Monday, May 30, 2022

Russian weapons using US microchips


The War Zone reports that many Russian weapons are using US-designed and -made chips.

When Ukrainian forces began to take apart several pieces of captured or partially destroyed Russian military equipment, they found a strong reliance on foreign microchips - especially those made in the United States - according to component lists Ukraine intelligence shared with The War Zone.

The chips in question were found inside a recovered example of the 9S932-1, a radar-equipped air defense command post vehicle that is part of the larger Barnaul-T system, a Pantsir air defense system, a Ka-52 “Alligator” attack helicopter, and a Kh-101 (AS-23A Kodiak) cruise missile.

The component list offers some of the most detailed information to date about the extent of where the Russians are getting critical microchips, semiconductors and other components. The items on those lists raise serious questions about Russia's ability to produce the technological components its war machine relies on and the ability of countries like the U.S. to keep those technologies secure, an expert tells The War Zone.

. . .

On May 11, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told a Senate hearing that sanctions against Russia were forcing it to seek alternate sources of key components.

“We have reports from Ukrainians that when they find Russian military equipment on the ground, it’s filled with semiconductors that they took out of dishwashers and refrigerators,” Raimondo testified, who recently met with Ukraine’s prime minister.

There's more at the link.

This doesn't surprise me in the least.  It's a time-honored method of obtaining technology in the face of embargoes and sanctions.  South Africa faced a very severe arms embargo under the apartheid government, but that didn't stop it importing just about anything it really needed.  I've written before about some of its sanctions-busting weapons.  I had direct involvement in some of those projects, and I can't say we had any difficulty in getting our hands on anything important.  When you can pay in gold (untraceable and untaxable), or cash on the barrelhead in any currency the seller demands (easy to obtain in exchange for gold), all sorts of things become possible.

The very ease with which sanctions and embargoes can be circumvented makes them double-edged swords.  Some countries (including the USA) impose such swingeing restrictions on such exports that other countries take over the market by default.  For example, the US is very, very restrictive on what countries can buy its Predator or Reaper drones, and usually insists on rigorous restrictions on their use.  Israeli, Turkish and Chinese exporters have no such scruples - and they've claimed more than 80% of the world market for armed UAV's as a result.  US manufacturers would love to muscle in on that market, and they have very good technology indeed with which to do so:  but they can't, because US legal restrictions block them.  Needless to say, foreign manufacturers are delighted by that;  in fact, I wouldn't be surprised to hear they're paying lobbying firms to encourage the House and Senate to extend such restrictions, because they're making so much money out of them!

As for chips "from dishwashers and refrigerators", that's also nothing new.  For example, at one time South Africa's armaments industry needed a particular miniaturized component.  It couldn't buy it from the manufacturers, thanks to the arms embargo:  but a functionally identical component was found in certain models of Timex watches (not surprising, because Timex also manufactured complex fuses for the US military).  It didn't take long for South Africa to become one of the world's top export markets for Timex.  As the watches flooded in by the thousand, the necessary component was extracted, repackaged and shipped to Armscor for re-use, while the remaining watch parts were summarily junked.  Timex was reportedly very happy with the commercial success of its watches in South Africa, and - officially, at least - never realized what was going on.



Old NFO said...

No surprise at all. Market and supply and demand drive people anywhere in the world to get what they need, either legally or illegally.

The Lab Manager said...

I'm sure glad Republicans in Congress decided to go along with the idea the borders of the Ukraine and maybe getting the US into WWIII is more important than the southern borders. That money could have finished the wall and deported a lot of the illegals back to their country.

Phil said...

Remember when "Mac call home" came out ~10 years ago? They can find your Mac because all the Intel CPUs since that time (starting w/ "Sandy Bridge") have cell phone chips & antennae built in. They also have hardware back doors. This may be why the Russians have been reluctant to deploy newer or more advanced equipment.
PS works on your computer too. :(

Jonathan H said...

Not at all surprising. The US is still the leader in electronics, though I suspect many of them are actually made overseas these days - and they are used so widely, enforcing sanctions is essentially impossible.

Ray - SoCal said...

It would be helpful to have an actual list of components with details.

My gut feeling is most are low cost commodity mass produced, so easily procured semiconductors.

Antibubba said...

Given how many of "our" microchips are made in China, I have to wonder if they're being supplied that way.