Ukraine close to acquiring combat UGV
The Fantom UGV on display at IDEX 2017. Image: UkRoboronProm
The Ukrainian military is on the cusp of acquiring unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) for combat operations.
The Fantom (Phantom) UGV was recently showcased to international delegations and, having been outfitted with several armament modifications at the request of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence (MoD), is now in its final phases of development.
"Following the first demonstration in October 2016, and the subsequent examinations from the Ukrainian MoD, the Special Operations Forces, and the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, we received orders for supplying the UGV to the former two," commented Roman Sheleng, Deputy Head of Contracts at Ukraine-based SpetsTechnoExport, at a recent trade show.
"During examinations, there were requests for certain improvements; with this new version we have sought to address what the MoD wanted to see in use."
Armament and surveillance
Paramount among these improvements has been the integration of a telescopic turntable mount with four ‘Barrier’ laser-guided anti-tank missiles arranged 2 by 2, with a range of between 100m to 5000m, produced by the design bureau in Kiev to target heavy and light armoured targets. The adjustable altitude of the missile launcher allows the Fantom to fire from concealed positions.
The 3000x1600x1000mm UGV may additionally be equipped with a smoke grenade launcher and gyrostabilised 12.7mm machine gun; firing trials of the latter have been successfully carried out in Ukraine prior to February's IDEX 2017.
Aside from new offensive capabilities, a variety of other improvements to the vehicle have also been made public.
In addition to the 360° panoramic camera, five more cameras with day/night capability have been installed around the hull of the UGV to provide real-time optimal visibility to the operator and for the weapon systems while the vehicle is moving, over an encrypted telemetry and control link extending up to 2.5km from the ground control station (GCS), or over a fibre-optic cable for 5km.
The panoramic camera also operates automatically, tracking potential hostiles using an embedded target recognition system – though the company is reportedly considering a joint venture with an unnamed Australian company for new optical hardware and tracking systems for future upgrades.
Power and drive
Further upgrades include the installation of Lithium-Ion batteries, due to the increased power density and reduced weight.
As Sheleng explained, the Fantom itself uses three hybrid power engine systems – one for each pair of wheels – with a small fuel generator powered by a 20 litre fuel tank.
“We decided to integrate a hybrid system to reduce the concern of running out of battery power mid-mission," he said. "As the vehicle stands now, the generator can be actively manually, remotely, or automatically."
In its standard configuration, when the charge is detected as running low, the operator receives a warning at the GCS, and a recommendation to start the generator – though they may opt not to, if keeping the UGV at a low thermal signature for improved stealth during night missions is critical.
Recharging the batteries from a grid power supply up to 70% – enough power for 20 km range – may be accomplished within one and a half hours. Alternately, the fuel tank consumes 2 litres per hour, so recharging this way will take seven to ten hours.
But the company remains aware of the rate of improvement in modern battery systems, as Speleng noted: “We're exploring modifications to the batteries which will double their capacity from 30kW to 60kW overall, taking top speed from 38 to 55 kph.”
An independent suspension and hydraulic brake system are included to provide the Fantom with optimal driving performance on rough terrain including sandy environments. The power and mechanical configurations enable the 1000kg UGV to carry up to 350kg of payload and cargo weight.
This, with the blessing of Ukrainian ministers, security chiefs, and special forces, has been key to the Fantom’s 'design ethos'.
The vehicle is intended to be highly modular and applicable for multiple purposes, capable of swapping out ordnance for ammunition, nonlethal systems, ISR payloads, de-mining equipment, or food and medical supply pallets for civilians. The flat space on top may also be cleared for use as a stretcher to speed casualties away from conflict zones, with racks on the sides to allow it to act as a pack mule for army squads in patrols or tactical operations.
From the GCS, the Fantom may be operated in tandem with air systems, such as the Patriot R2, a 3.5kg blended-wing-body catapult-launched UAV that has recently been showcased by Ukrinmash alongside SpetsTechnoExport solutions.
A key objective of the design and subsequent upgrades has been to minimise costs relative to comparably capable military UGVs manufactured around the world, through judicious selection of components and relatively simply design.
With Ukrainian MoD funds stretched by the ongoing conflict in the east of the country, additional investment for supply and maintenance contracts may be expected in 2018. Continued conflict in Eastern Ukraine and tensions with Russia are expected to drive the case for near-term investment into new procurement and innovative R&D projects.
This month, UkRoboronProm (UOP), the state-owned parent company of SpetsTechnoExport, reported a net income rise of 31.2% for 2016. The financial result from operating activities for the year amounted to UAH 2.344 billion (USD 87.4 million).
Interested in this subject? You may also like to read our Armoured Vehicles Eastern Europe: Market Report 2017, available to download now.