Is the world ready for Russia’s new Ratnik Future Soldier combat system?
Russian ground forces are expected to receive a host of modernized weapons and equipment, according to a senior army officer.
Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), the newspaper of the Russian Defense Ministry, published an in-depth interview earlier this week with the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, General Oleg Salyukov.
Salyukov praised the joint Zapad 2021 exercises recently conducted by Russian and Belarusian forces, saying Krasnaya Zvezda that the “results of the exercises were highly appreciated on both sides. The participating troops showed good training and excellent performance, the exercise objectives were successfully achieved. Salyukov added that Zapad 2021 saw the debut of the new Russian combat robots, Uran-9 and Nerekhta, which conducted reconnaissance and strike missions. Salyukov said that “all targets present during the exercises have been neutralized by their weaponry,” which includes thirty-millimeter automatic cannons, machine guns and anti-tank guided missiles. The Uran-9 “drone tank” is a tracked unmanned combat land vehicle (UCGV) developed by the Russian industrial giant Rosoboronexport. Armed with a prodigious arsenal, the Uran-9 is primarily intended to provide fire support to infantry formations. The Uran-9 experienced limited live combat testing during the last years of the Syrian Civil War, with conflicting accounts as to its performance. The Nerekhta UCGV is a versatile combat drone that can be deployed in three distinct configurations: weapon, transport and reconnaissance. Pictures released from Zapad 2021 shows the Uran-9 and Nerekhta destroying theoretical enemy armored vehicles and supporting manned vehicle formations. Salyukov said both systems are currently under development and are expected to reach initial operational capability in 2022, after which the military will decide how many of these units to purchase.
At one point, Salyukov was asked about the modernized infantry equipment for the Russian ground forces, in particular the new Russian Ratnik combat system for the future soldier. The Ratnik system consists of nearly sixty separate components, ranging from redesigned ballistic vests and a new helmet system to active hearing protection, several boot options for different seasons and new radio equipment. Over three hundred thousand sets of Ratnik combat equipment have been delivered to the Russian military. “The process of improving Ratnik equipment did not stop for a minute,” Salyukov said.
Salyukov added that work on the next-generation Sotnik system, intended to replace Ratnik, began in 2020. Constructed from lightweight polyethylene fibers and a new shielding system, Sotnik promises Russian soldiers sufficient protection to withstand direct fire from .50 caliber bullets, all without restricting a soldier’s mobility. The first batch of Sotnik equipment was previously expected to make its way to select special forces units by 2025, with wider distribution in the Russian military by 2030. It remains to be seen whether the manufacturer is capable of producing in series such an ambitious product as Sotnik in such a short timeframe.
Salyukov added – without further details – that even more advanced systems are on the way. “Speaking of the combat equipment of the ‘future soldier’, it should be mentioned that in 2021, in cooperation with national industrial enterprises, significant work has been carried out to include a new ‘robotic’ subsystem in military combat equipment, which includes mini and micro UAVs, portable robotic complexes, as well as exoskeletons, ”he said. Russian defense was working on a “motorized exoskeleton” called Ratnik-3, but the extent of the suit’s capabilities and the current status of the project remain unclear.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National interest.