Western manufacturers continue to supply components for the Orlan-10 drone to Russia through intermediary firms. In 2022, companies supplied $25.5 mn worth of components to the Russian authorities, according to a joint investigation by iStories, Reuters, and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published on December 15.
The Orlan 10 UAV is a relatively low-tech and cheap drone that Russia uses to direct artillery fire on Ukrainian positions.
From January to October 2022, the Russian “Special Technology Center” (STC), the manufacturer of Orlan drones which is under sanctions since 2016, purchased Western components worth more than $25 mn through intermediaries, according to journalists and RUSI.
The Orlan-10 drone version widely uses microelectronics from Altera and Xilinx, Texas Instruments, Microchip Technology, Analog Devices, Linear Technology, European STMicroelectronics and NXP Semiconductors, Japanese Renesas Electronics and engines from Saito Seisakusho.
None of these companies should supply their parts to the Russian defense industry now. But a chain of intermediaries was built between the Western suppliers and the Russian recipient. By examining financial and customs documents related to the manufacturer of the Orlan, investigators uncovered this chain.
The investigation says that some of the foreign components for the production of drones were purchased by STC from the Russian network Citilink. Another supplier of electronics is the St. Petersburg company SMT-iLogic, 80% of whose revenue in 2022 was privided by STC.
SMT-iLogic received Western components from Asia Pacific Links (Hong Kong), the authors write. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, according to them, its purchases amounted to about $6 million. The nominal owner of Asia Pacific Links is Russian citizen Anton Trofimov.
In addition, SMT-iLogic bought. Orlan components from the American company Ik Tech. It was also founded by Igor Kazhdan, a Russian with American citizenship. From 2018 to 2021, he supplied almost 1,400 GUM3703FEBY processor modules, found in the wreckage of the Orlans after Russian shelling of Ukraine.
In February, two weeks before the Russian invasion, Kazhdan was arrested on charges of smuggling military and dual-use products into Russia. He admitted that he started doing business with Russian firms in 2016, after which he skirted reporting and licensing requirements.
Russia has been using Orlans since 2014 for reconnaissance and fire control. In addition, the drones can intercept conversations and jam mobile communications. The drones have also been used to send propaganda messages to the Ukrainian military.
Military experts consider the Orlan to be the most massive and successful Russian drone.