Are Weaponized ‘Crab Walker’ Robots The Future Of Chinese Land Wars?

Star Wars and Walking Robots
This screenshot from the 2002 Star Wars: Attack of the Clones film, shows Separatist OG-9 Homing Droids firing lasers. The Chinese "Crab Walker" has similar looking legs (though twice as many as its fictional cousin) but so far, the PLA does not appear to be interested in putting lasers on robots. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, via Wookiepedia
Crab Walker in Firing Mode

Robotics designers in the US have long gotten their inspiration from both science fiction and biology, and Chinese engineers are no different, most especially those working on walking combat robots. Dai Jinsong and other Chinese engineers of the School of Mechanical Engineering, Nanjing University of Technology, have published three articles in Chinese weapons design journals as part of a long term study into the design of a legged, autocannon carrying robot. The extent of the study indicates a serious effort. The first article discussed modeling gun accuracy and building an eight-legged demonstrator and the second articles involved application of computer aided design (CAD) software to improve the testing process. Most importantly, the third paper analyzed the systems integration of components like the nine channel signal driver module, RS-845 communications module and STM-32 syncrhonization set, which were required to build a unique unified control system for its eight limbs.

Packed up Crab Walker

The Chinese “crab walker” design is roughly 6 meters long, and two meters wide, including its legs. It has eight main legs, four on each side of the body, and has two rear mounted legs to brace itself for stabilization during firing; there is also another stabilization leg installed in the front). The size of the Crab Walker would make it capable of being airlifted by heavy helicopters like the Mi-26 and its prospective replacement, the Sino-Russian Mi-46. During transport, the Crab Walker’s three stabilizing legs would be retracted to allow faster movement.

30mm Ammo

In the present design concept, the Crab Walker’s main weapon is a 30mm autocannon, which is also found on Chinese ZBD-86, ZDB-03 and ZBL-09 infantry fighting vehicles. Presumably the 30mm autocannon could be swapped for other remote weapons station, like anti-tank guided missiles or a mortar. Also, there are bulges located in front and behind the 30mm autocannon, which are likely to house communications and sensor equipment.

The available images of the Crab Walker design suggests that the horizontal “knee” joints of its main legs are not fully articulated, in contrast to the famous American “Big Dog” legged robot, which would limit its speed in extremely difficult terrain. This suggests that the Crab Walker is intended to act as a close fire support platform for Chinese infantry in difficult urban or mountainous terrain, that would be inaccessible to heavier wheeled and tracked vehicles. Given the state of current global robotics, it is likely that the Crab Walker would at least initially be controlled by a human operator instead of deciding where and at whom to aim its big guns on its own.

The Crab Walker is currently a drawing board design, meaning it could be superseded by different unmanned vehicles designs, whether legged or wheeled. In either case, it shows how the future of land warfare, including for Chinese forces, will likely have some kind of robotic element.

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