One of the few foreign firms that was exhibiting at CIDEX for the first time was the Norwegian electronics manufacturer, Sensonor. The company is offering its products on both the Chinese and Russian military markets. It is one of the leading European firs to offer products based on Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology, and the company representatives said that this was their first show in China.
Sensonor’s MEMS gyroscope components offer the possibility for radically improving the accuracy of Chinese missile systems and precision-guided munitions. The central component is the STIM202 Butterfly gyro, which is a 55-gram miniature module that replaces previous-generation fibre-optic, ring laser and mechanical gyros.
The STIM202 is based on single-crystal silicon technology. It can be configured in 1, 2 or 3 axes capability and offers 24-bit resolution plus an RS422 bit rate like the components made by their Chinese competitors at Kotel. Company engineers claim that “the STIM202 is so small and light that the designers of a missile system can use two of the modules to provide the weapon’s on-board guidance module with back-up redundancy, which was never a possibility with previous-generation guidance components.”
Norway’s Sensonor has the market for selling MEMS based guidance equipment all to itself in China. The US and other EU firms cannot compete here. This technology could profoundly enhance the accuracy of all Chinese-produced PGM.
There are a number of firms worldwide producing components based on this type of technology, but the rest of them are barred from doing business in China due to the Tiananmen Square arms embargo. However Sensonor claim they can do business in China because “there is no ITAR content to our product.”
“We almost have to thank the US government for forbidding American firms from offering this product in China,” said one Sensonor engineer, “because the prohibition has more or less left this market completely open for us without any US or other competition.”
If the Sensonor technology is purchased by Chinese industry in significant numbers, their missiles and other guided weapons will achieve levels of performance and accuracy comparable to their western counterparts, but at a much lower total system cost. Even though Kotel in China are already producing a similar product, the people from Sensonor said that they are not worried about their product being reverse-engineered and illegally copied.
“This is a complex technology and it requires significant amounts of investment in industrial production equipment and years of experience to be able to produce these components on a cost-effective basis. This does not lend the technology to being easy to duplicate.”
Why selling this product into China is not considered a violation of the EU arms embargo on the PRC is unknown. Having no ITAR content may be one issue, but the significant increase it will bring to the accuracy of Chinese weaponry certainly violates the spirit – if not the letter – of the EU embargo.
The fact that this Norwegian firm was one of the only foreign companies offering a new product shows just how technologically sophisticated China’s defence electronics sector has become. There appears to be little that they cannot do on their own, and what few technologies they cannot develop on their own seems to become more and more readily available despite international sanctions that should prevent them from being able to purchase it.