What Are the Different Types of Military Robots?

Jeremy Laukkonen

The different types of military robots can be divided into two general categories based on where they are operated. Unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) are robots that move around on wheels or tracks. These military robots can perform sentry duties, examine potentially hostile situations, and perform many other widely varied tasks. The other main category is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are essentially automated or remotely controlled planes and helicopters. UAVs can have wingspans anywhere from two to over 20 feet (about 0.6 to 6 meters) and are often used for aerial reconnaissance, though some are also equipped with live ordinance that can be used against land or air based targets.

The MQ-1 Predator drone has been used extensively during anti-terrorism operations in the Near East and Africa.
The MQ-1 Predator drone has been used extensively during anti-terrorism operations in the Near East and Africa.

Military robots have been in use since around the second decade of the 20th century, when the first unmanned aircraft was developed. Early military robots also appeared during Second World War, when Germany employed small remotely controlled vehicles known as tracked mines. These tracked mines were some of the first UGVs to appear, though they suffered from weaknesses such as easily destroyed control cables. The Soviet Union also used radio controlled tank UGVs around this time. These teletanks were full sized and could be operated manually if needed.

Robot manufacturers often use a common chassis for the bomb-defusing robots used by police and the combat robots deployed by militaries.
Robot manufacturers often use a common chassis for the bomb-defusing robots used by police and the combat robots deployed by militaries.

Modern military robots are used to fill a variety of niches, from reconnaissance to threat assessment. Some of the smallest UGVs that are used for reconnaissance operations are less than a foot (about 0.3 meters) long, and can run on either tracks or wheels. Medium sized UGVs are often used to both locate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) before they can injure human soldiers and enter and assess potentially hostile environments. Some of these robots are also designed to perform more specialized tasks, such as entering hazardous situations to extract injured soldiers. The largest UGVs can be the size of a truck or tank and can perform many of the same roles as manned versions of those vehicles.

The two main functions performed by UAVs are reconnaissance work and the delivery of ordinance. UAVs designed to gather intelligence can vary in size from units that can fit in a backpack to others that are just as large as manned aircraft. Small UAVs are typically used for reconnaissance because they can be carried into the field by soldiers and then sent ahead to assess the situation. Some of these military robots have fixed wings, though others are helicopters. Large UAVs are often used for intelligence gathering as well, though some are also equipped with missiles, bombs, and other weapons systems.

Some airborne military drones are equipped with missiles.
Some airborne military drones are equipped with missiles.

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Discussion Comments


@starrynight - You're right. There's nothing to stop other countries from developing military robots too. I don't think that's such a bad thing though.

In theory, wouldn't it be better to have robots fighting each other on both sides? Maybe an entire war could be fought with no human lives lost.

I'm just saying, you never know how technology is going to change the world in the future.


Military robots sound pretty high tech. I think the robots that are able to go and get wounded soldiers are probably the best ones!

I'm not a big fan of war, and I get a little disturbed hearing about how unmanned planes can now carry out attacks. Because if we can do it, that means other countries can do it too! Sure, it sounds great when you're the one with the robot. I'm not sure I'd like to be on the receiving end of a robot attack though.

But anyway, the robots that can retrieve wounded people actually do save lives. They save the lives of the wounded, and of the other soldiers who now don't have to take the risk of retrieving the wounded.


@MrMoody - If you really want to reduce boots on the ground, just continue using drones. These unmanned aerial vehicles have been quite successful in the war on terror.

Already we have been able to take out important terrorist leaders through the use of these airplanes. Yes, they are expensive, but they are well worth it in my opinion.


@David09 - While I share your vision for future military robots, I am not quite convinced about the decision making capabilities of the robots, notwithstanding advances in artificial intelligence.

The reason is that robots lack something that humans possess – intuition and empathy. If you’re out on the battlefield, you have to make split second decisions to appraise a situation.

For example, if you are looking at someone in the distance you have to quickly determine – is it an ally or an enemy combatant? How does a robot easily make such a determination? Even humans have failed in that regard.

Personally, I think it’s better that the robots continue to act as sweepers, like the article talks about, rather than the primary decision makers. I realize that nobody wants boots on the ground, but use of smart robots can at least reduce the number of casualties.


I look forward to the day where robots in the military can completely replace – or at least drastically reduce – the need for armed human soldiers in the ground.

I know that such a scenario up until now has been the domain of science fiction, where future robots can fight on the battlefield with laser weapons and precision guided systems. However, I think it’s quite possible.

There is already abundant research in the field of robotics for personal as well as industrial use, and already we have quite an investment in military robotics.

Soon I envision both disciplines coming together to create one-man killing machines on the battlefield that can do more in less time, and of course result in less human casualties.

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