Report Reveals Western Technology Guiding Russia’s Weapons in Ukraine

According to a report by the British Royal United Services Institute, microelectronics produced in the United States and allied countries are crucial components of the Russian weapon systems used during the invasion of Ukraine.

The RUSI report, Silicon Lifeline: Western electronics as the heart of the Russian war machine, says more than 450 foreign-made components were found in Russian weapons recovered in Ukraine. The report’s authors say that in the years leading up to the invasion, Moscow acquired critical technology from companies in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Ukraine claims that Russia fired more than 3,650 missiles and guided rockets into its territory in the first five months of the war. Most weapons rely largely on Western-made microelectronics technologies, according to report co-author Gary Somerville, a researcher at RUSI’s Open-Source Intelligence and Analysis Research Group.

“They don’t seem to actually have the ability to reproduce, at least at the same level of sophistication and on a large scale, much of this critical microelectronics. These are the ones that would be absolutely essential, for example for precision-guided ammunition that has very sophisticated processing units, ”Somerville told VOA.

This includes the Russian Iskander 9M727 cruise missile, one of its most advanced weapons. RUSI researchers recovered some missiles in the field inside Ukraine and inspected the microelectronics inside.

They found several Western-sourced components, including digital signal processors, flash memory modules, and static RAM modules made by U.S.-based companies, including Texas Instruments, Advanced Micro Devices, and Cypress Semiconductor, along company-sourced ethernet cabling. American, Dutch and German.

Russia’s Kh-101 cruise missiles, some of which aimed at the Ukrainian capital Kiev, were found to contain 31 foreign components.

Common chips

All the microelectronics companies named in the report said they were complying with trade sanctions and stopped selling components to Russia. There is no suggestion in the report that the companies have violated export control laws.

“How is it possible for Russia to get hold of this stuff? When we actually looked at a lot of these components, they’re pretty mundane and in many ways ubiquitous, they can be found in any kind of electronics really – microwaves, dishwashers, ”Somerville said.

Such microelectronics was freely available to Russia prior to its invasion of Ukraine.

However, RUSI has also identified at least 81 components classified as “dual-use” by the US Department of Commerce and subject to US export controls.

They include a high-performance CMOS static RAM microchip originally manufactured by US-based Cypress Semiconductor, found inside a portable navigation system used by Russian special forces to pinpoint their location and estimate coordinates for precision artillery and air strikes.

“The component is a high-speed, ultra-low-power memory chip148 classified as a dual-use good for export purposes,” according to the RUSI report.

Two-thirds of the foreign components found in Russian weapon systems were manufactured by US-based companies. Japan was the second largest supplier.

Export prohibitions

Much of the microelectronics found in weapons was decades old, and following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, many states banned the export of such components to Russia.

Somerville pointed to Russia’s history of using elaborate methods to procure technology, Somerville said.

“It is through the use of a number of front companies that, on the surface when performing a due diligence check, they appear legitimate, but in reality they are, or may be affiliated in some way, large Russian companies that are actually members of the military-industrial complex, ”he said.

The report details how Russia is also using fake end-user certificates and transhipment companies based in third countries, including many in Hong Kong, to obscure the final destination.

It cites Russian customs documents showing that in March 2021 a company imported $ 600,000 worth of electronics manufactured by Texas Instruments through a Hong Kong-based distributor. Seven months later, the same company imported another $ 1.1 million worth of microelectronics made by Xilinx, according to RUSI.

US and allied sanctions imposed on Russian arms manufacturers and the companies that supply them with components must be tightened, Somerville said.

“What the sanctions and the effective enforcement of these sanctions can do is increase the costs for Russia to acquire this particular microelectronics,” he said.

The report’s authors say that Russia is now rushing to buy wholesale microelectronics and that its military could be permanently weakened if the supply is interrupted.

Some of the information contained in this report was provided by Reuters.

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