Six months have passed since the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the oldest think tank in the field of defense and security, founded in 1831, first published a report on the content of electronic components of Russian weapons used in Ukraine.
media’s Russian service wrote about it on August 11, 2022. The report’s title in Russian not only rings true, but also caustic, hinting at the inept imitation of the missing virtues: “Silicone lifeline: Western electronics at the heart of the Russian military machine” (Silicon Lifeline: Western electronics at the heart of the Russian war machine).
In January-February 2023, the report’s lead authors traveled to the U.S. capital and met with the public at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center site.
James Byrne, Director of Intelligence and Analytics at RUSI, whose research focuses on illegal supply networks in North Korea as well as Russian activities in the Far North; Gary Somerville, RUSI Intelligence and Analysis Fellow, Specialist in Open Source Methodology and Tracking Sanctions Evasion, and Jack Watling, Expert, Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, RUSI Senior Fellow, Specialist in Operational Analysis of Contemporary Conflicts and military operations on the ground – talked about their ongoing work in Ukraine.
The findings of their report sounded sensational: in Russian weapons used in Ukraine, engineers found nearly five hundred key electronic components manufactured abroad and manufactured by companies in the United States, the European Union and Asia. . Initially, captured Russian weapons and their remnants that ended up on Ukrainian territory from the start of the invasion until May 2022 were analyzed: 27 types – from cruise missiles to air defense systems.
“We didn’t just catalog all of these components in the field, we were able to trace their origin and work out the supply chains, study the technology and ultimately say how the Russians get these components, use them and what that means. “, explains James Byrne. “However, we now have a huge amount of data from last summer to today that we are processing.”
James Byrne recalls that in April 2022, when “the future trajectory of the conflict was still not so certain”, he and his team came to Ukraine for the first time. “There was a missile raid early in the morning that day, air raid sirens blared… After breakfast, a Ukrainian soldier came into our room with a bag and took out a large wooden box. metal: there were data exchange buffers that were part of the computer system of the Russian 9M727 missile (one of the munitions of the Iskander-K complex) When dismantling what fell into our hands, we realized that chips made in the USA were a very important part of the electronics of this rocket.
According to open sources, the 9M727 missile can maneuver before hitting a target at a height of 5-7 meters with accelerations of up to 20-30 G, and its speed when descending from the ballistic section of the trajectory can reach 5 at 6 MACH (speed of sound). Apparently, the Russian side deliberately underestimates the data on the range of the product (allegedly up to 500 km) in order to include it within the framework of the agreement on the limitation of medium- and short-range missiles. The United States believes that Russia violated the terms of this treaty.
The rocket weighs 3.8 tons with a length of 7.3 meters and a diameter of almost one meter, the warhead weighs 480 kilograms. It contains a traditional inertial guidance system (based on a gyroscope) – then the so-called “probable circular deviation” at the indicated range is 30-70 meters. But if you install a guidance unit at the last stage of the flight using GLONASS (the Russian analogue of GPS satellite navigation), the accuracy will already be 5-7 meters – almost like its American counterparts. Russia is not able to manufacture this high-precision block itself: parts of the American companies Texas Instruments Inc and Advanced Micro Devices Inc, as well as Cypress Semiconductor, which belongs to the German Infineon Technologies AG, have been used, a RUSI survey showed.
The low accuracy of Russian missiles and shells has already become synonymous. The “new” multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) “Tornado-S” is positioned by the Russians as “high-precision”: its ammunition has not only inertial guidance, but also satellite guidance via GLONASS – modeled on the American high-precision HIMARS systems. The Tornado fires a 300mm 9M549 guided missile with a claimed range of 120 kilometers and an accuracy of 7-15 meters. Yes, “there is a sophisticated calculation unit on board, as well as a three-axis fiber optic gyroscope and a satellite navigation signal processing unit, which allows you to correct the trajectory of ammunition in flight, providing greater long-range accuracy,” agree the authors of the UK report. “However, the rocket’s gyroscope contains a field-programmable array (FPGA) manufactured by Altera Corporation, and the satellite navigation signal processing units are based on high-speed static random access memory (SRAM) modules manufactured by Cypress Semiconductor.”
“As we were working in Ukraine, we started finding Western microcircuits everywhere,” continues the British expert. “And it doesn’t matter whether we dismantle the “most advanced and newest” Russian radio stations with an encryption system, or guidance systems for long-range missiles, both ballistic and cruise, or radars air defense systems. We tried to understand how important components of Western production entered Russia bypassing export controls, and how to prevent this.
“The Russians have been doing extensive research for decades to create these advanced weapons platforms! exclaims the expert. – And what? Now we have not only a problem, but also an opportunity to cut off the flow in order to deprive the Russians of the possibility of rearming: they have suffered enormous losses and to compensate for them they must buy electronics on a large scale today.
The USSR/Russia backlog in technology is nothing new. “Since the 1940s and 1950s, Russian intelligence agencies have hunted Western technology in hopes of accelerating the development of their own military-industrial complex,” says Gary Somerville. “For example, in the 1960s, they had their own agent in the French office of Texas Instruments.” A separate section of the report is devoted to fascinating examples of the Soviets’ spy past. However, the backlog has not been eliminated. As a result, Russia today buys arms from the Third World.
After the publication of the first report, its authors returned to Kiev in October: “And the first thing we saw,” says James Byrne, “was the wreckage of the Iranian HESA Shahed 136 drones, which were shot down literally under our eyes. Needless to say, we again found a large amount of critical electronics inside, mostly made in the USA and subject to export controls.
According to the researchers, of the 450 microcircuits included in the report, at least 318 are made in the United States and at least 81 of them are subject to export control restrictions – that is, they were acquired illegally (the rest are sometimes used in household appliances, for example, in microwave ovens, but still do not have Russian counterparts and are purchased through the back door).
There are also details of the production of Great Britain, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, the Netherlands – countries that have imposed severe sanctions against the aggressor. “No Western component enters the Russian military-industrial complex directly from the manufacturers,” says Gary Somerville. – For many years, the Russians have built a complex infrastructure in different countries of the world, they have leading people and companies that go to distributors. Transshipment is done through Hong Kong (a key hub), but recently Turkey has also become a major transit hub. Thus, it is not only a question of export control: it is a problem of counter-espionage”, concludes the expert.
Somerville estimated that Russia entered the war with about nine hundred Iskander missiles. At the moment, there are just over a hundred left in stock. Russia is capable of producing six missiles per month, but they need Western electronic chips. If engineers find an affordable source of similar chips from another manufacturer, “it takes them about three months to redesign and resume production… In an effort to deliver them, Russian special service agents open dozens of forms through nominees, bribing businessmen …” So the fight against the illegal supply of Western programs to Russia is not a one-time event, experts say: it is a another permanent front, and any success on this one can save lives in Ukraine and bring victory closer.
The war in Ukraine “is rapidly leading to the degradation of the Russian Armed Forces… Russia’s military might is backed by a silicone ‘lifeline’ that runs from the United States to Taiwan to the United Kingdom , the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France, South Korea and Japan, pass their verdict authors of the British report. “Without this lifeline, the Russian army will be condemned to use a technology of increasingly obsolete without the means to ensure accuracy and effectiveness on the battlefield.”
The Ukrainian war will also radically change the future global arms market, experts say, for at least two reasons. Firstly, anyone is unlikely to want to buy weapons that proved to be less effective and did not ensure victory. And secondly, Russia, most likely, will not be able to support already sold weapon systems with spare parts.
Russia will fall more and more into technological dependence. And not only to Western suppliers, but to countries like Iran, China – British experts believe. Apparently, in Russia this is understood to some extent, therefore, according to the authors of the report, they are cautious about replacing Western microcircuits with Chinese ones. There are two reasons: the first is the insufficiently high technical performance of Chinese electronics, the second is mistrust and unwillingness to become dependent, and the third, according to experts, is that Chinese companies, for fear of sanctions Western, do not make explicit offers to supply the Russian side.
“Over time this may change,” the report’s authors believe, “but at the moment there are US-made chips used in all the Russian systems mentioned, they have no replacement on the market. from other suppliers, and there is no possibility of producing in Russia. Not at all”.
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