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The Technologies of War - with Part Numbers

UkraineRecently the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), a British defense think-tank, published a highly informative paper entitled “Operation Z: The Death Throes of an Imperial Delusion”.

The 25-page PDF’s main purpose is a detailed account of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, its strategic implications, and an interpretation of likely near-term developments.  It’s very well-written and does a very good job of pulling together many disparate, credible sources and compiling a complete narrative.  If you’re interested in learning more about the war and want a glimpse ahead, it’s a fantastic read.

For LEB readers, I’d like to pull out a couple interesting part.  Previously, we covered the war from a network perspective (see “The Nuclear Network Option: Isolating Russia” and “Cloud Providers Prepare to Pull the Plug on Putin“).  One thing we talked about was Russia’s capabilities for self-isolation, and now we have a fuller picture.  Quoting RUSI:

“In the first two weeks of the conflict, as the Russian war effort began to unravel, the Ukrainian government maintained hundreds of thousands of connections into Russian social media, distributing information about the war to swathes of the Russian population.

“This window of opportunity was short lived. The Russian government moved rapidly to shut down independent media, threaten a 15-year prison sentence on anyone sharing non-official narratives on the conflict, and closed access to non-Russian social media.  The results were highly effective. Although people in Russia can access external information sources through the use of VPNs, the measures meant that only those who actively searched for information would find it. This radically cut the number of people who were accessing non-Russian controlled media and also reduced the number of people who needed to be monitored by the FSB. Given close monitoring and the threat of imprisonment, these measures also reduced the internal circulation of information to circles of trust between likeminded individuals.

Ukrainians reported that their families in Russia would deny that any military operation was taking place; probably as much a reflection of the threat of arrest as of the impact of propaganda. Ukrainian officials noticed that the breadth of their access to Russian audiences was cut ten-fold,41 and that once in the Russian information sphere their messages often remained with the recipient rather than being distributed more widely.”

This is something of a change from a 2010 study by Harvard about the nature of the Russian blogosphere.

A second topic more of interest to our technical readers is a parts listing of a particular piece of Russian equipment.  Would you like to build a Borisoglebsk-2 radar jamming system?  All you need is a credit card, Google, and a shipping address that isn’t sanctioned.

Quoting the report again:

“The 9M727 cruise missile – fired from the Iskander-K – is an example of one of Russia’s most advanced weapons systems, able to manoeuvre at low altitude to a target and strike with considerable precision. In order to achieve this the missile must carry a computer able to ingest data from various inertial and active sensors and command links and translate these into instructions to manipulate the missile’s control surfaces. The authors physically inspected one of these computers recovered from a crashed 9M727 during fieldwork in April. This computer is roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper and sits inside a heat shield able to withstand the pressure as the missile accelerates and the heat that engulfs the system. The computer must be remarkably robust, its components able to continue to function even as the structure around it is warped by temperature changes. This requires highly specialised materials and components. Of the seven socket attachment points allowing data to be moved through the heat shield, one is of Soviet-era design and manufactured in Russia. The remaining six are all products of US companies. The rails connecting the circuit boards to the computer housing, which must maintain the alignment of the components under immense forces, are similarly of US manufacture. The circuit boards themselves are sourced from the US.”

The argument made is that Russia is incapable of producing its own sophisticated electronics and hence must import them, mainly from Western nations.  I found the appendix fascinating, as they broke down Russia’s latest radar jamming system (the Borisoglebsk-2) and the individual components needed to make them.

Russian PartsI was curious and so began to type the part numbers into Google.

Sure enough, most of these things were electronic items I could find at various electronic supply houses.  Some were as simple as “add to cart” while others were “contact us” which I imagine means that they’re made on a contract basis rather than regularly stocked.

This raises the question if sanctioning all of these components is likely to be successful.  During the Cold War, the USSR developed elaborate systems of obtaining Western technology covertly, and that was in a far less technologically advanced society.

In 2022, as the report notes, the vast majority of these components are dual use.  An embedded, EMP-resistant, hardened microprocessor can go in an Iskandar missile, but it could also show up in a commercial drone or an automated gross mowing system or a deep-sea exploration robot.  You can say “we won’t sell to Russia” but how to do you say “India, you can’t have these chips” when perhaps the Indian purposes are completely benign.  On the other hand, if you do let those chips ship, you can bet there will be Russian agents with suitcases of cash happy to intercept them.

Or it may even be as simple as a Russian agent or affiliate placing an order shipping chips to New York, and then handing them to a Russian courier to put in the diplomatic pouch.

There’s also the matter of software, though this is more a matter of espionage – once you know the secret, you know it – than supply chains.

It’s a fascinating topic, and this report provides an in-depth look in a way we haven’t seen before.




  1. Darren Skepper:

    Hilarious, especially the “agency name”.

    Gosh, to be one of those “like-minded individuals” – if only Groupthink was more prevalent :):):)

    April 29, 2022 @ 7:14 pm | Reply
  2. Technology plays an important role in manufacturing and in this war every country is trying their best to introduce something new to the world. This is a never-ending war and with every raising day there are new solutions and everyone is contributing their part in this war. Because of its use in daily life it becomes a vital part of a human.

    July 27, 2022 @ 3:41 am | Reply

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