Latest Russian attacks highlight shift to indigenous electronics

Recent Russian missile attacks, particularly those reported in March, suggest a shift in the integration of electronic components, according to Ukrainian sources. An examination of missile navigation systems revealed that Russia is actively replacing Western electronics with indigenous alternatives. Findings detailed that All-Russian electrical units are in use in several cruise missiles, such as Kalibr, Kh-59, and Kh-101, in addition to the Iskander complex and the P-500 anti-ship missile, as shared by Defense Express in its analytical report. 

Latest Russian attacks highlight shift to indigenous electronics
Photo credit: Reddit

The CH-99 navigation system, found in the aforementioned missiles, has been the primary channel for this information. Although the system still employs Western electronics, it’s now increasingly integrating Russian versions. According to the experts, the discovered Russian-built electronics indicate a significant accomplishment in efforts to replace their foreign equivalents.

What we’re observing right now underscores the dual-pronged approach of the Russian military and industrial complex – leveraging external resources to the fullest while simultaneously fostering internal capabilities. Based on assessments from Ukraine, the noteworthy trend of “substituting with Russian components” has largely gone unnoticed by many commentators. 

Latest Russian attacks highlight shift to indigenous electronics
Photo credit: Defense Express

Rosatom in the game

However, BulgarianMilitary.com caught onto this trend as early as February 2023. We reported on a notable industrial acquisition facilitated by the government. Rosatom, Russia’s most extensive technological corporation within the nuclear energy sector, established a subsidiary organization known as “Critical Information Systems” [NGO KIS]. Impressively, they procured 100% of the shares of a local microprocessor developer, MCST Elbrus AD.

In 2023, a representative shareholder from MCST candidly stated that the top-tier nuclear company had no commercial affinity with MCST. However, according to industry insiders, it was clear that the state-owned corporation was operating under the directives of the Russian government. The implications of these moves suggest that the Russian government is initiating measures to protect its important asset, MCST. Pundits in Russia underline that this involvement from a state-owned corporation signifies a progressive stride for Russian photolithography equipment production and an incoming wave of new semiconductor plants. Given the era of sanctions, these developments are paramount. 

Russia acquired processor developer Elbrus through Rosatom
Photo credit: Yandex

Over the last three decades, a distinct trend has emerged: most microprocessor and video chip market participants have transitioned to what is commonly known as the Fabless production model. Essentially, this entails that all the renowned US manufacturers of processors, Very Large Scale Integrations [VLSIs], and graphic chips, including industry giants like AMD, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Radeon, and Altera, operate without a physical factory.

Taiwan’s role

Here’s how the situation unfolds – individual entities continue to independently design their own chip circuits, cores, and various technical solutions while envisioning the architecture for future products. However, production relies heavily on the process drawings provided. The vast majority of these manufacturing tasks rest in the control of Taiwan’s semiconductor giant, TSMC. 

Russia acquired processor developer Elbrus through Rosatom
Photo credit: Yandex

The pivotal concern here is understandable – every chip developer in Russia is fabless, which implies their developments are manufactured at the same TSMC factory. But to put things into a deeper perspective, Taiwan is under the firm grip of the United States. 

The fact that Rosatom acquired all shares of MCST Elbrus AD in 2023 doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate production within Russia. It’s worth considering that most of the country’s chips are developed on 28-16 nm technology, whereas Russia possesses only 180-130 and an experimental 90 nm technology. Furthermore, the production of 300 mm silicon wafers is still a distant goal.

As it stands, Russian processors are predominantly distributed to domestic equipment manufacturers, even though potential reserves estimated in the tens or hundreds of thousands might be tucked away in warehouses or at TSMC. In February 2023, we posed the question: when will we see the first chips from this new firm? Now, a year later, could these chips be the ones we find in the missiles used in Russia’s most recent attacks? 

Russia acquired processor developer Elbrus through Rosatom
Photo credit: Yandex

The numbers are now different

For simplicity, let’s delve into an instance that’s getting a lot of buzz – recurring discoveries of Western-made parts found in Russian missiles and drones. Remarkably, there seems to be an almost complete silence when it comes to discussing the presence of Russian-made components in any weapon aimed at them. Interestingly, we can extract insightful data from Russia’s official production statistics released for the first quarter of 2024, as referenced in a post by Pavel Luzin, a strategist at the Jamestown Foundation.

According to these statistics, semiconductor production and its components showed a significant surge, climbing to 14.14 million units from 10.9 million units in the first quarter of 2023. However, Luzin attributes this increase to a strategic inflow of shipments into Russia as a countermove against sanctions. 

It’s valuable to scrutinize the progressively rising production statistics of cellulose and ammonium nitrate, key components used in the creation of explosives for rockets and projectiles. For comparison, consider a report from Western media indicating that by the summer of 2023, Russia had already doubled its entire cellulose imports for 2022, reaching a milestone of 3,039 tons. Interestingly, this report seems to overlook the fact that China, the primary supplier of this crucial resource, significantly supports Russian industries.

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