MILAN — Two years after a Russian defense industry think tank announced a cash reward for the seizure of an Estonian-made unmanned ground vehicle operating in Ukraine, Russian forces appear to have captured one of the robots, according to analysts and photos posted on social media.

Earlier this month, Russian Telegram channels published pictures of what they claimed showed a badly damaged model of the THeMIS vehicle, made by Estonia-based and United Arab Emirates-owned Milrem Robotics.

A Milrem spokesman declined to comment, saying only that the company is aware of the images.

Federico Borsari, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis think tank, told Defense News the pictured vehicle “very much resembles” the THeMIS model. “There is also a visible part of the printed Ukrainian flag on the upper right front corner, confirming this was one of the systems provided to Kyiv.”

The Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies said in 2022 that any military personnel capable of capturing a THeMIS robot would get 1 million rubles (U.S. $11,147).

In February of this year, the reward was upped to 2 million rubles, according to a statement given by the center’s director, Ruslan Pukhov, to Russian media.

Regarding the implications of Moscow getting its hands on a vehicle, Borsari says the technology isn’t particularly sensitive. Still, there are some risks, he added.

“Accessing Western technology can certainly be useful, as it offers Russia alternative ideas or concepts on the engineering and design, and most importantly access to the type of sensors and communications-encryption technologies the system uses,” Borsari said.

Although most manufacturers have mechanisms in place to prevent technology theft, the retrieval of any sophisticated components could allow for Russia to attempt to develop “tailored countermeasures or simply improve its own systems,” he added.

The analyst noted that in the event there is encrypted data or stored information found in the vehicle’s systems, this could pose an immediate threat to the Ukrainian operators by potentially revealing their location.

“A big, immediate risk could be Russia trying to exploit encryption info or other stored data, provided there is any, to breach Ukrainian secure communications, or track Ukrainian operators and strike their location,” Borsari said.

As of February, Milrem had provided 15 THeMIS unmanned vehicles to Ukraine, according to a Jan. 11 company statement. Company executives have said the robots are popular for demining and cargo transport missions in the embattled country.

The company announced May 23 that it is increasing production capacity fivefold with the addition of a new facility next to its headquarters in Tallinn, Estonia. The new space is expected to pump out 500 THeMIS units per year, officials said.

The ramp-up comes as governments that previously purchased relatively small numbers for testing are now hungry for more, according to the company.

“Many end users, satisfied with the results of testing the robotic vehicles, are preparing to launch high-quantity procurements,” CEO Kuldar Väärsi said. “With the opening of our new facility, we are better prepared to answer these calls.”

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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