrains.

Based on its application, unmanned ground vehicles will generally include the following components: platform, sensors, control systems, guidance interface, communication links, and systems integration features. These autonomous systems are equipped with advanced sensors, artificial intelligence, and often, lethal weaponry. UGVs are changing the dynamics of ground combat by offering militaries enhanced reconnaissance, surveillance, and firepower capabilities while minimizing the risks to human soldiers.

Roles and Missions of UGVs:

The defense sector has witnessed a paradigm shift with the incorporation of semi-autonomous and autonomous UGVs. These machines are increasingly taking charge of hazardous tasks, minimizing the risk to human lives.

These vehicles are equipped to carry heavy payloads, navigate challenging terrains, and operate in adverse weather conditions. With the potential to persist for days and access locations where humans might face difficulties, UGVs play a vital role in scenarios such as explosive handling, reconnaissance, and surveillance.

Military applications include surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition, and logistics operations. UGVs contribute significantly to naval and marine operations, serving in combat roles, logistics support, and even peacekeeping missions. UGVs serve a diverse range of roles on the battlefield, contributing to both offensive and defensive operations. Some key missions include:

    • Reconnaissance and Surveillance: UGVs equipped with sensors and cameras provide real-time situational awareness, scouting areas and identifying potential threats without exposing human soldiers.
    • Logistics and Support: Autonomous ground robots are increasingly used for logistical operations, transporting supplies and equipment across challenging terrains, reducing the burden on human personnel.
    • EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal): UGVs play a vital role in mitigating the risks associated with explosive devices. They can approach and neutralize or dispose of hazardous materials, protecting human EOD teams.
    • Firepower and Combat Support: Armed UGVs contribute to offensive capabilities by providing precision firepower. These robots can engage targets, breach obstacles, and support infantry units during combat.

Advantages of UGV Deployment:

    • Reduced Risk to Human Soldiers: One of the primary advantages of UGVs is the ability to perform high-risk tasks without endangering human lives. This includes entering hazardous environments, engaging with enemy forces, and handling explosive materials.
    • Enhanced Precision: UGVs leverage advanced sensors and AI algorithms to execute tasks with a high degree of precision. This is particularly valuable in scenarios where accuracy is critical, such as targeted strikes or reconnaissance missions.
    • 24/7 Operations: Autonomous ground robots are not bound by human limitations, allowing for continuous operations in various conditions, including darkness and adverse weather.
    • Increased Endurance: UGVs can operate for extended periods without the need for rest, offering sustained support in prolonged missions.

Global Race for Combat Robots:

Countries like the United States, Russia, and China are actively investing in the research and development of combat robots, aiming to gain a military edge. Here’s a glimpse into the diverse arsenal of unmanned ground systems employed by leading military powers:

United States:

  • QinetiQ Inc. and Pratt Miller Defense Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light (RCV-L): This hybrid electric UGV serves as a reconnaissance and light combat platform, equipped with machine guns, grenade launchers, and advanced sensors.
  • MULE (Multi-purpose Logistics and Equipment Transport System): Designed for resupply and casualty evacuation, this robust robot traverses harsh terrains, carrying up to 3,000 pounds of cargo.
  • XQ-85 Valkyrie Drone: A high-speed, long-range aerial UGV capable of delivering supplies, conducting reconnaissance, and engaging in combat strikes.


  • Uran-9: This heavily armored combat UGV carries a 30mm cannon, anti-tank missiles, and grenade launchers, providing fire support and area denial capabilities.
  • Marker: A modular UGV adaptable for various tasks, including reconnaissance, mine detection, and explosive ordnance disposal.
  • Rynok: A compact robot specializing in reconnaissance, chemical and biological warfare detection, and communication relay.


  • Norinco Sharp Claw: This multi-mission UGV serves as a reconnaissance platform, equipped with advanced sensors and optional armaments like machine guns and grenade launchers.
  • VT4: A heavy combat UGV with a modular design, allowing for customization with weapons like anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers.
  • Camel Spider: A lightweight robot for urban warfare and close-quarters combat, equipped with cameras and manipulators for situational awareness and breaching obstacles.


Milrem Robotics, a leading European developer of robotics and autonomous systems, has unveiled its latest combat technology—a formidable Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) that combines the THeMIS platform with Leonardo’s HITROLE Light Remote Weapon Station (RWS). This collaborative effort significantly enhances force protection, expands operational range, and employs artificial intelligence for mission-critical tasks. The THeMIS Combat UGV, designed for direct fire support, acts as a force multiplier when equipped with the HITROLE Light RWS, armed with machine guns or grenade launchers and supported by AI functions for target acquisition and tracking. The partnership promises improved warfighting capabilities and troop safety. Milrem Robotics’ CEO, Kuldar Väärsi, underscores the importance of the collaboration with Leonardo, emphasizing the THeMIS’s versatility and the potential global impact on military capabilities and safety. The THeMIS UGV has gained widespread adoption, with various configurations deployed in 16 countries, including NATO members like Spain and Thailand. Milrem Robotics, headquartered in Estonia, has established itself as a major player in the global UGV market, attracting investments from notable entities like German armored vehicle manufacturer KMW and the UAE’s EDGE Group.

Military UGV Market Overview

The global military UGV market is valued at $476 million in 2022 and is expected to achieve a CAGR of more than 4% during 2022-2032. Demand for military UGVs is anticipated to be witnessed in the North American and European regions, especially in countries such as the US, Russia, France, Germany, and the UK.

Military UGV Market Drivers

Increasing adoption of UGVs in combat and non-combat operations to propel global demand is a major military UGV market driver. Advancements in modern technology have resulted in the evolution of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced navigation systems that help the development of smart robots capable of undertaking various military operations. The increasing use of UGVs in tactical operations such as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), ISR, and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) reconnaissance is driving countries to procure an increasing number of UGVs.

The rise in instances of regional conflicts in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East has also resulted in opportunities for the use of autonomous UGVs in military warfare. Due to the evolution of urban warfare, recent technological advancements have enabled militaries to utilize different-sized UGVs to support a variety of missions. The development of complex algorithms has helped the present generation of UGVs assist military operators to execute the mission parameters in order to maximize the outcome of potential future engagements

Military UGV Market Segments

The key segments in the military UGV market are Combat UGV, Logistics UGV, Explosives and Mine Disposal UGV, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) UGV. Combat UGV will lead the military UGV market in the coming years.

Combat UGV: The market for combat UGVs is primarily driven by the need for a vehicle capable of operating in high-risk environments such as terrain and hilly areas, as well as hiding in proximity during combat to provide direct combat support in low-mobility areas.

Explosives and Mine Disposal UGV: Asia-Pacific countries such as India, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia are procuring various types of explosives and mine disposal UGVs for their armed forces. India is currently planning to procure the mobile autonomous robotic system (MARS) and a future explosive and mine disposal UGV program from local vendors

Key companies include General Dynamics, Pratt Miller, Rostec Corp, QinetiQ, Teledyne Technologies, Torus Robotics Pvt. Ltd., Robotic Research, Ghost Robotics, BAE Systems, Safran SA, Hanwha Corp, and L3Harris Technologies Inc.

Future Trends in UGVs:

The future of UGVs in the operational environment revolves around key technologies such as mobility, navigation, tactical behaviors, health maintenance, and learning/adaptation. The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative highlights the importance of these technologies and envisions a landscape where UGVs become integral components of military operations.

Research Focus Areas:

To enhance the effectiveness of robotic ground systems, global research is concentrated on three major areas: mobility in complex terrain, communication in a contested electromagnetic spectrum, and the ability to collaborate with humans in real-time. These areas aim to address challenges and propel UGVs into a more autonomous and adaptive phase.

Recent Developments: Recent advancements include the U.S. Army’s Autonomous Platform Demonstrator (APD), a hybrid-electric robotic vehicle designed for high-speed maneuverability. China’s Pathbreaker UGV and Russia’s Marker combat drones, featuring voice-controlled AI, exemplify the continuous progress in autonomous technologies for military applications.

Challenges and Ethical Considerations:

    • Cybersecurity Risks: As UGVs rely on connectivity and advanced software, they are susceptible to cyber threats. Ensuring the cybersecurity of these systems is paramount to prevent potential disruptions or unauthorized control.
    • Autonomy and Decision-Making: The level of autonomy in UGVs raises ethical questions about the use of lethal force. Striking a balance between human oversight and autonomous decision-making is crucial to avoid unintended consequences.
    • Public Perception: The deployment of lethal autonomous weapons has sparked debates about ethical concerns and the potential for misuse. Addressing public perceptions and ensuring transparency in the use of UGVs is essential.


The deployment of Unmanned Ground Vehicles represents a paradigm shift in military operations, offering new capabilities and efficiencies. As technology continues to advance, UGVs will likely play an increasingly significant role in shaping the future of warfare.

As nations compete to deploy cutting-edge combat robots, the trajectory of UGVs points towards increased autonomy, seamless collaboration with human operators, and a transformative role in future military operations. The integration of artificial intelligence, advanced sensors, and mobility technologies ensures that UGVs will play a pivotal role in the defense forces of tomorrow.

However, with these advancements come ethical considerations that demand careful navigation to ensure the responsible and effective use of autonomous ground combat robots on the battlefield.





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