How Russia continues to import weapons chips from the West

How Russia continues to import weapons chips from the West

Russian weapons used in Ukraine are full of chips and western electronics. In many cases, these are not advanced technology (subject to restrictions), but standard and outdated components. Here's what the Reuters investigation says

"Without those US chips, missiles and most Russian weapons wouldn't work."

The phrase is from an anonymous Ukrainian official and refers to the massive presence of American electronic components in Russian 9M727 cruise missiles, one of the most devastating weapons used by Moscow in its war against Ukraine. The statement was collected byReuters , which dedicated – in collaboration with the British think tank RUSI and with iStories, a Russian portal specializing in investigative journalism – a long study of the presence of Western components in Russia's weapons.


The 9M727 missile, for example, contains microcontrollers, programmable chips and signal processors made by US companies such as Texas Instruments, Altera (an Intel company), Xilinx and Maxim Integrated Products. There are also semiconductors from Cypress Semiconductor Corporation, a former American company incorporated by Germany's Infineon.


Reuters explains that, despite Western restrictions – in place for several years – on the supply of sophisticated chips to the Russian defense industry, many of the weapons supplied to Moscow also contain not particularly advanced semiconductors, such as those found in electronic devices. consumption and for this reason they are generally not subject to export control measures.


After the invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, the United States and other countries have banned the export of high-tech products to Russia with the aim of damaging its defense industry. The tech companies announced the suspension of all exports to the country. Yet Reuters has documented the existence of a stream of Western-made electronic components bound for Russia. Since the beginning of the war there have been thousands and thousands of shipments, mainly attributable to unauthorized suppliers. But not only.

Reuters has indeed found evidence of shipments (via third-party vendors) of products from AMD, Analog Devices, Infineon, Intel and Texas Instruments that arrived in Russia after February 24. AMD, Analog Devices and Infineon said they have initiated internal investigations. Infineon and Texas Instruments talked about cargoes already in transit at the time of the invasion. Intel, on the other hand, said its products were reserved for its subsidiary's facilities in Russia before it decided to end operations in the country in early April.

By examining Russian customs data, Reuters was able to identify over 15,000 shipments of Western electronic components that reached Russia from after February 24 to the end of May. The components in question include microprocessors, programmable chips and storage devices, among other things.


Russia's dependence on Western electronics for its weapons systems has been known for a long time. "Moscow," writes Reuters , "has a long history of acquiring contraband military components from the United States, including expensive specialized satellite chips that can withstand radiation in space."


On the day of the invasion of Ukraine, the White House announced that the United States and its allies were imposing restrictions on Russia on semiconductors, telecommunications, encryption, lasers, sensors, navigation systems, avionics and maritime technologies with the aim of cutting off access to cutting-edge technologies. However, these restrictions do not apply to many non-military technology products.

A spokesman for the US Department of Commerce, however, stated that "the powerful export controls put in place by the United States and 37 allies and partners are heavily affecting Russia's access to the items and technologies it needs to support. its military aggression, including semiconductors. With the passage of time and with the continuous decrease of their stocks, our controls will be even more effective ”.


But the black box analysis of Russian 9M727 missiles shows that Russia does not rely only on the most advanced technologies for its precision weapons. On the contrary: the stamps imprinted on two chips produced by Texas Instruments, for example, show that they were produced more than thirty years ago. A Ukrainian military component expert told Reuters that often the chips in Russian weapons "are the same ones you can find in your car or in your microwave."

Gehan Amaratunga, professor of electronic engineering at Cambridge University, examined the list of more than six hundred western components found in Russian weapons compiled by RUSI and Reuters . He called them “standard products, dated and found in many industrial electronic systems. As such, they are not specialized products with military specifications ”. He then added that "all standard integrated circuits can be used for both civilian and military purposes".


Beyond the sanctions, in short, exports to Russia of many Western electronic components are not yet subject to restrictions. And even if they were – the agency specifies -, there are many sellers in East Asia and other regions of the world who are potentially willing to send them to Moscow; moreover, many of these subjects escape the control of Western companies.


In the Corriere della Sera Federico Fubini wrote in recent days that Turkey – which has not imposed sanctions on Russia – "has gradually become a platform through which numerous exporters of 'made in Italy' continue to supply Russia".

“It is difficult to explain otherwise the glaring oddities of the last few months,” says the journalist. In June, Turkey was the country of destination for exports for Italy that recorded the strongest growth: +87 per cent on an annual basis, for a total of 1.4 billion euros. Strange, because “in over ten years of sales to Turkey they have always remained well below one billion per month”. “All the more surprising”, adds Fubini, “is this boom because in the last year the Turkish lira has almost halved its value against the euro, making imports from Italy much more expensive for local businesses”.

From February to June, Turkish exports to Russia also grew dramatically.


On the other hand, Russia itself has made no secret of its intention to continue importing Western technologies. In June, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that allows Russian companies to import electronic products and components even without the permission of the companies that own the brands .


Russia depends on Western technology for some of its weaponry because it does not manufacture most of the necessary electronic components itself. Before using them, however, the Russian defense industry subjects them to careful monitoring to ensure that they do not contain vulnerabilities ( back doors ) that can be exploited by the governments of the countries of origin to conduct espionage or to sabotage them in combat.

To prevent “compromised” (in the sense of infiltrable) components from ending up in the arms of the Russian army, the Kremlin relies on a scientific institute near Moscow, the All-Russian Research Institute of Radio Electronics, to verify and certify them. However, Russia is trying to encourage domestic companies to produce the components necessary for the defense sector in-house.

It will not be easy. A document from the institute viewed by Reuters reads that Russia has no equivalent of many Western technological components.

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL on Tue, 09 Aug 2022 08:34:45 +0000.