Russian drones, which help target Ukrainian troops, are being manufactured using Western technology and parts from around the world. This is a claim that Ukraine has put forward after stripping down a surveillance drone it captured from Russia.
CNN journalists recently got a close look at the Orlan-10 fixed-wing drone that has been developed for the Russian Armed Forces by St Petersburg-based Special Technology Center.
According to a Ukrainian technical intel officer, the Orlan-10 uses a “Made in the USA” circuit board that can pinpoint signals from cellphones — a reconnaissance technique that can prove even more efficient than using an onboard visual camera to locate someone.
The technology can be life-saving when placed in the right hands, such as with rescuers looking for survivors trapped under debris or buried in an avalanche. But that’s clearly not the case here.
The officer further told CNN that the drone uses an engine that was developed in Japan. And that its thermal imaging camera was manufactured in France after Russia had already invaded Ukraine.
Other countries whose tech Ukraine claims has been used to power the Orlan-10 drone include Austria, Germany, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.
The technical intel officer explained that his job includes tracking down the serial numbers found on each drone component. The goal is to find out who the manufacturer is and to educate allies on how to stop Russian drone firms from getting their hands on Western tech.
This job is easier said than done, though. Many parts that go inside a drone are commercial components whose stockpiles Russia may have amassed already. The country anyway has a long history of evading controls and sanctions, CNN points out. As RUSI research analyst Samuel Cranny-Evans told the media outlet:
The FBI has been tracking down Russian supply networks since 2014 and trying to close them down. So if they can, they will continue trying to sidestep it. And it is a real problem because often these components are bought by legitimate companies.
The Ukraine-Russia war has put many consumer drones also under intense scrutiny. Reports from the battlefield, for example, show that both sides in the conflict are using DJI’s civilian drones to gain tactical advantages during military operations.
DJI, meanwhile, has insisted its products do not belong in the warzone. In a statement issued in March, DJI said it does not support any use of its products that harms people’s lives, rights, or interests. “We do not provide technical support when military use of our products is identified,” the company said.
A few weeks later, DJI became the first Chinese company to pull out of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.