russian drone manufacturer keeps receiving satellite services from US company Iridium – Trap Aggressor [update]

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In September 2022 the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the russian occupiers was in full swing. russian businessman Amir Valiyev, CEO of AFM, presented a new modification of a drone with the “Ptero” system in St. Petersburg. In this video, Valiyev admits that the drone, even during the full-scale invasion, can perform its tasks solely thanks to the navigation system produced by the US company Iridium, Inna Popovych, investigative journalist at Trap Aggressor, writes.

Iridium, mentioned by Valiyev, is a global satellite communications company that provides access to data transmission services anywhere in the world, including russia. And there, in russia, right in moscow, Iridium still has a functioning office. 

According to trade databases, in 2015-2022, the russian company Iridium Communications purchased products directly from the US company Iridium Satellite. In 2023, Iridium Communications imported machines made by Iridium Satellite for receiving and converting voice and images. This time it happened indirectly through some unknown companies. 

Besides, in 2022, the moscow-based Iridium Communications signed a contract with the central communication hub of the National Guard of russia (Rosgvardiya), under which the company was to connect the Rosgvardiya  to the international satellite radio communication system. This was discovered from the tender documentation. 

At the same time, in March 2022, one of the founding companies of Iridium Communications, the state-owned enterprise Morsviazsputnik, provided services to the russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Back in May 2014, Iridium announced possible problems due to the sanctions imposed on russian businesses, but, as we see so far, after over 8 years of the hybrid aggression and 1.5 years of the full-scale war in Ukraine, no sanctions have affected Iridium’s cooperation with russia. Moreover, according to the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention, the moscow subsidiary of the American company has valid contracts for satellite communications services to the armed forces of russia.

Amir Valiyev owns 65% of AFM-Servers.This is the company that produces drones with the Iridium navigation system. This business directly helps russian military operations against Ukraine and regularly cooperates with the russian Federal Security Service (FSB). According to the data gathered by investigators of the Ukrainian media Trap Aggressor project, it was from 2013 until 2015 only that AFM-Servers signed contracts worth almost 100 million rubles with military unit 55056. This is an FSB unit that deals with material and technical support. AFM-Servers were sanctioned in July 2023 by Ukraine. However, the company remains un-sanctioned by Ukraine’s partners despite its heavy involvement with the russian military and special services.

The russian company AFM-Servers manufactured the Kartograf (Cartographer) drone that Ukrainian soldiers recently found near the border with the enemy.

The Kartograf is a classified russian unmanned aerial system from the “Ptero” family. This model of armament was secretly developed for the needs of the russian Federal Security Service. It is used by the russian military in the war against Ukraine and Syria. It is produced by AFM-Servers. The flight is controlled by the PteRoBot automatic control system developed by the same company. The testing of the system was reported in 2013. The Kartograf UAV looks like an Orlan aircraft, but it has differences: a camera with 12 lenses and a blue body color. The drone can fly at an altitude of up to 5,000 meters, making it inaccessible to transportable anti-aircraft missile systems.

These UAVs are used by russians in the frontline area to assess the situation on the ground and identify the location of Ukrainian weaponry. The complex is equipped with 80-megapixel cameras and thermal imagers to quickly create 3D plans of the area for special operations.

Recently, one of these samples was downed near the border with russia, in the Sumy region. For the first time, experts got such an exhibit for research in an almost undamaged form. And the most interesting thing is what’s inside the device. The Kartograf is literally stuffed with Western components. There is nothing russian inside — only the body and the parachute are made in russia.

Oleksandr (real name and surname are concealed for security reasons), a forensic expert in explosive research and in artillery and missile weapons, has been studying military equipment components for many years. After the beginning of the full-scale war, he received dozens of new samples. Now the expert is convinced that without European and American components, russia would not be able to produce weapons at all.

Here are the components we were able to identify: a spark plug made by the Japanese company NGK, DIGI XBee wireless connection modules by the US company DIGI international, and chips made by Xilinx, also from the US. According to experts, the drone’s engine is made in Germany.

We sent a letter to Iridium Satellite, asking them to explain how they could continue their business with russia after a year and a half of the full-scale invasion. However, the company officials decided to ignore it.

Western components, which are now used in russian weapons that kill Ukrainians every day, somehow find their way to the russian military-industrial complex markets. Sometimes these are dual-use goods that go to russia through intermediaries, third countries, and shameless traders. It is much more cynical when global giants like the US company Iridium still do their business with the occupiers openly and keep their subsidiaries operating close to the kremlin. Any drone or missile without Western and American components could turn into a pile of scrap metal. Therefore, the Ukrainian government, together with its foreign partners, must do everything possible to strengthen sanctions against the aggressor and make it impossible for russia’s bloody hands to access foreign goods.


After the publication of this investigation, a spokesperson for Iridium contacted the UT and said that “Per our records, Iridium does not have a current or past relationship with AFM-Servers. Additionally, we are still seeking information that shows Iridium technology is actively being used in these drones today, as all of the components identified are not Iridium.

Further, the capabilities mentioned including, “80-megapixel cameras and thermal imagers to quickly create 3D plans of the area for special operations” – are not possible using the applicable Iridium system, indicating other connectivity options are being used.  For these reasons and more, we reiterate our request for help identifying Iridium components claimed to be used and any SIM or service provider information, so we can investigate.”

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