From Tokyo to T-90s: How Loopholes Fuel Russia’s Tank Production Despite Sanctions

Japan and Taiwan were unwittingly caught in Russia's tank supply web.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Against the backdrop of the Ukrainian crisis, Russia’s rising tank production is generating comparisons with Japan and Taiwan, two staunch US allies. Interestingly, China is also a significant player in this complicated supply network.

According to Nikkei Asia’s study, since the beginning of 2022, Belarusian enterprises in Chinese regions have served as vital conduits. They facilitated the import of high-precision tools through China, which eventually arrived at UralvagonZavod. UVZ requires these tools to produce spare parts for the well-known T-72 and T-90 tanks.

The complex efficiency of this supply network is clear. While the United States and the United Kingdom may readily apply economic penalties against Russia, persuading third-party organisations is more difficult. Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity to obtain microchips, semiconductors, drones, and even Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet system. Third or even fourth parties frequently support these acquisitions.

Shenzhen 5G High-Tech Innovation is a new company created in 2022 in Guangdong Province, China, with strong ties to the Belarusian government led by President Alexander Lukashenko. Their major business is to supply specific engine parts for tank and other weapon production.

This company sources engine components from various manufacturers, including Metrol, a company in Tachikawa, Tokyo, that specialises in precise positioning sensors, and Oriental Motor, a tiny precision motor maker in Tokyo. They are also supplied by a major machine tool manufacturer in Aichi Prefecture. It is assumed that Shenzhen 5G also sources parts from other companies in China.

These components are subsequently delivered to Belarusian weapons manufacturers SALEO and LLC’s “Laboratory of Additive Technologies,” which is closely monitored by Lukashenko. In May 2023, SALEO purchased sensor parts manufactured by Metrol for 16,035 yuan [$2,228].

Vladimir Zhikhar, a Belpol spokesperson, stated that armoured vehicle production facilities in Belarus and Russia employ these high-precision machines to build critical tank components. SALEO and LLC furnish the components, then deliver them to the Russian tank maker “Uralvagonzavod.” As a result, they play an important part in producing popular Russian tanks such as the T-72 and T-90.

Newly upgraded Russian T-72B tank. April 2023.
Newly upgraded Russian T-72B tank. April 2023. Photo: Alexander Alov

Precision tooling is a fundamental feature that signals substantial developments in spare parts manufacturing. Without these instruments, producing high-quality items, especially tanks, is difficult.

Let us recall the tremendous transition UVZ experienced last year due to fundamental measures initiated by the Kremlin, which altered its business trajectory. Until June 2023, UVZ produced tanks and repaired ones worn out in battle. Then, in June, major developments occurred. The Kremlin issued an explicit directive: UVZ had to focus only on mass tank manufacture, terminating all repair operations. The repair task was transferred to other big tank facilities, including Omsk.

Precision tooling entails producing parts with high accuracy and consistency. The quality of tools used in manufacturing tank spare parts considerably impacts the result. Higher-quality tools provide actual accuracy, durability, and steadfast reliability. All of these aspects help to achieve greater overall performance.

High-quality precision tools allow for the creation of extremely accurate parts. This means that parts are more likely to meet the specified criteria exactly. Even minor dimension variances might cause problems with fit, functionality, and performance.

It is worth noting that high-quality instruments often maintain their durability even after extensive use. This durability is critical in manufacturing environments where tools are intensively used over time. Lower-quality tools may prematurely decay or break, resulting in discrepancies in fabricated parts. Higher-quality tools, on the other hand, retain their accuracy over time, resulting in consistent outcomes.

Finally, what distinguishes high-quality instruments is their dependability. These tools are less prone to errors or malfunctions, which reduces the possibility of defective parts. In the industrial industry, tool dependability is critical. Failures due to tool breakage can cause production delays and increased costs.

According to Nikkei, the Russian tank firm UVZ employed encoding discs made by Attoptic, a precision instrument manufacturer in Taiwan.

These encoding discs are a necessary component of an encoder, a sensor that measures the direction and angle of movement. They are essential in the panoramic view of T-72 tanks. Let’s look at why understanding the direction and angle of vision of the T-72 tank is critical on the battlefield.

First and foremost, these tanks require reliable navigation data. When tank movement information is aligned correctly, it precisely represents the tank’s current and potential movement paths.

Second, the tank crew’s ability to properly comprehend the direction and angle of their movement is critical to successful combat operations. This information allows for precision aiming, mainly when targets or the tank is in motion.

Third, knowing the correct direction and orientation can significantly improve the tank’s chances of survival. Accurate data enables tank operators to make strategic decisions that reduce their vulnerability to hostile strikes.

Finally, reliable readings are required to coordinate tank actions during large-scale movements successfully. Such precision improves movement synchronisation and coordination, resulting in better overall performance.


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