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Russian Microelectronics

The Russian "special military operation" in Ukraine in early 2022 demonstrate a number of weaknesses in the Russian miliary. There was a conspicuous absence of secure communications, forcing Russian commanders to use local cellphones, which were easily intercepted and exploited by Ukrainian forces. Also notably missing in action were precision guided gravity bombs, forcing the Russians to either rely on expensive cruise missiles, or to spray targets with dumb bombs, in the off chance they might hit something interesting. And UAVs used for artillery spotting turned out to be stuffed with foreign electronics. All the deficiencies had a common root in the weakness of the Russian microelectronics sector.

Russia used computer chips intended for home appliances to repair its military hardware due to the impact of US sanctions. "We have reports from Ukrainians that when they find Russian military equipment on the ground, it's filled with semiconductors that they took out of dishwashers and refrigerators," commerce secretary Gina Raimondo told the Senate Committee on Appropriations on 12 May 2022. Raimondo recently met with Ukrainian officials who told her they found parts from refrigerators and commercial and industrial machines when searching captured or abandoned Russian tanks.

The UK's defense secretary, Ben Wallace, said 10 May 2022 that wrecked Russian fighter jets were found by Ukraine with rudimentary GPS receivers "taped to the dashboards" because their inbuilt navigation systems are so bad. "'GPS' receivers have been found taped to the dashboards of downed Russian Su-34s so the pilots knew where they were, due to the poor quality of their own systems," he said. "The result is that whilst Russia have large amounts of artillery and armor that they like parading, they are unable to leverage them for combined arms maneuver and just resort to mass indiscriminate barrages," he added.

Once upon a time, Soviet computers occupied a leading position among their competitors. By the early 1950s the USSR had established a modern computer industry. However, because of a lack of unified standards and a misguided development strategy, the Soviet computer industry had begun to seriously lag behind by the beginning of the 1970s. By the beginning of the 1970s, the Soviet government decided to put a stop to these unique developments and resolved to pirate copies of Western systems instead. As a result, an entire industry’s progress was halted. In the 1980s the computer industry stagnated.

Now Russia can hardly boast of its computer industry. The Russian military is reliant on key Western technologies for its defense-industrial base to function. Russian producers can make almost all electronic components except the most modern CPUs.

The situation of microelectronic production in Russia is such that not a single processor development of a small topology is possible by definition - Russia simply does not have its own production facilities. Russian developers can and do make good chips, and in Russia in general there are enough, for example, subsidiaries of foreign companies involved in developing chips within the country, because there are good engineers in Russia who can be hired to develop good chips.

Since 2003, efforts had been made to revive Russian microelectronics - in a fairly short time, many different microelectronic initiatives have been created. In 2007, the federal target program " Development of the electronic component base and radio electronics for 2008-2015 " was approved, under which the 180nm Micron fab and the 90 nm Angstrem-T fab were purchased in Zelenograd. Everything went to the fact that domestic production will be able to largely cover the needs of the military-industrial complex.

In 2006, President of Russia Vladimir V Putin endeavored to establish a “Russian Silicon Valley” in Zelenograd, Russia, based largely on Russia’s microelectronics technology. The status of Zelenograd Innovation and Technology Centre (ZITC), now one of Russia’s main electronics and nanotechnology centers, is that there are about 30 companies there, and the Russian Government hopes that there will eventually be 200 companies there. Semiconductor fabs in Zelenograd include one operated by a joint venture between Franco-Italian firm STMicroelectronics and Russian firm Mikron, one operated by a joint venture between American firm AMD and Russian firm Angstrem, and a 300mm fab Russian firm Sitronics built in 2008 with technology licensed from American firms IBM and Intel and STMicrolectronics.

In February of 2012, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Rogozin, stated, “We urgently need to replace the microelectronic elements that we import with similar ones produced at home. The problem has to be solved within a couple of years.... Defence Minister Serdyukov and I inspected the Mikron microelectronics company in Zelenograd just northwest of Moscow. We were pressing the message that possessing an internationally competitive domestic microelectronics industry is not only a matter of national pride but also of national security." Reporting on the progress made toward this goal in April 2012, Rogozin said that Russia planned to create an analog of the American Government’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to develop innovative defense technologies for the Russian military.

Joint Stock Company Mikron (Mikron) is the largest Russian manufacturer and exporter of microelectronics. In fact, Mikron is responsible for exporting more than 50 percent of Russian microelectronics. The company additionally manufactures integrated circuits, electronic components, and is Russia’s largest chipmaker.

On the official website of Micron, the 65 nm process technology has been “under development” since 2014. And not a single serial chip for this process has ever been presented to the public. Elbrus-4SM, which was supposed to be produced at Mikron according to 65 nm standards, is not presented on the official MCST website and, apparently, never existed in silicon. The whole point was to get budget money through huge government military contracts, since the re-equipment of Russian microelectronics was started with the aim of re-equipping the Russian army.

Angstrem-T, like Angstrem, belonged to the Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman. In 2007, a year before the global crisis forced AMD to spin off its production to a separate company, GlobalFoundries, the Fab36 factory in Dresden began the process of retooling to 300mm wafers. Reiman bought out the old equipment and technologies of 130 nm on 200 mm wafers at a corresponding discount and had the initiative to put this equipment in Zelenograd. Being the Minister of Communications, he gave his own enterprise a bunch of government orders.

But in 2008, when the equipment had already been purchased, but had not yet reached Russia, Reiman ceased to be the Minister of Communications. Accordingly, he lost his administrative resource, various difficulties began. The AMD equipment was shipped to a warehouse in the Netherlands, where it stood until 2014 and gradually fell into disrepair. In September 2016 the US Bureau of Industry and Security imposed sanctions against a number of Russian enterprises operating in the microelectronics market. Among them were PJSC Mikron, JSC Angstrem and JSC Angstrem-T. This put an end to the project.

By mid-2014, Russia's Industry and Trade Ministry planned to replace U.S. microchips (Intel and AMD), used in government's computers, with domestically-produced Baikal microprocessors in a project worth dozens of millions of dollars. The Baikal micro processor will be designed by a unit of T-Platforms, a producer of supercomputers, next year, with support from state defense conglomerate Rostec and co-financing by state-run technological giant Rosnano. The first products will be Baikal M and M/S chips, designed on the basis of 64-bit nucleus Cortex A-57 made by UK company ARM, with frequency of 2 gigahertz for personal computers and micro servers.

After the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, dozens of foreign companies suspended the supply of their products to Russia, broke off cooperation and withdrew from Russian projects. On February 28, it became known that the American processor manufacturer AMD suspended the supply of its products to Russia. On February 28, it became known that the American processor manufacturer Intel suspended the supply of its products to Russia. On 05 May 2022 Britain expanded sanctions against Russia to include domestic developers of MCST processors (produces Elbrus processors) and Baikal Electronics (Baikal processors).

At the end of February, 2022 the largest Taiwanese manufacturer of semiconductors TSMC announced the termination of deliveries and production of domestic microprocessors because of the new sanctions restrictions entered by the Export Control Bureau of the US Department of Commerce in response to military operations in Ukraine. The design centers of MCST, Baikal Electronics, Yadro, STC "Module", MTC "Elvis" were hit. This literally strangled all existing and planned developments of microprocessors, including the entire line of Baikal processors and almost all Elbrus processors.

Now companies are threatened with a ban on the use of the British ARM architecture, which could stop the release of new processors. Developers will have to look for a new factory or switch to open architectures. Baikal Electronics will actually not be able to produce new processors at the largest semiconductor factories UMC, Global Foundries and TSMC.

The Ministry of Digital Transformation has already replied that, together with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, “they are taking measures to provide the public sector and commercial companies with a sufficient amount of Russian computer equipment that meets the highest requirements.”

In January 2022 the Ministry of Industry and Trade posted a draft resolution on the portal for discussing regulatory legal acts , according to which the department plans to introduce additional benefits for manufacturers and suppliers of computer equipment based on Russian processors in the public procurement market before decisions from the Unified Register of Russian Radioelectronic Products , which use foreign computing modules.

Customers from government agencies and state-owned companies will be required to buy PCs, tablets, laptops, e-books, smartphones, as well as server equipment and storage systems not only of certain or any models from the Unified Register of Russian Radio Electronic Products. For purchased electronics, a two-level access system is being introduced, where products based on Russian processors are considered first-level electronics. The second level of admission in public procurement will receive versions of electronic devices that are in the register of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, but created on the basis of foreign processors.

In December 2021, computer technology company ICL introduced a monoblock based on the Russian Baikal-M processor, and 3Logic Group released the Graviton D10B mini-PC based on the Baikal-M processor. Earlier, iRU launched serial production of desktop PCs based on Baikal-M processors.

In August 2021, the government approved a resolution according to which a ban on the purchase of imported integrated circuits, smart cards, laptops, tablets, computers and servers was introduced in public procurement. This bill was aimed at supporting Russian electronics manufacturers and actually prohibited the purchase of foreign-made electronic equipment and computer equipment for enterprises and departments through the public procurement system for state needs. The new law was a continuation of the principled import substitution policy pursued by the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade.

In December 2021 SberInfra, a technology arm of Sber, Russia's biggest bank, evaluated the Russian-made MCST Elbrus-8C processors in multiple workloads, but the results were utterly disappointing and the processors failed the test. The testers cited "Insufficient memory, slow memory, few cores, low frequency. Functional requirements not been met at all" as key reasons for the failure.

After U.S. chip providers Intel Corporation and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc (AMD) decided to stop chip shipments to Russia in the aftermath of the ongoing Ukraine invasion, Russian motherboard manufacturers started to use Chinese microprocessors with the same designs as those provided by the American companies. Zhaoxin, designs and sells the KaiXian lineup of processors primarily for use inside China.

The Chinese semiconductor factory SMIC, which is currently the flagship in mainland China and works mostly on Japanese and Dutch equipment, will not cooperate with Baikal and MCST. SMIC most likely will not quarrel with the United States because of Russia, because the volume of exports of Chinese microcircuits to the States is many orders of magnitude greater than to Russia. There is no economic sense of cooperation with Russia, and the risks from this will be colossal.

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Page last modified: 23-05-2022 15:27:27 ZULU