TechDrones and Robots: The Silent Miners of the Ukraine Conflict

Drones and Robots: The Silent Miners of the Ukraine Conflict

Remotely operated Russian robot with PKM-1 mine launchers.
Remotely operated Russian robot with PKM-1 mine launchers.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | Militarnyj
5:22 PM EDT, April 9, 2024

The conflict in Ukraine has evolved into positional warfare in various locations, where the strategic use of mines, aviation, and artillery plays a pivotal role. Observations reveal that the Ukrainians' deployment of remotely operated robots or drones has not gone unnoticed by the Russians. The significance of these seemingly insignificant devices cannot be overstated.

Mining an area is one of the most straightforward and cost-effective strategies to restrict enemy movement. Navigating around a minefield is the optimal approach, yet conducting operations on such terrain becomes exceedingly challenging when this is unfeasible. Minefields often become the focus of artillery shelling and are prone to ambushes, including attacks by anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs).

In essence, the only viable tactic is to advance in formations protected by specialized demining vehicles, which become primary targets for elimination due to their crucial role. The Russians exemplified this during their notorious offensive near Vuhledar in 2022, where they incurred significant casualties, and in the early stages of the battles near Avdiivka, as well as by the Ukrainians during the unsuccessful summer offensive in Zaporizhzhia in 2023.

Robotic Minelayers in Ukraine – Unassuming Yet Formidable

Minefields are an effective defensive measure, but the challenge lies in laying them close to the frontline without being detected by the enemy. Previously, this was only achievable through specialized rocket projectiles from multi-barrel rocket launchers like the BM-30 Smerch, BM-27 Uragan, BM-21 Grad, or the M270 MLRS, and complete mining systems such as the ISDM Zemledeliye.

Recently, however, the Ukrainian forces have introduced various robots and drones engineered for surreptitiously embedding mines within enemy lines. Some devices are designed to place single or multiple conventional TM62 mines, while others are equipped to deploy PTM-3-type mines.

The concept has been adopted by the Russians, who have developed their robotic systems capable of establishing minefields up to 98 feet away, covering an area approximately 26-33 feet wide by 59-66 feet long, with mines spaced roughly 6.5 feet apart.

These Russian robots are outfitted with nine PKM-1 launchers, loaded with a powder charge and either anti-personnel or anti-tank mines. The mines are detonated remotely via a cable about 164 feet long.

The KSF-1 container can carry 71 PFM-1 mines, designed in a butterfly shape and containing 75g (2.65 oz) of explosive material in a soft plastic casing. Compression of the casing triggers an explosion capable of inflicting severe injuries. Meanwhile, the KSO-1 container is designed to hold a single PTM-3 anti-tank mine, packed with 1.8 kg (around 3.97 lbs) of explosives, potent enough to damage, for instance, the tracks of an infantry fighting vehicle.

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