British technology found in Russian weapons used in Ukraine

·5 min read
Orlan-10 drones - Vadim Savitsky
Orlan-10 drones - Vadim Savitsky

British technology has been found in Russian weapons used against Ukraine, a new report has revealed.

Oscillators and crystals produced by Somerset-based Golledge Electronics have been built into Russian radars and missile systems.

The highly sophisticated components show that Moscow’s war machine is reliant on highly sophisticated Western technology, according to the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi).

Russia has lost so many cruise and ballistic missiles, electronic warfare equipment and specialist radios in Ukraine that “the degradation in Russian military capability could be made permanent if appropriate policies are implemented”, the report says.

The Kremlin has also set up a “clandestine network” of spies to try and source replacements for the components, which it can no longer access because of sanctions, it adds.

The oscillators and crystals emit a precise electrical signal that can be used in computer chips and quartz watches.

Russia built them into its Torn-MDM, a truck-based system designed to intercept communications and radio signals, and the Tor-M2 rocket, which uses radar to detect targets.

The UK, as a member of the European Union, introduced a prohibition on the export of so-called “dual-use” goods for military purposes as part of a 2014 sanctions package against Moscow after the illegal annexation of Crimea.

However, a loophole, which was not closed by Brussels until after the outbreak of the conflict, allowed European businesses to continue sending items to Russia that could have military application as long as the importing firm promised it would not be used as such.

In February, days after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK introduced a tougher ban on shipments to Russia of all products and technology – including microchips and semiconductors – that could have “dual use” to support its military.

The measure has been constantly tweaked by both the UK and EU throughout the war in order to widen the scope of products captured under the sanctions.

Technical inspections by Rusi of 27 missiles and other equipment fired at or captured in Ukraine revealed 450 different kinds of unique foreign-made components.

Inspections showed 317 components had been sourced from the US, the most from any single country.

Japan and Taiwan were the source of 34 and 30 pieces of kit respectively. Meanwhile, Britain was found to have supplied five highly sensitive components.

Close examination of a Russian Orlan-10 drone, used for identifying Ukrainian positions for subsequent strikes by artillery and other weapons, revealed the camera, produced by Sony, was mounted on a gimbal supplied by the US-firm Hextronik.

The drone’s flight control system is based on technology from Swiss firm STMicroelectronics, with the engine supplied by Japanese company Saito Seisakusho.

The radio used to communicate data to the Russian artillery brigade headquarters included components from US-based Analog Devices and Texas Instruments.

Other weapon systems were found to be similarly reliant on Western technology.

“From the standard to the boutique, Russia’s weapons contain large numbers of microelectronic components originally manufactured in North America, Europe and East Asia,” the report’s authors stated.

“If Russia is to have this silicon lifeline severed, it is critical that governments review and strengthen existing export controls from their own countries and jurisdictions, cooperate multi-nationally to identify and close down Russian covert procurement networks [and] discourage third countries and jurisdictions from facilitating re-export or transshipment of controlled goods to Russia.”

An inside look at the circuitry of the Zarya Guidance computer used on a 9M727 cruise missile, containing US-made parts
An inside look at the circuitry of the Zarya Guidance computer used on a 9M727 cruise missile, containing US-made parts

The British components were designed and produced by Golledge Electronics, a supplier to the electronics industry based in Ilminster. The company exports its products to over 50 countries.

In early March 2022, the company reported that it had ceased business in Russia on February 24 following the invasion of Ukraine.

A spokesman for Golledge Electronics said the company follows all global export control laws and has “robust business processes in place to deal with the supply of goods into Russia”.

“We have not quoted for Russian business, or shipped to Russia since February 24 2022. We are deeply concerned about these findings and do not support any use of our components to violate human rights,” the spokesman added.

The report adds that the Kremlin’s “special services are now working to build new routes to secure access to Western microelectronics”.

A secret unit called Line X, formed as part of the KGB during the Cold War, is thought to be behind efforts to avoid sanctions and source for Russia sensitive military equipment subject to tight export controls.

As Western-supplied kit becomes harder to acquire, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and military intelligence agency (GRU) are “aggressively [pursuing] the procurement of parts, components and technical knowledge necessary to build and field weapons designed to crush their adversaries”, Rusi says.

Russia has engaged in scientific and technological espionage operations for decades.

For almost a century, the country’s intelligence services have prioritised the acquisition of critical technology for Russia’s weapons programmes.

A Russian soldier prepares Orlan-10 UAV for a battle mission in Ukraine - Ministry of Defense of Russia/Newsflash
A Russian soldier prepares Orlan-10 UAV for a battle mission in Ukraine - Ministry of Defense of Russia/Newsflash

Preoccupied with maintaining parity with the West, at its height around 100,000 people were involved in Soviet technical espionage operations, according to the report.

In recent months, the US Government has continued to pursue Russia’s clandestine procurement networks.

Just one month after the 2022 invasion, the US Treasury designated more than 30 individuals and companies allegedly procuring critical Western technology on behalf of Russian intelligence agencies, according to the Rusi report.

The UK has also been a target of Russia’s technical espionage operations.

Rusi says a large complement of the KGB’s Line X officers were based in London in the 1980s with one of their key targets being the defence firm Rolls-Royce.