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Chinese Spies May Have Taken F-117 Wreckage

by John Reed on January 24, 2011

Croatia’s top military official during NATO’s 1999 air war in the former Yugoslavia is saying that Chinese intelligence officials scooped up parts of an F-117A Night Hawk stealth fighter shot down during that war and used the information gained to help fuel the development of Chinese stealth technology.

Some are skeptical that the roughly 30 year-old technology found in the F-117 would be massively useful to China. This is a good point, especially considering that the vastly superior F-22 and F-35 were already in various stages of development at the time of the shootdown.

Still, if Chinese agents did indeed get to the wreckage, then tech gleaned from the F-117,  combined with info that may have been stolen from the F-35 program in a massive cyber attack years later that some believe China was behind, could absolutely aid in the development of Chinese stealth — and counter-stealth — technology.

Combined, all this information may not have revealed all the secrets of modern stealth tech; but, at the very least it might have helped Chinese engineers understand the basics of low-observable technology, moving them one step closer toward developing a fifth-gen fighter.

From the AP:

“At the time, our intelligence reports told of Chinese agents crisscrossing the region where the F-117 disintegrated, buying up parts of the plane from local farmers,” says Adm. Davor Domazet-Loso, Croatia’s military chief of staff during the Kosovo war.

“We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret stealth technologies … and to reverse-engineer them,” Domazet-Loso said in a telephone interview.

A senior Serbian military official confirmed that pieces of the wreckage were removed by souvenir collectors, and that some ended up “in the hands of foreign military attaches.”

In Washington, an Air Force official said the service was unaware of any connection between the downed F-117 plane and development of Chinese stealth technology for the J-20. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject involves classified information.

Russian officials are also reported to have been granted access to some of the wreckage.

Oh, and someone on Wikipedia has already made the link to the U.S.’ bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade just months after the F-117 was shot down. You know it was only a matter of time before somebody moved to tie these two events.

Here’s the AP piece.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Gerald January 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm

I tied both events in 1999 already

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john moore January 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Never the chinese stealing no way can't be hahaahahaha

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William C. January 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm

We should have bombed the wreckage. Keeping a national security advantage like this is far more important than whatever fools may have been standing around the wreckage by the time a laser guided bomb landed on it.

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Jacob January 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm

I thought we did bomb the wreckage. But in hindsight, I'm surprised anybody thought that the F-117's secrets would NOT find its way to Russia and China following the loss of that plane.

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blight January 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Bombing a wreckage doesn't atomize everything. The pieces that flew off from the initial missile that brings down the plane would release tons of small fragments. Run emission spectroscopy to figure out what it is, or ICP-MS, or Atomic Absorption, or Mass-Spec. A variety of techniques are available to figure out just what goes into a shard of debris from an aircraft.

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Brian January 24, 2011 at 10:35 pm

I agree with you totally. With the president at the time, what do you expect. We should have bombed that whole area, to prevent any enemy country-Russia,China or whoever, from gaining the military hardware intelligence that costs American taxpayers billions of dollars to invent and produce. The Chinese are notorious for taking other countries inventions, being software to machinery products and copying them. This should be a big wake up call to America and other Western Countries , also private companies , to protect their investment from China!

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blight January 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Funny, everybody at the time said the Russians got their hands on it.

Maybe both did! In any case, it gives you materials but there's also the shaping of the aircraft, which is responsible for the lion's share of low RCS.

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Musson January 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Yeah. That’s the ticket. Blame it on wreckage in Kosovo and no one will wonder if the Chinese have agents at Lockheed.

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Justin H January 25, 2011 at 1:57 am

Wait 15mins, we will probably hear of another Chinese national caught trying to steal/sell American weapons tech.

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blight January 25, 2011 at 9:21 am

Wrong. An Indian national this time:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41249426/ns/us_news-s

Done pointing the finger at "Chinese nationals"? Look at the Cold War. Most traitors to the US were Americans, and most traitors to the Soviet cause were Russians.

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Justin H January 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Wow I'm actually a little suprised this time.

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Roland January 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I think they got their stealth technology from russian jet planes they bought from Russia.

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Robert January 24, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Our good friends the Chicoms. Why we even have lavish dinners at the WH for them, all huggy and kissy. We let them play patriotic tunes during the dinner. Everyone knows the Chicoms are our best good buddies, POTUS told us so.

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praetorian January 25, 2011 at 9:40 am

Not only patriotic, it was anti-U.S.
The tune was written during the Korean war, about a battle with the U.S.

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blight January 25, 2011 at 10:15 am

I missed this; but isn't the PRC anthem March of the Volunteers, written in '35?

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Byron Skinner January 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Good Afternoon Folks,

I have no doubt that “Chinese Engineers” did pick through the F-117 wreckage but I don’t think, as was said in another post, much of value in building the J-20 was recovered from the wreck.

I think helpful information and direct help came for second party countries who are selling military technology to the PRC, while at the same time gaining technology to include what appears to ten “free” F-35′s from the US. Lets face it we all know what other aircraft the J-10-11-20 resemble.

Another avenue of information might be coming from long term espionage similar to the ten Russians rounded up last year and sent back. I know they were a bunch clowns and I doubt if they paid their way with Moscow, but another country Japan was very good at it between the world wars.

I know of some one involved in the pre WW II Japanese espionage activities and as early as 1919 Japanese Naval Intelligence Officers were infiltrated into the US and establishing themselves as laborers and other common occupations such as fishing. Message were being transmitted back to Japan by language students on short term visas.

The information to support this thesis is hard to come by because the US destroyed most of the Imperial Navy’s Intelligence records, but looking into old newspapers and personal diaries and confession after the war, a lot can be learned.

One example here in San Diego was the arrival of a “farm worker” in 1922 who managed to buy 100 acres of coastal land with vistas of the Pacific and US Navy training, for cash?

This individual became a commercial landscaper that worked around the harbor and on the developing Naval bases, much of his work is still in place. His wife among her other hobbies, became a photographer, landscape painter (harbor scenes) and his son learned in Boy Scouts Morse Code and how to build radios, he got so good at it, that when Pearl Harbor happened his station in San Diego and a station in Seattle were the only successful radio transmitters on the US west coast to have contact with Japan.

Yes, this family went to an internment camp in March of 1942.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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Stan January 24, 2011 at 7:11 pm

I still can't believe the idiot in charge at the time never ordered US forces to bomb the F-117A wreakage. Can someone explain this too me pls.

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Donnell January 25, 2011 at 7:52 pm

It was Bill Clinton and from what I understand, the military did have contigency plans to destroy a downed stealth fighter crash site, but the POTUS did not give the order.

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Eric Atkinson January 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Looks to me the Chicoms got the design of the J-20 from the movie Firefox, in which the Firefox was called an MIG-31.

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FtD January 24, 2011 at 10:33 pm

so you people think US should bomb any wreckage whenever a jet got shot down…. 'black hawk down' style… so can USAF really, seriously afford to get a F35 shot down or flame out over enemy territory?? get real people….. you can do whatever you want on US soil but you're talking about foreign land & with the PAK-FA & J20 looking better than F35, the marines/rangers will lose more limbs just to bomb F35 wreckages all over the theater….

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blight January 25, 2011 at 8:12 am

We've done it since Korea, in the name of making it very difficult to reverse engineer an enemy system. Reverse-engineering enemy weapons has been the name of the game since the Romans reverse-engineered Carthaginian ships (along with copying the Iberian Gladius).

More recently, captured American "bazookas" turned into the feared Panzershreck, for example.

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blight January 25, 2011 at 9:20 am

It's been done since Korea. You can learn a lot from reverse-engineered tech. There would be no panzerschreck without the American bazooka.

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mehrdadd January 25, 2011 at 10:56 am

Yes they should,and I remember they did shoot one Apache AH-64 in the start of iraq war while it was landed on enemy territory near Baghdad because of some mechanical failure and 2 pilots were captured by iraqis . well,That was president Bush time not clinton !

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Justin H January 25, 2011 at 1:58 am

F-117 wreakage + Info on the Mig 1.42 = Chinese J-20

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good_reader January 25, 2011 at 9:36 am

What is the reasons to think that Russia or even China are not able to invent their own advanced radar-absorbent materials from their own research and knowledge without copying materials from the F-117 wreckage?

Russia developed similar materials and composites decades ago for their strategic rocket forces(special radar-absorbent coating for MIRVs), also they adopted stealth cruise missiles (Kh-101 and Kh-102) as new standard strategic cruise missile for Tu-95's and modernized Tu-160's bombers.

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Justin H January 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Why bother learning how to make it yourself when you can easily get a hold of some to study?

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blight January 25, 2011 at 4:25 pm

True. All it proves is that the Chinese are ready to pay for American secrets, regardless of who is bringing them. Standard practice in all intelligence communities.

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Justin H January 25, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Thats correct. But all you ever hear about is China, and yes Israel, buying/stealing U.S secrets.

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jemc50 January 26, 2011 at 1:36 am

Mustn't forget about the engineer just sentenced for selling B-2 tech info to the Chinese. That and the F-117 stuff certainly would help the Chinese leap forward.

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Justin H January 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I wonder if this is why we retired the F-117 kind of suddenly? Maybe the CIA found out about China working on the J-20 using the F-117 wreckage.

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Goran R March 14, 2012 at 9:50 am

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“KOSOVO FOREVER SERBIA”

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Help the troops February 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm

If an F-117 was hit by a SAMs not much would be left of it.Sorry , It was made of ? you don't have the need to know,And by looking at pics, it's still together for the most part. Has anyone seen what a Jet looks like after it's hit by a SAM. We can let anything go down.and say what we want.So The Military can get new toys . Why don't we use some of that money to take of our troops that come back from war?

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Musson January 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm

That kind of dangerous talk will have us settling for solid gold fighter aircraft – When everyone knows Platinum ones are better.

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brian January 25, 2011 at 9:59 am

I said nothing about spending money for the sake of money, quite the opposite. We we are to maintain our technological lead against our adversaries we need to continually invest in new systems so that we can evolve and occasionally revolutionize our capabilities. I am objecting to gold plated systems, constant repecing of systems and a ridiculous acquisitions program that has every officer wanting to leave their fingerprint on the spec "to make it better".

We should set our sights lower and develop a consistent ability to field new systems that deliver real value then attempt to build wonder weapons. Much like the F-35 and the FCS or the LCS these systems end up being boondoogles that never deliver anything in hte end but fat paydays to defense contractors. This is a buzzword centric way of building a military, and it should stop. Its killing our military with wasted dollars and killing our troops by denying them useful upgrades to their equipment.

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