Russia increases Su-35 production despite microchip ban
Production of the Su-35 fighter

Recently, the Deputy General Director of the state conglomerate Rostech, which includes the manufacturer Sukhoi, made bold statements about the increase in production of the Su-35 fighter, asserting an ambitious goal of “doubling” it.

Production of the Su-35 fighter

Despite the obstacles imposed by Western sanctions on the supply of critical components such as microchips and semiconductor parts, Russia is demonstrating its ability to sustain and potentially increase production of its cutting-edge Su-35 fighters.

This claim is supported by meticulous satellite surveillance of manufacturing facilities in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Russia’s remote Far East region.

The detailed evaluation was carried out by SpaceKnow, a leading Czech technology firm that implemented its advanced image intelligence application (IMINT). This tool, which integrates artificial intelligence, allows the analysis of large-scale events worldwide through the use of raw satellite data.

Various high-resolution images provided by Planet Labs ‘ SkySat satellites were analyzed using a specialized SpaceKnow algorithm, which is capable of automatically detecting and identifying aircraft. This analysis covered the period from April 2020 to October 2023, revealing significant and surprising data.

Sustained increase in Su-35 production: A detailed analysis

Russia increases Su-35 production despite microchip ban

In 2020, the presence at the facilities was moderate, with only two aircraft identified at the plant. However, in 2021, a notable increase in the factory’s shelter capacity was evident, with a fluctuating record of between 11 and 16 fighters at any given time.

The upward trend increased after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, at which time our system signaled an increase in Su-35 production. By April of that year, the count rose to 19 units, and by October, a significant jump was experienced to 30 fighters, arranged in an orderly manner next to the assembly facilities.

This trend continued throughout 2023, with satellite images revealing the presence of 31 Su-35 fighters at the plant in September. The most recent image, corresponding to October 2023, showed 29 aircraft ready to take to the skies.

Although SpaceKnow indicates that determining the exact production volume is complicated, they suggest that the new fighters are likely to be stored near manufacturing areas. This analysis is enriched by the observation of aircraft in various stages of completion, some of which appear to be awaiting transfer or completion.

This analysis aligns with an in-depth study by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) of the United States, which estimates that Russia’s constant production is around 30-35 new Su-35 fighters in recent months. These findings suggest that Russia could currently have approximately 114 Su-35s, at least in theory.

Russian strategies to overcome sanctions and expand Su-35 production

Russia increases Su-35 production despite microchip ban

Recently, the Deputy General Director of the state conglomerate Rostech, which includes the manufacturer Sukhoi, made bold statements about the increase in production of the Su-35 fighter, asserting an ambitious goal of “doubling” it. “Our committed team works tirelessly on various shifts, under the careful supervision of our leaders, constantly seeking to motivate and energize our workforce.

“Rostech is fully dedicated to the escalation of arms manufacturing,” said Vladimir Artakov during an interview with the state channel “Rossiya-24.” It is important to highlight Iran’s interest in acquiring up to 24 units of the Su-35, a batch originally destined for Egypt.

Reports from British military sources indicate that, since the start of hostilities against Ukraine, Russia has experienced the loss of at least five of these fighters, including one incident where it is suggested they accidentally damaged its own aircraft.

In a Feb. 7 speech, President Vladimir Putin emphasized the critical importance of modernizing the Russian Air Force, a massive project that requires absolute commitment. “The ability to develop and produce a wide range of cutting-edge aircraft distinguishes an exclusive group of nations, among which Russia occupies a prominent position,” he highlighted, citing the TASS agency.

Resilience and adaptability in aeronautical development

Despite restrictions imposed by the West, which limit Russia’s access to essential components such as microchips and semiconductors, there is conclusive evidence that the country has managed not only to maintain but potentially increase the production of advanced fighters such as the Su-35.

Experts point out that the manufacture of elite combat aircraft requires a significant volume of these chips, essential for critical functions ranging from radar and flight control systems to communication and navigation, also including image processing, guidance, links data, display systems and other vital cockpit capabilities.

A recent Bloomberg report highlights a revealing fact: despite sanctions, about half of Russian imports of chips and electronic components come from manufacturers located in the United States or Europe. Analysis of Russian customs records from 2023 shows that Moscow has acquired chips made in the US and EU channeled through third countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates, which are not subject to the same restrictions.

These countries act as intermediaries, facilitating transactions that allow Russia to access components from industry-leading companies, such as Intel, AMD, Analog Devices, Infineon Technologies, STMicroelectronics and NXP Semiconductors, with a combined value of approximately $1.2 billion.

Global supply chain challenges and strategies

Russia increases Su-35 production despite microchip ban
Electronic component manufacturers have officially announced they will cease all commercial interaction with Russia, plunging into investigations into how their products could enter the country illegally. A common practice identified is re-exporting, especially from China, as revealed by a detailed financial magazine Nikkei Asia study.

Nikkei Asia’s exhaustive investigation scrutinized Russian customs records from the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine until the end of 2022. This analysis revealed a total of 3,292 transactions, each worth at least $100,000. Notably, about 70% of these deals involved products from American microchip makers, including giants like Intel, AMD, and Texas Instruments.

Most of these technological inputs, about three-quarters, came from small and medium-sized companies based in Hong Kong or China. These Chinese companies became especially relevant after the Russian invasion, apparently facilitating the entry of technology from manufacturers such as the French Ommic into the Russian market. Ommic is particularly significant due to its production of essential integrated circuits for 5G network devices, satellites, and radar and guidance systems for fighter aircraft and missiles.

This dynamic underscores not only the complexity of global supply chains and the difficulties in controlling the flow of critical technologies but also how international sanctions can be undermined by alternative actors and trade routes. China’s influence, in this context, stands out as a key factor in the distribution of advanced technologies to Russia despite the restrictions imposed by the West.

French intervention in the network of illegal technology exports to Russia and China

In July last year, French authorities intervened decisively by arresting those involved in a suspected illegal technology export operation. Four individuals, two French nationals and two Chinese, who played crucial roles in a company, were arrested. This episode highlights the crackdown on the unauthorized transfer of sensitive technology.

Going deeper into the facts, in 2018, a Chinese businessman acquired a majority stake of 94% in Ommic, a specialized company, through an investment fund established in France. This acquisition gave him majority control, and he subsequently assumed the role of president. Under his leadership, the company began to forge ties with the Chinese defense industry.

Investigators discovered that the businessman designed a plan to appropriate Ommic’s intellectual property and channel advanced technologies to China and Russia. The strategy involved the use of fraudulent billing and false technical documentation to send chips to weapons entities under government control in said countries. Some of these shipments required passing through China, India and Turkey before reaching their final destination in Russia.

There is evidence that, at least until March 2023, a person selected by the Chinese owner was responsible for personally delivering the chips to Russian customers or shipping them using aliases. At the same time, a new route was being established to move these products through a front company in Belgium, also owned by a Chinese businessman.