A few months into the war, Ukraine claimed that most Russian missiles and other critical military hardware were equipped with West-supplied microchips. After losing more missiles than initially anticipated, Moscow could be looking to acquire these semiconductor microchips, according to reports.
US Approves Deadly Air-To-Air Missiles For Taiwan Days After China Vows To Make Superior Missiles Than Foreign Counterparts
In May, Ukraine announced that Russia was using microchips by borrowing them from electrical appliances such as computers and refrigerators. The problem became a crisis as Russia had to turn to old Soviet-era rockets instead of modern precision-guided missiles due to dwindling microchips.
In what could come as a massive setback, Russia is now running low on hypersonic missiles due to chip scarcity. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal estimated that Russia was down to just “four dozen” hypersonic missiles, Politico reported.
“These are the ones that have precision and accuracy due to the microchips that they have. But because of sanctions imposed on Russia, the deliveries of this high-tech microchip equipment have stopped, and they have no way of replenishing these stocks,” he said.
Russia has three kinds of hypersonic weapons in its inventory – the Avangard, the Kinzhal, and the Tsirkon/Zircon.
Semiconductor chips form an essential component of hypersonic weapons, space sensors, and even stealth aircraft – all of which are indispensable requirements in Moscow’s war-fighting effort.
The shortage coincides with Ukrainian troops getting cutting-edge weapon systems from the US and other Western allies, causing widespread damage to key military installations and infrastructure deep into the Russian territory.
Kyiv is determined to prevent Russia from obtaining high-tech chips to avoid supplies of missiles, both supersonic and hypersonic.
Ukraine is warning nations worldwide that the Kremlin has prepared shopping lists for semiconductors, transformers, connectors, casings, transistors, insulators, and other parts that it needs to fuel its war effort.
Most of these parts are made by companies in the US, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Taiwan, and Japan, among others. If Russia manages to secure these components, the war’s course will change again, to Ukraine’s detriment.
Can The US Pull The Plug On Russia’s Hypersonic Fire Power?
EurAsian Times had earlier reported that Conflict Armament Research (CAR) researchers conducted an independent analysis of the Russian military hardware during a week-long visit to Ukraine in May, at the latter’s invitation. The researchers discovered that almost all of the equipment contained parts manufactured by US and EU firms.
The investigators reportedly disassembled every advanced piece of Russian equipment they could get their hands on, including laser range finders and cruise missile guidance systems. The team discovered Western-made components, including microchips, circuit boards, engines, antennas, and other machinery.
At the time, the Russian media reports asserted that the American specialists visited the places where the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles hit and searched for their fragments.
The report cited a military expert, Dmitry Kornev, who said there was particular interest in the hypersonic Kizhal missiles because of a lack of information. The US is keen to decode them.
In early August, a report by Reuters revealed that Russian equipment collected from the battlefield in Ukraine comprised sophisticated Western chips. It was investigated in collaboration with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a London-based defense think tank, and iStories, a Russia-focused investigative news site.
The onboard computer system inside one cruise missile’s black metal box showed that Russia relied on microchips, besides other state-of-the-art technology, for its precision weaponry.
“For the most part, it’s the same chips that you find in your car or your microwave,” said a Ukrainian weapons expert with access to recovered Russian military gear.
These chips are the brains of today’s technology, driving everything from smartphones to power grids to intercontinental ballistic missiles. However, the supply of these chips has been restricted due to crippling international sanctions imposed on Moscow.
On the day of the invasion, the White House announced that the US and its allies were imposing “Russia-wide restrictions on semiconductors, telecommunication, encryption security, lasers, sensors, navigation, avionics and maritime technologies” that it said would “cut off Russia’s access to cutting edge technology.”
Like all missiles, this would have potentially crippled the production of hypersonic missiles in Russia. So, while the US and its allies have taken away the military edge and superior firepower that Putin’s forces enjoyed, Moscow is meticulously trying to circumvent these restrictions.
Circumventing Sanctions For Micro Chips
According to Politico, Russia has made a list of components it needs to be organized into three priority groups, from the essential elements to the least. EurAsian Times could not independently verify these claims.
The Kremlin has relied on major companies in the US, the EU, and Japan as suppliers of semiconductors in recent years due to its dependence on very primitive indigenous technology, an avenue now closed.
"These are the ones that have precision and accuracy due to the microchips that they have," said Shmyhal RE hypersonic missiles. "But because of sanctions … deliveries of this high-tech microchip equipment … have stopped and they have no way of replenishing these stocks.”
— Zoya Sheftalovich (@zoyashef) September 6, 2022
However, a problem for Ukraine and, consequently, the West would arise if China or any other middle nation decided to buy technologies and sell them to Moscow. According to experts, the transfer of technology to unwanted actors and companies could not be stopped entirely by existing export control systems.
The restrictions on chips “are about as tight as a screen door,” according to Matthew Turpin, former director of the US National Security Council for China. There is a 4,300-kilometer border between China and Russia, and there is no chance of determining whether those chips are being transferred from China to Russia.
The transfer of technologies from China to Russia has not been proven, according to the US Commerce Department. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has also declared that it will not impose any new restrictions on its trade connections with Russia.
“Once chips have left the factory, it’s very hard to know for sure where they end up,” said Diederik Cops, a senior researcher in arms exports and trade at the Flemish Peace Institute.
So, while supply-side restrictions on microchips and other Western components may have throttled Russia’s firepower, it may soon find a way to overcome this hurdle.