Report details restricted European and US tech in Russian weapons in Ukraine

Report details restricted European and US tech in Russian weapons in Ukraine

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By Nick Flaherty

Restricted chips from European and US companies have been found in military equipment being used by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Dual use devices that can be used for military designs have export restrictions imposed by the EU and US, but there were also many mainstream microcontrollers and power devices used, some of which were decades old but others used in modern military drones.

The report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London found 318 components from 57 US companies, the majority commodity parts from Analog Devices and Texas Instruments.

The detailed report is here

There were 57 from Japanese companies, 18 from Swiss companies, mainly STMicroelectronics and GLONASS navigation module u-blox, as well as five from UK companies.

A total of 81 components found in Russian weapons systems are classified as dual-use goods with associated Export Control Classification Numbers (ECCN) from the Bureau of Industry and Security of the US Department of Commerce.

Silicon lifeline

The report calls for governments and companies to cut off this ‘silicon lifeline’ for producing new weapons systems but warns of unintended geopolitical consequences.

“Russia’s military power has been sustained by a silicon lifeline; one that runs from the US, through the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France, to Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. Without that lifeline, the Russian military will be destined to employ increasingly obsolescent technology, without the means to deliver precision or efficiency on the battlefield,” say the researchers.

“This may see Russia become increasingly dependent on China or its armaments. The critical question this report puts before Western policymakers is whether this silicon lifeline is to be cut, and whether states are prepared to exploit the opportunities that severing it creates.”

“Many states had depended on Russia as an arms supplier. The assurance of those arms remains critical to their national security. For countries like India, which sources 45% of its defence imports from Russia, a loss of access to Russian equipment constitutes a security threat. This may encourage countries in this position to facilitate the evasion of sanctions,” say the researchers.

“Alternatively, since few countries in this position have large microelectronic industries, it could be a catalyst to alter their suppliers. This presents opportunities for the Western alliance if it can bring constructive proposals to these states, while avoiding an exploitative approach to foreign military sales. It could also significantly sour relations with several powerful countries if no constructive proposals are forthcoming while Western sanctions undermine national security.”

Weapons systems

The dataset acquired by RUSI covers 27 weapons systems, platforms, radios, and pieces of equipment either captured or expended in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022 up until the end of June.

These systems include several long-range strike assets such as the 9M720 Iskander-M quasi-ballistic missile. It also includes tactical combat platforms such as the 9K331M Tor-M2 air-defence system and a variety of UAVs, radio and satellite communication systems such as the R-168 Akveduk tactical radio, as well as electronic warfare (EW) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) platforms.

For example, the Tornado-S multiple rocket launcher battery uses a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) produced by Altera (part of Intel since 2016) with high speed SRAMs from Cypress Semiconductor (part of Infineon Technologies since 2021). FPGAs from Xilinx (now part of AMD) have also been found in military systems. Intel, AMD and Infineon all stopped shipping part into Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

Many of the controlled components were found in Russia’s most critical weapons systems such as the 9M549 300-mm GLONASS-guided rocket, the Kh-59 anti-ship missile (AShM) and the R-330BMV EW system. The 9M549 rocket and Kh-59 contained flash memory and SRAM modules that are ECCN controlled.

The R-330BMV contained a variety of ECCN-controlled components including FPGAs, CPLDs, microprocessors, digital signal processors and A/D converters. Other goods with an ECCN included Dutch semiconductors in the Kh-101 ALCM and a high-performance CMOS static RAM chip inside the 9M727 GLCM. Five separate ECCN components were also found in the Torn-MDM SIGINT system, including Western-manufactured microcontrollers and RF amplifiers

CML Microcircuits and Golledge Electronics in Somerset, UK, are also cited in the report for crystal oscillators and timing circuits, although Golledge is now part of the Dutch Techpoint group. Other Dutch semiconductor companies NXP and Nexperia are also cited for the microcontrollers and power devices respectively.

Clandestine procurement

The report highlights the challenges of a global supply chain for commodity semiconductors as well as for tracking the shipments of restricted devices.

The researchers point out that Russia has had a clandestine programme to acquire sensitive components for its military design for many years. Its FSB security agency, the successor to the KGB, has worked with companies in Hong Kong to supply devices.

“Much of Russia’s procurement of Western microelectronics for military purposes involved the use of false end-user certificates, front companies and trans-shipments,” say the researchers.

Industry response

The parts were shipped legally via distribution before sanctions were imposed earlier this year say suppliers.

“Microchip is a leading provider of smart, connected, and secure embedded control solutions with more than 120,000 customers across the industrial, automotive, consumer, aerospace and defense, communications, and computing markets,” said the company. “Distributors also sell our products into the marketplace. We take our responsibility as a good corporate citizen seriously. In compliance with export laws, and because actions by Russia against the Ukraine are in opposition to our Guiding Values, Microchip ceased shipments to customers in Russia, Belarus, and sanctioned regions in the Ukraine.”

“Our products have many possible customer applications. Microchip sells such products in compliance with applicable laws, including export controls and trade sanctions,” it said. “At this time, we are unable to review all sales transactions related to the products in question. Microchip takes care to maintain supply chain integrity by various methods including screening its customers against restricted party lists. Without access to specific devices, we are unable to advise whether they are Microchip products, and if Microchip products, how they ended up in a particular product or application.”

“We have been aware since 2018 that ublox modules were found in Russian military drones,” said u-blox. “These products were sold to a civilian customer by our Eastern European distributor in 2015, long before sanctions were imposed on Russia.”

“As the market leader for positioning technologies, we see it as our duty to prevent the misuse of our products for military purposes. We stick by a clear policy since our foundation that our solutions are not to be used in weapons – whether civilian, military, or weapon systems for target identifications. Our global sales teams and distributors are contractually obligated to strictly adhere to these restrictions and must follow this directive. Apart from the case mentioned, we are not aware of any military use of our products, nor would any use be authorized by us.”

“We strongly condemn the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and immediately stopped all exports to Russia, Belarus and the territories occupied by Russia in Ukraine as soon as the war began.”

“Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and in compliance with US and EU sanctions, Analog Devices ceased business activities in Russia and promptly instructed all of its distributors to halt shipments of our products into Russia. Any post-sanctions shipments into Russia would be in direct violation of ADI’s express instructions. We take this matter seriously and would be interested to investigate any and all information related to any possible distributors who may have violated our express instructions,” said a spokesperson for Analog Devices.

Over 50 unique components from TI were discovered in several Russian systems, including digital signal processors found in various computing and processing modules in the 9M727 land-attack cruise missile, a CAN transceiver found in the electronic detonator of the KUB-BLA ‘kamikaze’ UAV, power management modules in an E95M target drone and in the Orlan-10 UAV, as well as audio codecs and converters in several of the radio sets used by the Russian Army.

“At least 10 of the Texas Instrument components discovered in these weapon platforms are under US export controls. This includes the TMS320 C25GBA and TMS320 C30GEL digital signal processors, both present in the 9M727 GLCM.73,” says the report.

Texas Instruments told the Reuters news agency it had conducted “an in-depth review” and found that 36 shipments by the company and six by one of its authorized distributors that arrived in Russia in late February and early March were in transit before the invasion began.

“We stand behind our earlier statement that we are not selling into Russia … and comply with applicable laws and regulations in the countries where we operate,” it said.

“We suspended all shipments to and business with customers in Russia since the end of February and Belarus since early March,” said NXP in a statement. “We are now in the process of ceasing our operations in Russia and continue to comply fully with applicable measures and sanctions.”

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