|A prototype Terror Drone|
|Brief||Autonomous or remotely guided machines designed to disrupt enemy operations|
Gremlins from the Kremlin
During the Second World War, the Soviet Union did whatever they could to negate the production advantage held by the Allied Nations (though a modest one, the Soviet Union outproduced America , Germany and Japan; it's next three competitors combined, but adding France, Britain, Sweden, Canada, ANZAC, Italy, and Spain to the mix tipped the odds). Unable to strike directly at Allied factories in Britain or the United States, Stalin ordered increasingly unlikely and desperate plans to stem the tide of material from getting into Europe and wearing the Red Army down. One of the more successful projects was Operation Isoptera, an early robotics program which eventually resulted in the modern Terror Drone family.
The plan revolved around a simplistic electromechanical drone designed by a Soviet watchmaker from the First Moscow Watch Factory. Consisting of a light sensitive sensor, an impact sensor, a chemical sniffer, a large magnet, simple legs and a set of mechanical blades, these drones were the size of a cockroach and could be assembled from simple parts by untrained workers by the tens of thousands.
They had remarkably simple operating protocols; they fled away from the light into dark areas, attached magnetically to any metal they could find, and then began moving towards sources of oil or grease identified by the chemical sniffer, its bladed front parts slicing apart anything that got in the way in the meantime. In the event there was nothing large and metallic to attach to in the dark area it was in, it would remain stationary. Later models would also clamp onto cloth or leather if they found it, sticking to clothing or boots.
The Soviets built and deployed an unbelievably large number of these drones during the war. Nobody is really sure how many; more than a million, at least. Schoolchildren would make them as class projects, units rotated to the rear were issued kits to kill time, and automated production lines were made. They were fired in canisters from mortars and missiles, airdropped, thrown by the handful by Soviet troops, and released by spies. Latching onto battlefield equipment or hiding inside transports, they became an omnipresent part of the Allied supply train.
The numbers of ruptured gas tanks, failed engines and worn parts increased drastically among Allied forces, and it soon became standard policy to give every soldier a once-over with a metal detector every time they returned to base. The worst affected were the Allied air force; a single drone could cut control lines or knock out an engine, leaving an aircraft plummeting to the surface. Frustrated airmen and mechanics nicknamed the drones "Gremlins", supposedly a corruption of "Kremlin" which was cited as the source of all malfunctions.
Stalin's Bomb Dogs
One of the more horrific programs than transpired under Stalin's rule was the use of dogs as suicide bombers against Allied armour. The use of animals in warfare is nothing new, of course, and both the Allies and the Soviets fielded tens of thousands of trained attack dogs during the Second World War. However, under orders from the twisted "State Defence Committee", the Soviets frequently deployed dogs with explosive vests and a magnetic detonator strapped to them; trained to run underneath Allied tanks, they acted like living mines, detonating under enemy armour and doing devastating damage.
Though effective, the program was inhumane to the extreme, the sort of needless cruelty that followed Stalin's Red Army wherever it went, and when the troops got home after the war ended, it was impossible to cover up. As Stalin's Russia waned and Cherdenko rallied the people of Russia against him, dozens of officials involved in the program were executed in public, the method disowned and the canine elements of the Red Army disbanded due to the painful memories, with the marginally less terrible Ursine Corps taking its place.
The man who proposed the terrible program was frog-marched, alongside the chemical weapons chief and the head of the Black Guard, identified to the Allied guards, and shot in plain sight, sending the world a clear message.
"We will stand for Stalin's butchery no longer."
Attack of the Drones
However, during the build up to WW3, with Soviet statisticians crunching the vital numbers that would determine the makeup of the new Red Army, multiple independent sources came to the same conclusion; the bomb dog was, unquestionably, too darn effective to simply abandon. The Bureau of Experimental Sciences published a memo in 1961 requesting research into a method of attacking tanks similar to the bomb dog, minus the dog.
Kazminov Design Bureau responded with the "bomb drone", an adapted version of their remote controlled "teledrone" scout based on Allied Cyclops tracked mines of the last war. Though the bomb drone performed its job as well as the bomb dogs could (better, in fact, as they could withstand some small arms and didn't run underneath Soviet tanks, as some bomb dogs occasionally did). However, they had several glaring disadvantages.
The first was that these bomb drones needed to be deployed and controlled directly be a four-man operating team in the field. Its limited battery life and short radio receiving range meant it had to be carried by motorbike or in two parts on foot to the front. Furthermore, it was an extremely expensive piece of machinery to simply explode; as it couldn't be assumed that it would always reach the tank, especially one with infantry support, the cost-per-unit was dangerously high. Finally, the radio control was often very limited; there was no room for a camera, so a member of the operating crew had to be able to watch the drone at all times and thus would usually be visible to the tank he was attacking with it, clearly not a good situation.
KDB soon came back with a new design intended to correct some of these flaws. Based on the Gremlins of WW2, the newly renamed Terror Drone used specially designed cutting and gripping tools to pry open seams and hatches, tearing apart vital components of a tank (such as engines, suspension, or, on occasion, crew) in order to disable the vehicle. This made the unit much more reusable. Combined with a new battery, it made the Terror Drone a much more attractive prospect on the battlefield.
Now about that pesky operator problem...
Full Circle (chasing its tail)
This problem would have been impossible to solve had it not been for a breakthrough in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology that had recently occurred. Using an experimental MRI machine, doctors had rendered the behaviour patterns of a mouse over the course of several days onto a specially designed magnetic film that could be interpreted by a specially designed electronic signal, and they were using this technology to make a small mechanical mouse do mouse like things.
The solution was obvious.
From a retirement kennel in Dagomys, an old veteran was reactivated for one last time. A 13 year old survivor of the bomb dog programs, Babushka the Siberian Husky went through her old routines for one last time, leaping under mock up tanks, following her trainer, and wagging her tail enthusiastically (a feature which did not translate to the final machine), all while hooked up to a funny headgear that was recording her every thought.
Soon after, the recorded programming was placed into one of the new terror drones, and the drone successfully mimicked Babushka's routines despite multiple changes in circumstance. Of course, the drone wasn't aware of how to use its claws and that particular prototype had to be abandoned (it was later released to the Dagomys Kennel due to its programming) but the trial proved that the concept was solid.
After multiple false starts to convince the drone to use its claws in the approved manner, one of the scientists observing the experiment, Konstantin Belousov, frustrated with the lack of progress, strapped the MRI device to himself and spent the next four days disassembling mechanical parts with a set of pliers and clippers and shooting practice targets with a WW2 era shock gun. When his MRI records were combined with Babushka's, the results impressed everyone involved; the terror drone could now be released before battle and trusted to find and disable enemy armour before returning to their own lines for a "treat", allowing the drone to be recharged and repaired.