Currently, US and Japan have created Mechs of their own. Mechs are giant robots, which would have bipedal to quadropedal, to tracks as legs, and would consist of a head, body, and arms as parts to be qualified as a mech. They may carry as much ammunition and as much armament as they could assuming they could carry it. The weapons would be what we have right now, or in the near future.

My question is, how can they be an advantage when in war?

Right now we got tanks, aircraft, artillery and infantry which are pretty much capable of doing what a mech could do. A good answer would include the advantages of having a mech plus cost efficiency (if there would be any) and if any, adaptation to all of the environment which we have (forests, deserts, etc) and any weather (rain, snow, etc)

Added Info: If possible, please also indicate how a mech has the advantage against our current war machines(tanks, aircraft, etc)

Last added info: The mech's armor would be the armor here in our current age.

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    $\begingroup$ I think most people got the question wrong. The OP is not asking about replacing tanks with mechs, he's asking how a modern army could be complemented with mechs. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 22 '16 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ to short for full answer, someone take it and run with it if they want; same reason monkeys can compete with tigers; an advantage some specific terrains. Specifically vertical ones. Like trees for primates, skyscrapers could be you mechs area of dominance. $\endgroup$ – Marky Oct 23 '16 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ I will stand by my point even if my answer is downvoted by ignorant people. Mechs are the closest things to robots can do everything a robot will and can do. Any other vehicle is not and will never be a robot. A plane with arms is silly, and a tank equipped with current-state neural networks will defeat its purpose of accuracy and precision. So if weapon-wielding robots seems unlikely for some people, I suggest they look elsewhere instead of giving out false information $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 23 '16 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ That question was about the specific genre of Mecha you see in the Japanese culture. I think here the OP is asking about real life mechanical robots. I could be wrong though, and that would invalidate my whole answer. If that is indeed what the OP is asking, I would gladly revise my answer. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 24 '16 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ This question only invited opinions, no one gave clear facts (including me) since there are no factual information about this topic. I suggest this to be closed. All of the statements from the top-rated answer are not backed by anything, they are only opinions. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 24 '16 at 18:56

The Disadvantages of Mechs in Modern Warfare Outnumber the Advantages

Yeah, I know this is exactly the opposite of what you want, but hear me out.

  • Mechs are not agile! While tanks use treads, which have enough friction to not skid or slide, mechs must balance bipedally; sliding is more likely, and will topple your mech like a person on ice. A tank will roll over in the worst case scenario, but this almost never happens; a mech will stumble or fall as long as you hit a leg.
  • Mechs are expensive. It costs more to build "movement-smart" mechs with all systems and parts in place for locomotion, coordination, and balance, than for a vehicle that simply rolls and turns. Plus, the maintenance of all the parts required for bipedal locomotion will outweigh the maintenance (and cost) for simple treads!
  • Tanks are easier to repair. If your tank treads are struck and somehow unequipped, you can stop the vehicle and put on replacement treads. If your mech is struck, you need to diagnose one of a hundred possible problems, take apart the legs, and replace individual pieces, then put the legs back together.
  • Mechs cannot right themselves. Once your mech trips and falls, or is struck, it will need work to be righted and rebalanced. Adding arms capable of righting a mech means more complex parts, more repairs, and more weight; additionally, arms on mechs will require much more engineering to pull the weight of the mech if the legs are knocked out. Tanks almost never need to be righted; they are spread over a larger area.
  • Mechs are not tactical. Tanks are low-lying and make only a grinding sound; with a mech, expect more height, more visibility from a distance, and a constant, ground-shaking thud with every step.
  • Mechs will face recoil when shooting ammunition. When a tank shoots, it does not fly backward or collapse, as it is both low to the ground and spread over a large area. If your mech tries to match the shooting power of a tank, it will potentially fly backward, or at the very least, stumble and fall.
  • Mechs require a large amount of energy to move at a fast speed, bipedally, to carry their weight. Meanwhile, the same amount of energy, used in a tank, would only need to power circular motion, or in an aircraft, engines - which is much more efficient.
  • While mechs may be useful for engineering, this is modern warfare. Aside from building bridges, which can be done by less expensive manual labor with only slightly more time elapsed, they do not have practical uses in combat.
  • Legs are vulnerable, and armor is trivial at best. As previously stated, just hitting a leg will effectively disable a mech in a combat situation. Even armoring legs leaves gaps at the joints, and any impact will potentially shatter or dislodge these joints; furthermore, the strongest armor will not stop a mech from falling over, even if it reduces some damage.

Mechs in Modern Warfare DO Have a Few Advantages

  • They likely weigh less than tanks
  • They may be reasonable if you do not need a large amount of firepower; i.e. somewhere between infantry and tank scale

In conclusion, mechs have a few advantages in modern warfare -- but they are far outweighed by the disadvantages.

I apologize for the coherence and/or validity of claims made in this post. It is 3:51 AM.

  • $\begingroup$ I would dispute the claim that mechs would weigh less. For a given level of firepower, protection, and mobility, the complexity of bipedal motion coupled with the very high surface area would necessitate a vehicle larger and heavier than a tank. There just aren't any good advantages to the humanoid design- bipedal motion is inferior to tracks on anything short of a staircase, arms are a complex and inefficient means of aiming and managing recoil, heads are weak points, and overall an upright shape is a death sentence on a battlefield where target profile is everything. $\endgroup$ – Catgut Oct 22 '16 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Well this might be a new age of warfare, Don't forget what people said about Machineguns and artillery before WWI... Look what happened in WWI. Nowadays, electronic warfare is more important than anything, the benefits of mechs outweighs its target profile. Who cares if everyone shoots at you, if you were able to dodge all the shells. Well, the same thing would be said about tanks that were able to move horizontally. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 22 '16 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Bloc97, 'a new age of warfare' isn't a justification. I could claim that infantry fighting on handstands, clutching their rifles between their knees, will be the tactic of the future, and vaguely cite lack of precise knowledge pre-WW1 and 'this might be a new age of warfare' as an excuse. You have to substantiate the claim with more than that, and the idea of dodging ATGMs is something out of anime, not any plausible prediction of near-future technology. $\endgroup$ – Catgut Oct 22 '16 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra I am far from the first person to point out the numerous problems with anthropomorphic AFVs, feel free to copy as you like. $\endgroup$ – Catgut Oct 22 '16 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ I think you might overestimate the instability of legged robots: youtu.be/cNZPRsrwumQ?t=32s . While they lack static margin in their stability, they make up for it with dynamics. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 22 '16 at 23:17

There seems to be a great deal of confusion in the answers.

Robotic vehicles and devices with multiple legs would be useful in niche roles. You could imagine a robotic spider capable of climbing walls, for example. Larger robotic vehicles to support troop movement, act as squad level porters and even weapons platforms may or may not have legs. Boston Robotics has been developing walking machines for the role, like "Big Dog", but other vendors have robotized 6X6 ATV chassis to do the same thing.

enter image description here

Big Dog

enter image description here

Locheed Martin Robot

Looking at the pictures, you can see the wheeled robot would be faster, is certainly cheaper and less complex, and this particular model is probably amphibious. The Big Dog, not so much

Legged vehicles have one advantage over wheels and tracks, in that they can clear a greater vertical "step hight". Driving your car into a curb or the low concrete barricades in parking lots demonstrates the issue, Armoured fighting vehicles have much better suspensions, larger wheels or tracks and a greater power to weight ratio and even then only clear about a one metre vertical "step"

enter image description here

The Israeli "Combat Guard" can clear more than a metre step because it has 52" wheels. I don't want to be the guy changing the tire, though

Mecha, as generally described, are manned fighting vehicles which are substitutes for AFV's, self propelled artillery etc. Although different authors have different ideas about this, the general model tends to much greater than human size, and generally carrying a massive weapons loadout.

enter image description here Large Mecha

At these scales, the objections of weight, ground pressure and mechanical complexity are very valid, and I would see something like this falling under a hail of artillery, guided missile, air attack and cannon fire delivered by tanks. At much smaller sizes, a Mecha might have an advantage over conventional AFV's due to the ability to overcome vertical obstacles (the 1 metre "step hight"). If the ground is excessively broken and presents an obstacle to conventional wheeled or tracked vehicles, then a walking machine will have the ability to carry more supplies and munitions than a dismounted infantry soldier.

enter image description here Small Mecha

You would have to question why at that point no one is flying in by helicopter or using fast air to suppress. Coalition forces in Afghanistan worked in extremely mountainous terrain in the Sha-i-kot region in the early part of the campaign, and generally were ferried in by helicopter, and supported by helicopter gunships, fast air and carried mortars and machine-guns for their organic fire support. Marginal Terrain Vehicles like the BV-206 and militarized ATV's were used as well to provide local mobility.

enter image description here

Infantry arrive in rugged terrain

enter image description here

BV-206 Marginal Terrain Vehicle loaded into Chinook in Afghanistan

  • $\begingroup$ Small mechs should be probably more stealthy than loud dual-rotor helicopters delivering supplies. You can't really sneak helicopters in enemy territory either without recon and light infantry finding out. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 23 '16 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ As for the problem that no one has used mechs yet, it is because as of 2016, the technology is not quite ready in the sense where robots walking with legs are not versatile enough. They don't react properly in different scenarios. Furthermore, only first world countries have the manpower and necessary resources (money and supercomputers) to effectively develop machine learning (which takes huge amounts of computational power). So we can only expect the first countries to use these technologies to be either the US or China. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 23 '16 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ The added expense and complexity of Mecha compared to what exists in today's world is why no one is using them. The small advantage of being able to clear a greater than 1 metre step hight is relatively meaningless compared to speed, mobility, armour protect and firepower that modern vehicles and aircraft can provide (with well known and developed technologies). And helicopters can be quite surprising, especially in the hands of proficient pilots and when coupled to a good plan, as I can attest first hand. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 24 '16 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly, Only countries that have throwaway resources can afford to "try" developing mechs. Otherwise, it's just too big of a risk (wasting tax money) to try unproven and probably not yet ready technology. Only when mechs would be commercially feasible then the military would start using them. As they don't give any apparent and immediate advantage. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 24 '16 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Bloc97 Thucydides was kindly saying that there is little logical reason to seriously develop a style of armored fighting vehicle largely popularized by Japanese science-fiction with no clear battlefield role and a whole host of unmitigated conceptual flaws. That is very, very far from saying that it is an 'unproven' technology, which implies that there are some conceptual benefits that aren't yet realized. This is not 'unproven' the way battlefield directed energy weapons are unproven, it's 'unproven' the way square wheels on tanks are unproven. $\endgroup$ – Catgut Oct 24 '16 at 2:29

Advantages of Mechs:

This is a list of advantages mechs might have in some situations. Note that Mechs cannot do the job of tanks/planes/ships nor replace them. They are a new form of vehicles designed for a new form of warfare.

This is all coming from an undergraduate in Physics and Computer Sciences, thus I am not an engineer, nor Napoleon, take this only as my grain of salt.

TL;DR: Since Mechs have the same degree of liberty as a Human, it can do everything a human does, but at orders of magnitudes faster, thanks to Artificial Intelligence. A tank does not need and would not benefit from recent advances in machine learning since it only requires two variables: foward-backwards movement, aiming and shooting. A mech can do 'everything'. Which is why most armies in the world are fervently developing this technology.

From the Military Point of View

  • AGILITY: Just like how humans didn't develop wheels, but instead, we have legs. In the hazardous terrains of Earth, having wheels is a disadvantage. Getting stuck in the mud, skidding in rain/snow, damage due to high friction with the ground, having a weak point (rotor shaft) that is very hard to fix. (Imagine straining your wheel-ankle, but then the repair cells clog up the rotor shaft, rendering you unable to move) Furthermore, conventional wheels only have a single axis of movement, while a mech can move left and right, the mech can even jump if needed. (Though, heavier the mech is, the less high it could jump. Single use rockets might help.)

    Sure, you could use spheres instead of wheels, but then, having legs is easier, and is better than having a very delicate movement system.

    While mountains are a dead-trap to motorized squads, it is a safe-heaven for mechs.

    Furthermore, if you have ECM on the mech, you could probably dodge ATGMs or even dodge tank shells that were fired beyond 3KM, assuming velocity to be 1KM/s. (The computer would have 100ms to react, then 2.9 seconds to move out of the way. Seems reasonable.)

  • REDUNDANCY: A detracked tank is a dead tank. If properly implemented (neural networks), a mech with one leg can still move, just like how a human can move with one leg. If both legs are lost, use arms to crawl on the ground.

    Toppling and flipping over is much less deadly in a mech than a tank, since you can drag yourself up. In the case of a quadrupedal mech, the legs can turn themselves upwards, completely negating the effects of flipping over, and walking fowards like nothing happened (albeit upside-down).

    This would be unthinkable ten years earlier, but with recent advances in machine learning, we are able to predict 'unpredictable' scenarios using neural networks. That means a program can do stuff that it was never 'explicitly programmed' for.

  • VERSATILITY: A big enough mech can wield any kind of weapon without the need make a revision, albeit within specifications (not too heavy, low-recoil, etc.) A mech is also very precise, allowing you do to very specific tasks unrelated to combat directly. Engineering squads would kill to have a mech in their team. Think bridge-building, obstacle removal, pushing stuck vehicles, dealing with rollovers, even fixing large vehicles.

    Now, who said all mechs should be big? If you made 1000 tiny mechs instead of 1 big mech, you could gain a considerable tactical advantage in some occasions. As wheels become smaller and smaller, they become less efficient at moving an object in a rocky terrain. Consider this: If a wheel were smaller than the size of the rock it was to traverse, it would need to travel the distance of the whole rock's surface (assuming the angle doesn't surpass 90 degrees, which then would be impossible), while a mech would not need to do that.

    For all those who claim that "surface area correlates to friction", they haven't finished a single undergraduate physics class. A large track is not better because it has a high surface area, it is because it has multiple teeth that lock into the soil. The larger track is actually used to REDUCE the pressure on the soil and the gears. Without that reduction, gears will constantly wear out, and the tank would constantly dig itself in the ground.

    1000 tiny tanks? Not so much, they wouldn't even be able to move an inch in gravel.

  • STRENGTH: This might be counter-intuitive, but think like this. Tracks cannot be armoured, since they need to be light, and have high friction. Even if you add side-skirts to protect tracks, you cannot add armour under the tracks. Guess what can be armoured on a mech? Yea, you're right, its legs. If the military were using mechs, they would already have figured out to armour all the mech's legs.

    While a tank would be instantly detracked due to a mine, a mech with buffer zones on its legs would only lose a few centimeters of metal, but it can still walk. If the lower legs were built in discrete blocks, you could shed off a part of the other leg to keep both legs at the same length.

  • STEALTH: Mechs can be made as thin and as low-profile possible, considerably reducing the surface area exposed to firepower. Bipedal mechs could theoretically be able to crouch and go prone.

  • MORALE: A completely robotic army does not suffer from morale depletion. You cannot make an army just out of tanks, planes, trucks. You need 'humanoids' capable of traversing buildings, bushes, caves. This is where mechs come in. An armoured command tank could have a computer in it controlling thousands of robotic humanoids.

From the Engineering Point of View

  • COST: Mechs can be cheaper to produce than tanks, as each part of the mech can be produced separately, then combined into one mech. Tanks and vehicles can also be made that way, but the outer armor shell still has to be produced in one chunk, raising its price considerably. As electronic components become cheaper and cheaper, the material components become more important.

    To produce 10000 'intelligent' mechs, you only need to train one neural network. After that, every mech can have a copy of that network, thus saving long term costs. Most of the production cost will be material, and not electrical.

  • MODULARITY: Mech parts can be stocked up, and be replaced at any time. Is your arm broken? In the click of a button, the arm falls off, and you connect a new arm that locks in place.

  • ENERGY USE: Mechs can be entirely electric, without the need of complex gearing mechanisms, energy efficiency is further increased. Each joint can be powered by a single high-powered stepper-motor. This removes the need of gears throughout the mech, again making it easier to repair, makes it cost less and makes it less complex.

To conclude, an intelligent commander would use all the best characteristics of mechs to create an automated, multi-purpose robotic swarm that is able to cheaply and quickly overwhelm the enemy. It is quite frightening indeed.

Of course, big mechs are inherently slow and bulky, smaller mechs would be the way to go.

Now you might think, if this is so GREAT, why hasn't any army developed mechs already? Good question. The reason is that programming bipedal motion is hard... (EXTREMELY hard) (As a computer science student I can attest to that) It took millions of years to evolve bipedal motion, and even for children, it takes 3 years to properly learn how to walk. Armies are pouring tons of money into developing quadrupedal motion. Why not bipedal? Because if the robot cannot even walk with four legs, forget even thinking about walking on only two legs.

So while two-legged mechs are cool in theory, they are really hard to make. However, you should anticipate quadrupedal mechs coming in the next decade or so.

To give you an idea of what it would look like: Quadrupedal Robot.

  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with the agility. Living things cannot develop wheels, or it is very hard to evolve wheels; furthermore, tanks do not just move in a straight line, the treads can be angled for movement. Additionally, saying mechs can jump is like saying elephants can jump - while mechs may be more agile, they are heavy, and jumping is just not plausible. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Oct 22 '16 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on what the mech was made for. Lightweight mechs can jump as easily as how VTOL planes can jump. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 22 '16 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Additionally a detracked tank needs tracks to keep going; a delegged mech needs hours of diagnosing what doesn't work, disassembling the leg to put in new parts, and it needs to be put back upright which would require another machine or vehicle on its own $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Oct 22 '16 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ As I said, properly implemented, having arms and legs is just like how you can pull yourself up, even after losing a leg. Neural networks are an active field of research. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 22 '16 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ The bit about legs being superior for muddy or icy terrain is absolutely not true, as a legged design necessitates much higher ground pressure than a tracked vehicle of comparable weight. Versatility is questionable, considering a modular armament system could be implemented on a tank- the inherent fragility, cost, and difficulty in recoil management are why it isn't common. Lastly, a tank could easily use electric motors, and more efficiently as well. Most of these claimed advantages for mechs are either factually wrong or apply equally to tanks (and haven't been done for practical reasons). $\endgroup$ – Catgut Oct 22 '16 at 16:41

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