By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2024
“The Ukrainians are leveraging technology to neutralize Russia’s numerical
superiority and mitigate the casualties suffered by their troops. During
defensive operations, the use of remote-controlled turrets armed with
machine guns, or…grenade launchers, proves particularly effective.”
— EssaNews, January 10, 2024
On September 22, 2023, the Ukrainian-manufactured Global Dynamics (of Lviv) Shablya (“Saber”) remote-controlled gun system was officially deployed in combat with the 68th Jaeger (“Hunter”) Brigade, after recent testing by the 1st Separate Mechanized Battalion “Da Vinci Wolves” of the 67th Separate Mechanized Brigade. The basic Saber model is a gun turret mounted upon a tripod, with a daylight, video camera, infrared/thermal imager, and laser rangefinder with a range of two kilometers (1.25 miles).
There are two versions, a 396-pound variant with a .50-caliber (12.7x108mm), DShK-type, heavy machine gun, and a lighter version with a PKM 7.62x54mmR medium machine gun, or similar firearms.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the primary purpose of the Shablya/Saber combat module is to conduct reconnaissance missions, facilitate target identification on the battlefield, eliminate enemy personnel, and engage lightly armored vehicles and adversary firing positions. Enemy rifle and machine-gun positions are especially dangerous, high-priority targets that place Ukrainian troops at great risk.
So, the Saber gun system can be readily mounted upon a Rys (“Lynx”) or similar, unmanned, ground vehicle (UGV), as tested by the Da Vinci Wolves unit with a PKM medium machine gun. But it may also be armed with a heavy machine gun, a 40mm Mk. 19 or UAG-40 automatic grenade launcher, or other weaponry.
The mobile version uses a hand-held Steam Deck gaming-computer console as its remote controller, with a thin cable connected to the Rys UGV, in order to make it resistant to Russian electronic-warfare jamming measures. The Saber gun turret can rotate at a rate of 90 degrees per second, with a full 360 degrees of azimuth coverage, and the gun may be elevated from -13 degrees to +75 degrees, with a target accuracy of 1 MOA.
Ukraine has previously employed larger, armed UGVs in very small numbers, such as the Fantom 6×6 vehicle in 2016, with a DShK machine gun, or the Fantom 2 8×8 vehicle in 2017, capable of mounting a twin-barrel, 23mm ZU-23-2 cannon, but these systems are as noticeable on the battlefield as a tank or armored personnel carrier, and are more easily detected and destroyed by Russian rocket-propelled grenades, so something much smaller and stealthier is preferred.
The principal advantage of the very small, highly mobile, 4×4 Rys/Saber/PKM gun system is its ability to discreetly conduct battlefield reconnaissance while relatively undetected, and engage enemy gun positions from a distance, saving the lives of Ukrainian defenders. There is certainly a place for such nimble, remote-controlled weapon systems on the modern battlefields of Ukraine.
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Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe (including Eastern Europe) and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author, historian, and hunter.