US ‘Decoding’ Russian Hypersonic Missile To Gain Critical Intelligence On Mach 5+ Weapons – Media

Last week, several Russian media reports and social media handles claimed that researchers from the US Department of Defense are studying the captured Russian weapons to decode its hypersonic technology.

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One of the Russian social media users claimed on June 3 that “Specialists” representing the Pentagon specially visited Ukraine on a business trip and that they were “technicians who knew how to handle screwdrivers, wrenches, magnifiers and soldering irons” and dismantled the advanced Russian equipment “in the hope of copying something and getting it for themselves.”

However, these claims were based on a New York Times article about how investigators from Conflict Armament Research (CAR), over a week-long visit to Ukraine in May, at the invitation of the Ukrainian security service, independently analyzed the Russian military equipment, only to find that almost all of them included components from companies based in the US and the EU.

CAR is actually a UK-based Investigative organization that tracks the supply of conventional weapons, ammunition, and related military materiel into conflict-affected areas. While the organization does work with governments, it is not a part of or affiliated explicitly with the US Defense Department.

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The investigators ripped apart every piece of advanced Russian hardware they could get their hands on, for example, laser range finders and guidance sections of cruise missiles, and found Western-made parts such as microchips, circuit boards, engines, antenna and other equipment inside them.

An investigator desolders a component from a Russian surveillance drone collected by security officials working in Ukraine. The tools that Russian forces are using to wage war in Ukraine are often powered by American innovation. (Conflict Armament Research / via New York Times)

“Advanced Russian weapons and communications systems have been built around Western chips,” said Damien Spleeters, one of the investigators with CAR. He added that Russian companies had enjoyed access to an “unabated supply” of Western technology for decades.

This is basically a confirmation of the revelations already made by Ukraine about the use of Western-made components in advanced Russian weaponry.

Late last month, The EurAsian Times had reported how Ukrainian military specialists dismantled the remains of destroyed Russian equipment and found the abundant use of foreign microchips, particularly those manufactured in the US.

According to the list of components shared by Ukrainian Intelligence, these microchips were found in some of the high-end and widely fielded Russian military hardware such as 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.

According to New York Times, while the use of American and European components in Russian weaponry was alarming, it also provided the US and its allies with leverage over Russia.

The US and several of its partner countries have imposed export bans on shipments of advanced technology to Russia with the purpose of hampering the country’s ability to produce weapons to replace those that have been destroyed in the ongoing Ukraine war.

On June 2, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who oversees export controls, said, “US exports to Russia in the categories where we have export controls, including semiconductors, are down by over 90 percent since Feb. 24.”

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These measures have already begun to take effect on the Russian defense industry, according to senior US officials cited by the New York Times who said that since Western allies announced extensive restrictions on exports of semiconductors, computers, lasers, telecommunications equipment and other goods in February, Russia has had difficulty in obtaining microchips to replenish its supply of precision-guided munitions (PGMs).

In fact, the use of Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic ballistic missiles by the Russian military in Ukraine was actually forced due to a shortage of PGMs, according to various Western military experts, think tanks, and media reports cited by Forbes.

Interestingly, Russian media reports have made special reference to Kinzhal missiles while citing the New York Times article. For example, one Russian media report said, the American specialists visited the places where the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles hit and searched for their fragments.

A MiG-31K armed with Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (Wikipedia)

The report cited a military expert, Dmitry Kornev, who said there was special interest in the Kizhal missiles because there has been very little information available on the hypersonic missiles and the US is keen to decode them.

However, the New York Times article does not mention Kinzhal even once. While Khinzhal hypersonic missile is one of the super weapons of Russia, several Western military experts have suggested that it may not be as advanced as it is claimed to be.

The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (Russian for Dagger) entered service with the Russian military in 2017.

It is a modified version of the ground-launched 9K720 Iskander — a short-range ballistic missile — with a new guidance system designed specifically for air-to-ground operations and therefore experts have said, it is nothing different than previously produced Russian missiles, except that it travels at hypersonic speed and is difficult to shoot down with air defense systems.

Western Microchips In Russian Drones & Communications Equipment

The equipment examined by the CAR investigators included three different Russian surveillance drones, including Orlan, Tachyon and an unknown model that Ukrainian officials called Kartograf.

Inside the Orlan, they found six separate parts from companies with headquarters in the US and one each from companies based in Switzerland and Japan.

Meanwhile, in the other two drones, they found parts from corporations in the US as well as in China, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden and Taiwan.

Orlan 10 UAV (Wikimedia Commons)

Apart from that, Mr. Spleeters and his team unscrewed three casings holding advanced Azart encrypted radios, which provide secure communication channels for Russian forces.

In two of them, the team found microchips with parts of their manufacturing marks carefully obliterated, apparently in an attempt to disguise their origin, while in the third one, they found an identical chip in which the markings were still present and showed that it was made by a company based in the US.

“It was neatly erased, maybe with a tool to take out just one line of markings,” Mr. Spleeters said. “Someone knew exactly what they were doing.”

That said, these findings add to the difficulties of Russia, as they can help the US and allies to impose targeted bans on exports and potentially cripple the Russian defense industry.

According to Matthew C. Klein, an economics researcher who tracks the effects of export controls, Russian imports of manufactured goods from nine major economies for which data is available were down 51 percent in April, compared with the average from September 2021 to February 2022.

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While Russia is one of the world’s largest arms exporters, its industry is dependent on western imports.

According to the data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) compiled by Mr. Klein, as of 2018, Russian sources were able to fulfill only about half of the military-related equipment and services the country needed, such as transportation equipment, computers, optical equipment, machinery and fabricated metal.

The democracies can replicate the effect of well-targeted bombing runs with the right set of sanctions precisely because the Russian military depends on imported equipment, Mr. Klein wrote.