Counterfeit Parts Found on P-8 Posiedons

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich) just dropped a couple of very alarming tales during a hearing about counterfeit parts making their way into brand new U.S. military weapons.

Earlier this year, Boeing and the Navy found that the ice detection system on a brand new P-8 Poseidon was defective. The ice detection system is a critical piece of hardware designed to prevent tragedies by alerting pilots to the presence of ice on an aircraft’s control surfaces. Where did this defective part come from? China. A whole batch of a key piece of the ice detection hardware that was sent to the P-8 production line turned out to be used and worn out parts that were badly refurbished and sold to P-8 subcontractor BAE Systems as a new part, according to Levin. Boeing and BAE first became aware of the problem in 2009, he added.

The fake P-8 parts are just one of many examples of how counterfeit parts — often made from 1980s and 1990s-vintage junk computer parts that are sanded down and remarked in China and then sold back to the U.S. as brand new computer chips for advanced weapons systems. One witness at the hearing just described growing counterfiet semiconductors seeping into critical weapons systems as “ticking time bombs.”

Levin also noted that China feels no need to cooperate in his investigation into the problem, saying that the Chinese ambassador to Washington declined to send a representative to the hearing, despite the fact that there’s plenty of evidence that the vast majority of counterfeit weapons parts are coming from China.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of a huge problem that I wrote extensively about at Inside the Air Force in early 2008. Oh, and while the Pentagon and defense industry is working on detecting counterfeit parts, the counterfitters are becoming ever more adept at hiding the fact that their parts are fake.

UPDATE: Levin says he is crafting an amendment to the FY-12 defense authorization bill that would require inspections of all electronic parts coming from China — similar to the way foreign agricultural products are inspected upon entry to the U.S. Levin’s proposed legislation would also mandate tougher verification systems for military parts suppliers.

Click through the jump for pictures of Chinese counterfitting “plants” that are being shown during the hearing and an excerpt from a story I wrote on the problem while at Inside the Air Force years ago.

An unknown number of counterfeit aircraft parts are being fastened into U.S. military weapon systems after infiltrating supply depots, posing new safety risks and potentially driving up maintenance bills by hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to Pentagon officials.

This practice is an unintended consequence of two converging trends: globalization and Defense Department acquisition policies instituted in the 1990s that encourage use of commercial-off-the-shelf technology, according to Robert Ernst, head of aging aircraft studies for the Navy.

“This is one of the emerging threats to our supply chain. It’s one of the things we call a disruptive technology,” said Ernst during a March 20 interview. “We’re getting so many changes, because we’re in a global economy, [that] we have to manage things a little bit differently, and it really is turning our acquisition process and supply process on its ear.”

Ernst — along with several other military safety officials who wished to remain anonymous — worries that the potential of fake parts in the inventory is so high that some aircraft may contain numerous counterfeit parts, ranging from microprocessors to fasteners. This, they argue, opens the door for disaster since military parts must be able to withstand shock, vibration, electromagnetic and temperature stress levels far greater than their commercial counterparts.

“If you get a flood of counterfeits going in, if you have multiple failures on an old weapons system with poor reliability, it doesn’t take a lot of ‘what ifs’ to have a serious reliability — and possibly a safety-impact,” said Ernst. “If I have a part that gets into a weapon system that not only doesn’t work, but fails prematurely or it has adverse impact, then that’s a safety issue and I really get upset,” he added.

Ernst estimates that such components are leading to a 5 percent to 15 percent annual decrease in weapon system reliability based on studies by the Aerospace Industrial Association. “I know the Navy spends about $1.4 billion a year on depot level repairables. A 10 percent increase, that’s a big chunk of change,” said Ernst.

However, since tiny computer chips and fasteners are incredibly difficult to inspect, the true percentage of counterfeit parts entering U.S. inventories is still unknown. The Pentagon has acknowledged the importance of making sure all aviation parts come from trusted vendors, but has not committed the resources needed to fight the problem effectively, in-part because no one has studied the true size of the problem, argues Ernst.

“ We are getting service participation from DLA [Defense Logistics Agency], from OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], from the Navy, but we’re still not getting the right level of senior involvement, because I don’t think we’ve defined the problem, ” said Ernst. “ We’ve got some people from OSD but we don’t have [senior leaders] pushing it.”

(Click here to buy the whole article.)

Back in 2008, the problem was largely viewed as being limited to aging aircraft no longer in production that needed parts that are tougher to come by. Now, fake parts are making their way into brand new military equipment like the P-8, the C-27J Spartan and even missiles used by the Missile Defense Agency, according to lawmakers and witnesses speaking at the hearing. The good news is that the problem seems to be getting some serious attention.

Check out parent site,, later today for more on the hearing.

Here are some of the slides shown by a witness at today’s hearing:

The size of the counterfeit military parts problem

An electronics market in China where counterfeit parts can be sold to brokers:

Here’s a bunch of old American computer parts, called “E-waste”, waiting to be sanded down and sold back to American companies as brand new computer chips and semiconductors for use in critical systems ranging from fighter jet navigation and targeting gear to the braking software on commercial trains.

More E-waste in China waiting to be sanded down and sold as brand new parts:

Counterfeit parts for sale in China:

An example of the coatings that counterfitters put on their parts to make it difficult to tell if they are fake or legit:

An example of how counterfitters sand down metal casings to make their parts appear real and brand new:

Another of the coatings on Chinese-made knock-offs:

45 Comments on "Counterfeit Parts Found on P-8 Posiedons"

  1. China is a joke

  2. Fool me twice…

  3. yay globalization! That free and unregulated economy sure did make us safe didn't it?

  4. You want jobs in the US, here's a great place to start – manufacture our own products for defense purposes, less you want to broker our nuclear program out to the middle east….

    We really need to start sending people to jail and clean up our political circus before we decline into so far into the abyss that Rome will look like a success compared us.

    (disclaimer: this post was not paid for by any political partie; however, the poster has paid dearly in the last 10 years (front row seats) to watch this politically caused set of historically events come into focus – I am deeply ashamed of what our society has allowed to happen). Fill the jails and create factories (boarder fences) and increase agriculture without using super seeds (another fiasco about to happen) to rebuild our U.S..

  5. And china doesn’t want to assist? Lol
    Who would have guessed that

  6. What would stop China from putting a remote accessable command such as "shut down" into the BIOS?

  7. This is driven as much by American defense (and contractor) hyper-conservatism as it is by Chinese duplicity (though the one is just dumb, not wrong). American companies won't fabricate the low-volume, 1980s-era chips that are required for many defense subsystems. I worked for several years monitoring parts lists on launch vehicles, and this always comes up.

    A company, say Texas Instruments for example, used to be a huge semiconductor player, their parts were incorporated into myriad systems, and then they rescaled their business to meet new demands, and discontinued the product line you depended on. Because of the enormous costs incurred to qualify new hardware, you scrounge around and find TI chips where you can, because it's cheaper in the short run, and that is the kind of thinking that the DoD acquisition process rewards. If you billed the DoD for the cost of using certified, new parts and up-to-date designs, they'd never buy from you. This is also one of the systematic causes of cost overruns in defense programs, because there will always a system that you cannot get around updating, but you didn't know that to begin with.

    No easy solutions, and definitely no cheap solutions. It requires vigilance all through the supply chain.

  8. Maybe it's China's long term strategic plan to take down the United States. Once all of their fake chips are in all of our planes, missiles and computers, they can invade us easily because none of our defensive systems will work. Outsourcing rocks! China feeds our children lead and takes our weapons off line because we love to save a buck.

  9. I get the feeling that when the PLAAF wants new parts and gets fake ones, CEOs get shot in the neck and "parted out" to medical tourists. However, they are free to export junk.

  10. The solution is as easy as it is obvious. If BAE sells you a bad part, they replace it for free, and pay for any damage cause by the bad part, including compensation to anybody hurt or killed. That $2 counterfeit part just crashed an F-22, then BAE gets to buy a whole new $150 million F-22. Once BAE gets a bill for $1 billion for all the damage it's parts caused, then they will fix the problem.

    I don't mean to pick on BAE, I was just using it as an example.

  11. I’m very proud to think that my 1980’s computers could be out there today defending the free world.

  12. Bob from Flemington | November 8, 2011 at 2:35 pm |

    All they have to do is say anything having to do with defense and national security equipment MUST be made in the US including all components. This would provide more jobs for US Citizens and the $ will stay here. An argument can be made that the parts will be more expensive, but we already waste a ton of money on defense items.
    That way if defective parts are discovered we have total control in this country and not looking for foreign government cooperation.

    If the government didn't enforce the prevailing wage bull shit the costs would probably be the same. These guys that run our country are all F…ing nuts. It seems some solutions are fairly simple, but they are more interested in raising money for reelection than they are about what is happening to this country.

  13. When Ford subcontracted for Willys in Jeep manufacture in WWII – Henry ordered every Ford made part to be stamped with an 'F'. He did not want to be blamed or billed for replacing Willys parts that failed.

    If you ever see a 1944 jeep – check the top of any bolt and you can tell if it is Ford or Willys.

  14. Took that long to figure China makes crap. This is a lesson in making sure and using that all DoD companies are made here in the USA and are shipped and inspected here.

  15. middlefingertoyou | November 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm |

    IN THE NAME OF GREED, AMERICA allows our worst and most deceptive foe to make our defensive weapons. Don't know which is the most ignorant, the white house or the Department of Defense. What makes anyone think they can trust the Chinese with anything.

  16. China’s failure to get a grip of the problems of counterfeit goods and shoddy production standards is a steadily growing problem for China itself. Fake prestige branded products -clothing, electronics, etc- are widely available to the Chinese, and fake or poor quality foods, medicines, alcohol and cosmetics are regularly becoming the source of domestic health scares, and often prove fatal.

    I’d be very surprised if the unintended use of dodgy knock-off components isn’t rife within all major Chinese military programmes.

  17. Love the Titanic analogy they used

  18. Get the manufacturing here to the UK!

    Make some jobs and probably won't cost much more than checking all the dubious quality components coming from China.

  19. There are reports of HARDWARE viruses detected by hardware analysis, in CPU chips from Chinese fabs, such that the virus CANNOT be detected by software running on the CPU.

    These would test normal until the virus is triggered. You need to examine them at the transistor interconnect level to verify that they can be trusted.

  20. I can see trying to order a replacement part from China if we were in a war with them. This is insane. Why are our political leaders even allowing this. Free trade assumes everyone is friendly and means us no harm.

  21. Is it any surprise that China is doing this? They view us as a rival and possibly an enemy even. Of course they don’t want to help out in the investigation. We’re selling them the rope they are going to hang us by.

  22. After the private market is done with a production run, establish a non-profit government owned low rate high tech part replacement company… build it here in the US, run it in the US, and establish a secure and verifiable source…

  23. They sell us crap. They gain the lastest and greatest. Fear the Chicoms gents.

  24. Angry Taxpayer | November 9, 2011 at 12:34 am |

    Managers love outsourcing for the same reason organized crime loves import/export business – it makes it much easier to steal.

    When the contractor chain is a tangled mess you can be sure there are bribes, theft and fraud involved.

    Superior businesses vertically integrate – only crooks and incompetents outsource.

  25. CIA in the BUSH's | November 9, 2011 at 12:42 am |

    It would sure help if government senators and former presidents were forbidden by act of high-treason by investing/profiting/manufacturing/consulting in the arms market.
    If a product went wrong and they were a key stock holder, they have the connections to cover it up, and other government officials would fall over themselves to help in order to get some favor for when they F*ck-up.
    The problem with America is the people in high up, even when retired become untouchable, and get to keep their classified secret status and connections.
    There is a specific family I am thinking of… can you guess???

  26. Remember the P-51 stang and the P-38 lightning,,, they were pretty good fighters… maybe it's time to go back in time to something that really works without the chinese getting into it…

  27. The reality is that the US was dumping all its scrap and medical waste into China for decades, now they are crying about it.
    The same is currently happening with mobile phones in Shenzhen, millions of them.

    Anyway don't get too upset because the same crap is also going into Chinese electronic products, that is one reason why they have been so damned un-reliable for so long.
    It is not the central government doing it deliberately, just the local officials in SZ trying to get a quick buck

  28. Mr. Obvious wants to know why we would use 30 – 40 year old technology on a brand new airplane? Especially when the parts obviously don't last. I blame Boeing for not doing their jobs. Wild guess guy says Boeing gets a fat check for R&D. Sarcastic guy says R&D was done on a cocktail napkin.

  29. I already will not buy any food that is labeled Made in China. I don’t trust the safety.

    Similarly I wouldn’t buy any medicines in Mexico.

  30. why are any part made in China in our US Military system am i stupid or is this just another dumb an criminal matter of the supply system we are using, did anyone begin proscuting these fools. Well let send a message to china all electrical part made for US company have to be inspected and made in the USA. Why in china someone tell me that cheaper not soif the system is hijackes by chinese military time to get serious lets not give them a backdoor. Wow this is really distubing

  31. Okay, blame it on China. Who was the parts bidder? That is the person you need to examine, not China. This happens over and over and over in the Pentagon. Bidders bid cheap because they are going to send you cheap parts made in China. It is not China's fault, although China wouldn't mind taking the blame. They hate us, quite frankly; polluting their air to make junk for us to purchase on the toy shelves at Christmas. Is it China's fault that the toys are toxic? No. It's Mattel Toy Company that set up shop in China so they could manufacture cheaply and use cheaper labor. Have a lovely evening and remember, the Pentagon is to blame for being suckered so many times into trusting these scammers who bid cheap and win. Even when they get caught providing defective parts to the military, the same people close that shop and open another and the next year, bid cheap again and what happens? They win the bid and what else? They provide defective parts.

  32. When the government moved from MILSPEC contractual products to COTS "lower cost" products it was only a matter of time before inferior or non-spec products hit the shelves. The Users aren't at fault since the products are procured and distributed by government contractors. Unfortunately due to severe cutbacks in the procurement, testing and inspection process, those testing facilities are mostly gone. Gone too are the penalties when a seller sells inferior products. The DCMA or whatever they are called now are just a shell, and the military test laboratories are BRAC'd and don't exist anymore. So who is looking out for our warfighters. Anyone forget that they are our sons, daughters, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters? All to "cut costs" by our politicians (who have better places to spend the taxpayer's dime).

  33. The bottom line is that American manufacturers cant compete with Chinese ones, putting up trade barriers will just make the problem worse.

  34. Regan helped set up the USSR for failure by applying economic pressure in the form of an arms race. This is no different.

    I don't believe in any grand conspiracy theory, but the result is still the same: when our defenses are paralyzed at the moment of need, does it matter?

    The sheeple of the US need to wake up. You've complained about high taxes, but you can't have your cake and eat it too. You've forced the government to resort to lowest bidder, and guess who the lowest bidder is?

    China is pressuring the US and we can't complete, because US citizens are weak and have no backbone. In 5 years, it'll be China bailing out the US government.

  35. This has been a problem with fastners for years, anyone surprised it's reared it's ugly head now with electronics? Cheap chinese mfg. will hurt and maim people, already has. Be super vigilant of your supply chain…..

  36. Why are we buying from China?!?! (as stated by other above)
    Americans need the jobs and I sure trust American companies/workers more than Chinese workers driven like slaves and corperations working for a gov that wants to overthrow our country as the #1 superpower…

  37. I deal with this shit every day (electronics manufacturing).

    You cannot build a single military system without China

    Why you ask?

    Decades of shitty trade policy where we have outsourced core competencies

    Blame goes all the way to the top for this one, not the contract manufacturer that purchased it

  38. crackedlenses | November 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm |

    If your country treats businesses like crap, then yeah, you will get walked over…..

  39. why the **** are we buying electronics for US weapon systems from china ????
    you all know this is going to hurt us in the future if not kill us all !!!!!!! you can’t protect this country with junk !!!!!!!! make it in america and keep it in america …..
    it don’t take a rocket scientest to figure out were getting screwed !!!!!

  40. ha ha ha, "a ticking time bomb"

    the real killing joke.

  41. one more reason to start geting stuff made in america and it would fix the econamy but who wants that

  42. OccupyArea51 | December 1, 2011 at 6:09 am |

    This is nasty, what if these fake chips are in SCADA systems with a trigger date of 01/01/11? Could we cope if 80% of fresh water pumps fail with no warning? I think not.
    To fix this will cost mega $$$$ but to not fix it will cost $$$$$$$$$$$ and cost potentially hundreds of thousands of lives in the event of serious water contamination.

  43. OccupyArea51 | December 1, 2011 at 6:12 am |

    01/01/12 sorry

  44. Part of the problem stems from the military disposing of older "brand new" "obsolete" parts to "save money" in the 90's. Seems that some of the systems using those parts are still in service today. The surplussed parts were bought for pennies as scrap, then bought and sold among vendors until the military found it needed them, and had to by them back for ten dollars on the cent. Naturally, fake parts and so forth crept into the schemes, since money was to be made. Actually fake and defective aircraft parts have been a problem for many decades, even down to small civilian private planes.

  45. When do people open the eyes and realise that RPC's products are trash ?!
    There are a LOT of Chinese fake products, they are every where, like virus or worms damaging the world technologies.

Comments are closed.