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Russian military uses Chinese drones and bots in combat, over manufacturers' protests

Testimonials from Russian generals not welcomed by DJI or Unitree Robotics

Russia's military has praised civilian grade Chinese-made drones and robots for having performed well on the battlefield, leading their manufacturers to point out the equipment is not intended or sold for military purposes.

When a video of a robot camera dog showed up with a grenade launcher on Russian state-sponsored media RIA Novosti this week, many immediately recognized it as Chinese Unitree Robotics' $2,700 Go1 robotic dog – albeit dressed in a sort of canine ninja suit.

"Russian designers presented a sample of the M-81 robotic complex, capable of aimed shooting and transporting weapons, at the Army-2022 forum," announced RIA Novosti in Russian, before claiming the bot belonged to engineering company JSC "Intellect of Machines."

RIA Novosti went on to describe the Boston Dynamics Spot analog as capable of both reconnaissance and combat missions, plus tasks like delivering medicines and weapons amongst rubble, conducting targeted fire, or just patrolling.

"When assembling the M-81, Chinese technologies are used, the cost is 1 million rubles ($16,500). The company plans to launch production in Russia," reported Russian tech media source iXBT.

In late July, Unitree tweeted that it "opposes any form of refit and behavior that is harmful or potentially harmful for human beings" and that it only manufactures and sells civilian products.

Unitree Robotics co-founder Chen Li reportedly reiterated this point on Tuesday to the South China Morning Post.

If Unitree Robotics is sincere, it doesn't seem to be engaging in proper Know Your Customer procedures – its rendition of the Black Mirror nightmare dog machine appeared last month wearing a machine gun. It was reportedly also sporting patches that suggest affiliation with Russian Special Operations Forces.

Chinese drone-maker DJI has also made claims that conflict with Russian state assertions. DJI is already sanctioned in the US and has attempted to restore its reputation by suspending business in Russia and Ukraine.

In April DJI issued a statement clarifying that it did not market or sell its products for military use and "unequivocally opposed" attempts to attach weapons to its products.

"We absolutely deplore any use of our products to cause harm. DJI has only ever made products for civilian use; they are not designed for military applications," insisted DJI, vowing to terminate business relationships with any distributor, reseller or business partner selling its products to customers for military purposes.

However, the Russian embassy in China obviously didn't get that memo. It bragged on social media last Friday about how Chinese commercial drones have revolutionized traditional artillery weapons.

"The Mavic quadcopter drone made by China's DJI has in principle become a symbol of modern warfare," said the Russian embassy's Weibo post in Chinese, quoting Army General Yuri Baluyevsky.

"Most of the products are designed for civilian purposes," responded DJI in Chinese to the Weibo post, adding "DJI products are not suitable or meet the needs of military use, we do not support military applications."

The Weibo post has since been deleted. However, it was immortalized by screenshot and posted on Twitter.

The Register has contacted both DJI and Unitree Robotics and will update if there is any substantial response.®

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