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We found German electronics in Russian Shahed drone

In March, a Shahed-136 drone developed in Iran and built under license in Russia was shot down in Donbas. Parts of the drone have now been analyzed by our experts in Berlin and will then be displayed in the special exhibition Berlin story bunker be visible.

What the experts found was not surprising, but continued to be interesting and relevant.

The fuselage of a Shahed-136 drone shot down in Donbas. The color scale measures 10 centimeters.

The construction of the Shahed-136 drone reveals the complex relationship between Iranian innovation and Western electronic components, which has sparked discussion about the global impact of these technologies and the role of international sanctions.

The Shahed-136 drone represents a significant development in drone technology, characterized by its single-use nature and its ability to specifically attack ground targets. This 2,5 meter wide drone weighs about 200 kilograms and is for your Kamikaze missions known, where it can carry a load of up to 60 kg, which detonates on impact.

The role of western electronics in the Shahed-136

The component “Onsemi NCP51530” in the Shahed-136

The Shahed-136 drone, also known as Geran-2, reveals a profound interconnection with Western technology, particularly in its electronic components. About 80% of so far Components found come from the USA, Japan, Switzerland and Germany.

The drone's shell is made of a very light but sturdy carbon fiber honeycomb structure. This is currently the state of the art for all advanced drone manufacturers. This shows that Iran continues to have its finger on the pulse and has learned to live with sanctions over the past few decades.

From today's perspective, this may seem normal and obvious. When Germany was still divided, however, you could see how the GDR was constantly left behind and wanted to impress with outdated technology. The world is changing. Successfully sanctioning and leaving states behind is hardly possible anymore.

There are many western components inside the electronics of the Shahed-136. Many of them have no direct impact on the war and could be replaced by others. They are items worth a few cents that perform simple tasks.

Nevertheless, one should not actually find any Western components in weapons that Russia uses to kill civilians in Europe.

Infineon irfb4321 MOSFET
The experts also found an “Infineon irfb136” MOSFET in the Shahed-4321

In the drone you will find, among other things, an American "Onsemi NCP51530“-Side Gate Driver. This is a small component that is not much more than a better electronic switch.

The power supply also contains a so-called metal-oxide-semiconductor field effect transistor, or MOSFET for short, (Infineon irfb4321) from the German manufacturer Infineon. This small component is used to amplify, switch or regulate electrical signals.

We contacted the manufacturer and asked for a comment.

Infineon: Compliance with the law is “very important”

After a few hours, Infineon responded in detail: “Infineon does not supply any products or services to Iran and has not done so in the past. Compliance with applicable laws is very important to Infineon and we have implemented reliable policies and processes to ensure compliance.”

Infineon further says: “It is extremely difficult to control the resale of a product throughout its entire life cycle. Nevertheless, we have taken comprehensive measures to ensure compliance with the sanctions not only in letter but also in spirit. Immediately after the Russian attack on Ukraine, Infineon took comprehensive measures to stop all direct and indirect deliveries to Russia; regardless of the legal ability to continue certain businesses.”

Infineon left Russia in March 2022. “Infineon has instructed all sales partners worldwide to take reliable measures to prevent deliveries of products or the provision of services on behalf of Infineon that violate the sanctions. Infineon has reiterated or clarified this clear position several times in communications to sales partners,” the company said upon request.

Infineon component in drone: A scandal?

Power supply of a Shahed 136 drone
Power supply of a Shahed 136 drone

The component found by Infineon costs around two euros in German retail for end customers. So the industrial price is likely to be a fraction of that. There are countless manufacturers who supply comparable components. It is simplified to compare it with a light switch.

If a light switch from a German manufacturer were found in a Russian military facility, it would also be unlikely that the manufacturer was in cahoots with the military. More likely, the switch simply went from one dealer to another. 

The structure of the power supply in which the Infineon component is located also suggests that the board was purchased as a complete component. Presumably from a manufacturer in China who buys the individual parts on the world market and then offers his product on the world market according to the rules applicable in China. 

So what we see here is not a scandal, but the effects of globalization. Parts migrate. In the end you can no longer control the path. Even if such components were sanctioned and the sanctions were enforced, Russia would simply build these parts itself. 

Production of the Shahed-136 in Russia

The Production of the Shahed-136 drones takes place primarily at JSC Alabuga facilities in Russia, with support from Iran. Starting next year, Alabuga undertakes to equip the Shahed-136 drones with electronic components that it acquires independently.

This development poses a significant threat and should prompt governments to take sanctions and other restrictive measures against Alabuga and related companies.

  • Production locations and capacitiesn:
    • Main production facility: Alabuga Special Economic Zone in Yelabuga, Russia
    • Estimated production capacity: Up to 226 drones per month, with a goal of 6000 drones by September 2025
    • Current production phase: Second phase with an estimated output of 200 units per month
  • production process:
    • Phase 1: Assembly of Iran-provided drones on site in the first months of 2023
    • Phase 2: Transition to on-site production of hull structures and establishment of production lines for internal components
    • Phase 3: From 2024 on-site production of other key components, including internal parts
  • Collaboration and costs:
    • Russia and Iran have agreed to produce the drone in Russia, with Iran exporting key components.
    • Cost per drone: Estimated at $20.000, with Russia said to have paid $6000 each for a batch of 193.000 units.

The strategic partnership between Russia and Iran to produce the Shahed-136 drones at the Alabuga SEZ highlights the need for strict international monitoring and control. Participation in the production of drones used in wars of aggression such as the one between Ukraine and Russia requires a critical examination of the global impact of these technologies.

Future of drone technology and international sanctions

Russian and Iranian drones, particularly the Shahed-136, are becoming increasingly more precise and difficult to combat. This highlights the need to consider the future of drone technology and the impact of international sanctions.

Zeynep Balazünbül, a Berlin-based author, discusses in her book “Drone Technology and Modern Warfare. “Stocktaking and Perspectives” details the legality of armed drones under the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention. Supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the HTWK Leipzig Open Access Publishing Fund, the book is published under a Creative Commons license, which allows free access and sharing with appropriate attribution.

The Swiss government, meanwhile, has implemented EU sanctions against Russia, which include, among other things, bans on dual-use goods, special military goods and goods for military and technological strengthening or development of the defense and security sector, including semiconductors.

These sanctions aim to reduce Russia's ability to finance the war by blocking about 300 billion euros of Russian central bank reserves in the EU, other G7 countries and Australia. The Russian economy has been hit by the sanctions, with GDP estimated to contract by 2,1 percent in 2022 and forecast for further contraction in 2023.

Conclusion

The technological development and strategic use of the Shahed-136 drone in current conflicts, particularly between Ukraine and Russia, underscores the importance of advanced drone technology. The use of Western electronic components in these drones increases the problems of implementing sanctions.

It remains to be seen how the international community will respond to these challenges, particularly with regard to the regulation and control of technology exports to ensure that future scenarios are not characterized by the misuse of such powerful technologies.

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