The Netherlands has become the first NATO country to deploy armed uncrewed ground vehicles (UGVs) into an operational environment in which the tracked robots will join a military unit and become part of the defense force. Some are unarmed, while others are carrying large automatic machine guns for use in firefights.
“We have deployed four weaponised [unmanned] machines within an operational experiment,” Lt Col Mevissen, commander of the Royal Netherlands Army's Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) unit, told Dutch media outlet Janes. “To my knowledge, we have not seen this before in the West”.
“The machines have been handed over for experimental use in an operational unit in a military-relevant environment. These are not simply tests on a training ground. We are under the direct eyes and ears of the Russians, and as such in a semi-operational environment,” he continued.
The UGVs will be Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry Systems (THeMIS), which were created by an Estonian defense company. When armed, the THeMIS can be armed with either 30mm autocannons, 40mm grenade launches, light or heavy machine guns, or anti-tank missiles. It remains to be seen how THeMIS will perform, as UGVs do not have a great history so far – Russia deployed their version in Syria in 2018, where it was remarkably ineffective due to constant disconnections with the controller.