Moscow Develops Next-Generation Combat Infantry System
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor
By: Roger McDermott
The Jamestown Foundation
Moscow plans to develop and introduce next-generation infantry combat systems (ICS) to further advance this high-technology feature of the modern and future Russian soldier. The current Ratnik (“Warrior”) ICS will be replaced, by 2025, with the new Sotnik (“Centurion”) modernized version, marking a further advance for the Russian military toward futuristic network-enabled warfare capabilities (Bg.rbth.com, June 18). The Ministry of Defense expects the Russian defense industry to finalize the overall design of the next-generation ICS by December 2020.
Russia’s Armed Forces have undergone a considerable transformation since reforms were initiated in late 2008. This has involved modernizing the table of organization and equipment, increasing the proportion of contract personnel within the military manpower system, increasing mobility and firepower, automating command and control, and increasingly exploiting space-based reconnaissance and communications systems. This process has also extended to the issue of equipment and specialist gear for Russian soldiers (Izvestia, March 6). The latest variant of the Ratnik system, Ratnik-2, is designed to improve the connectivity and effectiveness of combat personnel in the Ground Forces. Its improvements on earlier approaches to equipping soldiers include modernized body armor, a helmet with a special eye monitor (thermal/night vision), communication system, and headphone sets. The Ratnik system has been tried and tested in Russian combat operations (Vpk.news.ru, October 11, 2016).
According to Albert Bakov, the director general of the Research Institute for Precision Machine Engineering (Tsentralnyy Nauchno-Issledovatelskiy Institut Tochnogo Mashinostroyeniya—TsNIITochMash), the Sotnik third-generation ICS for Russian soldiers will include entirely new personal protective equipment and ammunition, offering light armor defense and increasing the soldier’s armament by several times. TsNIITochMash officials claim the Sotnik system will weigh no more than 20 kilograms and should by procured for the Ground Forces and Airborne Forces no later than 2025 (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, July 7).
TsNIITochMash, part of Rostec, plans to commence research and development (R&D) on the Sotnik ICS this year. The third-generation soldier’s personal equipment system will feature a number of innovations, including anti-mine boots, an anti-thermal suit to “hide” soldiers from enemy detection, and an anti-radar element. The Sotnik will also integrate the wearer of the system with automated command and control and “micro-drones,” allowing gathered images to be transmitted in real time to the helmet visor or safety glasses. On the electronic glasses, the soldier will see commands, terrain maps and additional relevant data. The system will also integrate artificial intelligence (AI) technology. “According to plans, the third-generation Sotnik kit should replace Ratnik already in 2025. It will be fundamentally new equipment, which will integrate the best high-tech developments of Russian enterprises, including those belonging to Rostec. Thanks to the use of innovative materials and combining the functions of individual elements, the weight of the kit will be reduced by 20 percent and will be about 20 kg,” Rostec’s Director General Sergey Chemezov stated (TASS, June 26).
Although the latest generation of soldier gear will mark further high-technology advances in Russia’s Armed Forces, the system appears more aimed toward boosting the capacity of intelligence and reconnaissance personnel (Zvezdaweekly.ru, June 30, 2019). Nevertheless, it will clearly represent a considerable boost to the infantry personal systems currently in use. Sotnik will also receive electronically controlled kameleon (“chameleon”) material, developed by Roselektronika: this electrochrome material can change color depending on the masked surface and the operational environment. A prototype of this material was first shown during the Army 2018 forum, in Kubinka (TASS, June 26).
In November 2019, the head of Rotec, Sergei Chemzov, stated on the sidelines of the Dubai airshow that the Sotnik system was being discussed and would likely feature the latest ammunition and small arms. “As of now, the defense ministry is developing technical specifications for the Sotnik combat outfit. In addition to the individual protection gear, it will include completely new munitions and small arms,” Chemsov said. The Rostec official confirmed that the R&D for the Sotnik ICS was slated for completion in 2023, with supplies to the Armed Forces following within two years. “After approving the technical specifications, the defense ministry will start the procedure of determining the contractor,” the Rostec chief explained, adding that the corporation’s enterprises had all the necessary competencies and production capacities for the development of the Sotnik system (TASS, November 19, 2019).
Rostec corporation official Sergei Abramov confirmed the futuristic elements in the R&D for the Sotnik system: “The work on next-generation gear is continuing. We have a sufficient R&D reserve for this. Possibly, there will be some robotized systems integrating artificial intelligence with human capabilities. Research is in progress into using powered exoskeletons, micro-drones and new weapons.” In February, TsNIItoshMash completed research on the Ratnik-3 soldier gear and presented its results to the defense ministry to obtain recommendations and a contract for work on its further development. The Ratnik-3 is a fundamentally new set of equipment in terms of protection, combat capabilities, life support, control and power supply. Its configuration will be the same for airborne and ground forces. The Ratnik-3’s visor will have a laser aiming system. In addition, the active exoskeleton will increase the capabilities of the soldier’s locomotor system. These Ratnik-3 elements will merge into the evolving design of the future Sotnik ICS (TASS, February 26).
While the Sotnik infantry combat system will, in the future, denote a marked improvement on the existing Ratnik systems, its main advance will lie in masking its wearer from thermal or radar imaging, while enhancing capabilities through the use of AI technologies. The R&D on projects such as this provides further evidence that senior Russian military and defense planners see future warfare as increasingly high-technology based. And this is a fundamental driver in the development and procurement of advanced personal ICSs.
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