Soldiers in Ukraine are using Steam Decks to remotely operate a high-caliber machine gun turret. The weapon being controlled by the handheld video game consoles, called the “Sabre,” is unique to Ukraine and was built using money raised on a crowdfunding website that’s been operating since Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014.
Ukrainian news outlet TPO Media recently reported on the deployment of a new model of the Sabre on its Facebook page. Photos and videos of the system show soldiers operating a Steam Deck connected to a large machine gun via a heavy piece of cable. According to the TPO Media post, the Sabre system allows soldiers to fight the enemy from a great distance and can handle a range of calibers, from light machine guns firing anti-tank rounds to an AK-47.
In the TPO footage, the Sabre is firing what appears to be a PKT belt-fed machine gun. The PKT is a heavy barrelled machine that doesn’t have a stock and is typically mounted on vehicles like armored personnel carriers. It uses a solenoid trigger so it can be fired remotely, which is the cable running out of the back of the gun and into the complex of metal and wires on the side of the turret.
The Sabre system wasn’t always controlled with a Steam Deck, which was introduced by Steam owner Valve in 2022 to bring PC games to the handheld market. The Steam Deck runs Linux, but can also be loaded with Windows by a user.
The first instances of the weapon appeared in 2014. The U.S. and the rest of NATO is giving Ukraine a lot of money for defense now, but that wasn’t the case when Russia first invaded in 2014. To fill its funding gaps, Ukrainians ran a variety of crowdfunding campaigns.
Over the years, Ukraine has used crowdfunding to pay for everything from drones to hospitals. One of the most popular websites is The People’s Project, and it’s there that the Sabre was born. The People’s Project launched the crowdfunding campaign for Sabre in 2015 and collected more than $12,000 for the project over the next two years. It’s initial goal was to deploy 10 of these systems.
“Soldiers have been injured because they were on top of armored personnel vehicles and while protected to some extent, their chest and heads were exposed,” a rep for the project said in a YouTube video that demoed a prototype. “This device will save lives because the military will not be as exposed to fire.”
Eight years later, the Sabre looks much fancier than it did in those initial prototypes. It has a fancy suite of optics on the front of it in addition to being controlled by a Steam Deck. The idea is that these can be used at checkpoints and other locations where a soldier might want to see targets and fire a weapon but avoid direct fire from the enemy.
These kinds of turrets aren’t new. The Republic of Korea has pioneered the art of automated turrets along the DMZ between it and North Korea. Israel has deployed AI-powered turrets in the West Bank. That system, the Smartshooter, is similar to the Sabre. It takes an existing rifle and mounts it into a turret system that a human can operate remotely.