In developing its new Armata tank, Russia has taken an increasingly popular design approach: It has given the new vehicle flexibility to either carry a driver or operate remotely.
With the growing popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles in the war against militant Islam, countries throughout the world are attempting to apply the technology of unmanned aerial vehicles to sea and land equipment and to more fully equipped and versatile kinds of aircraft. Such vehicles could have capabilities beyond the unmanned aerial vehicle's limited role of surveillance and attacks on small targets.
However, while unmanned technology offers undeniable design advantages, the networks these systems rely on are vulnerable to destruction or infiltration by the enemy. In addition, proponents of manned technology say that a human element makes any given platform more effective. Both systems have disadvantages, and each one offers something the other does not.
Given the drawbacks and strengths of each, the best approach may not be to commit fully to either technology. Russia's Armata tank represents a trend in vehicle design, led by the United States, to design hybridized systems that combine the best elements of manned and unmanned vehicles. The U.S. military has been incorporating both manned and unmanned technology into its designs, and several other countries are considering similar options for future platforms.
Tanks like the Armata are merely the beginning of an entirely new crop of vehicles. Militaries are generally designing newer platforms to be more automated, and most vehicles now consistently use fly-by or drive-by wire systems rather than analogue systems. Advanced sensor suites, which help guard against ever-evolving and proliferating weapon systems, have become commonplace.
Designers network every new vehicle they create to take advantage of communications and friendly-force tracking technologies. They also improve intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition capabilities to improve situational awareness. Coupled with the networks and infrastructure already in place, it is only a small step or two from these capabilities to remote operation.