The Ukrainian military hopes it can keep more of its soldiers alive when its new unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) hits the battlefield.
This is the Phantom. It’s designed to help minimize the number of soldiers required to fight against the heavily-armed rebels backed by Russia in the Dombass region, where a nearly three-year civil war has claimed the lives of more than 3,100 Ukrainian troops.
One of the key features of the Phantom is its anti-tank missile system, called Barrier, and its 12.7 mm caliber machine gun. The machine gun and Barrier are capable of engaging light and heavily-armored targets from 100 to 5,000 meters, according to Ukroboronprom, the Ukrainian company that makes the Phantom.
Besides its offensive power, the Phantom can drive on sand, thanks to its hybrid all-wheel drive engine, hydraulic brake system and independent suspension. And if you’re thinking about the Phantom being hacked somehow, it is fitted with a secure radio channel.
I reached out to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense for comment, but I was told the UGV’s battlefield performance is classified.
The Phantom was revealed to an international audience at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi (UAE) this weekend. The UGV was first introduced in Kyiv in October of last year.
Per Ukroboronprom, here are some more of its specs:
Depending on configuration, “Phantom” can provide covering fire for ground forces, conduct reconnaissance, checkpoints and border control; can transport ammunition, retrieve wounded from the battlefield, serve as the power source, and participate in de-mining operations. In addition, “Phantom” can be used together with unmanned aircraft complexes.
The Phantom should be a critical partner to Ukrainian troops, as many of them have had to battle Russian tanks that rebel leaders admit were critical in winning key battles at the beginning of the war. Though Russia has long denied its troops are in Ukraine, rebel leaders have admitted that their hold on the areas it controls depend on Russian military support.
Here is one account of how vital Russian tank regiments have been for the rebels, per the Telegraph in March of 2015:
The Kremlin denies sending men and military vehicles to fight in Ukraine, but Dmitry Sapozhnikov told the BBC that regular army units sent from Russia and commanded by Russian officers were key in seizing the strategic town of Debaltseve in February.
Mr Sapozhnikov, a Russian from St Petersburg who is now on leave in his home town, went to fight in Ukraine in October and led a detachment of volunteer “special forces” fighters under rebel control.
But “all operations, especially large-scale ones, are led by Russian officers, by Russian generals,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “They develop plans together with our commanders ... and then we fulfil the orders.”
More than 6,000 people have died in Ukraine conflict in the last year.
Mr Sapozhnikov, who earlier took part in the battle for control of Donetsk airport, said that he and comrades had been surrounded by Ukrainian troops in February near Lohvynove, on the road to Debaltseve, a fiercely fought-over railway hub.
In the end the volunteer fighters broke through, “because over three to five days, our tanks came to help us”, he said. “It was the Russian Army, Buryats [a Siberian people]. Thanks to them, thanks to that heavy weaponry, we took Debaltseve.”
In comparison, Ukraine has no major power helping its armed forces. Former President Barack Obama refused to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons, despite pleas from Kyiv and even both chambers of Congress. And because Ukraine is not a member of NATO, it can’t get alliance support either.
Basically, Ukraine is alone to fight one of the most powerful militaries in the world. It remains to be seen how much the Phantom can help fend off rebels with Russian tank regiments supporting them, but this UGV should at least keep fewer Ukrainian troops out of their lines of fire.