Did Chinese Espionage Lead to F-35 Delays?

Did Chinese cyber spying cause the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s cost spikes and production delays? That’s the question Pentagon budget officials are asking according to Aviation Week.

Chinese spies apparently hacked into secure conference calls and listened to meetings discussing the classified technologies aboard the jets. In particular, China may have stolen info about the F-35’s secure communications and antenna systems; leading to costly software rewrites and other redesigns to compromised parts of the plane.

The worst part, this problem isn’t just limited to the F-35, though the program’s size and the fact that it’s information systems were apparently designed without any concern for cyber espionage made it an easy target.

Anyone who has been following U.S.-China military relations and cyber warfare knows that China has been hacking into the networks of U.S. defense contractors and the Pentagon and rolling out brand new weapons like the J-20 stealth fighter.

Here’s the latest from Av Week:

Before the intrusions were discovered nearly three years ago, Chinese hackers actually sat in on what were supposed to have been secure, online program-progress conferences, the officials say.

The full extent of the connection is still being assessed, but there is consensus that escalating costs, reduced annual purchases and production stretch-outs are a reflection to some degree of the need for redesign of critical equipment. Examples include specialized communications and antenna arrays for stealth aircraft, as well as significant rewriting of software to protect systems vulnerable to hacking.

It is only recently that U.S. officials have started talking openly about how data losses are driving up the cost of military programs and creating operational vulnerabilities, although claims of a large impact on the Lockheed Martin JSF are drawing mixed responses from senior leaders. All the same, no one is saying there has been no impact.

While claiming ignorance of details about effects on the stealth strike aircraft program, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, says that Internet technology has “led to egregious pilfering of intellectual capital and property. The F-35 was clearly a target,” he confirms. “Clearly the attacks . . . whether from individuals or nation-states are a serious challenge and we need to do something about it.”

The F-35 issue was ducked as well by David Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, but not the impact of cybertheft on defense spending and operational security.

“I am not going to talk about the F-35, Shedd says. “I’d be sitting with the secretary having a counseling session. The answer is absolutely yes. The leaks have hurt our efforts in that it gives the adversary an advantage in having insights into what we’re doing. It should be clear that whether there are leaks on the technology side or that affect preemptive decision-making, they are very damaging to the intelligence community.”

Those closer to the program are less equivocal about the damage that cyberintrusions are causing the JSF program.

“You are on to something,” says a veteran combat pilot with insight into both the F-35 and the intelligence communities “There are both operational and schedule problems with the program related to the cyber data thefts. In addition, there are the costs of redressing weaknesses in the original system design and lots of software fixes.”

Here’s the kicker, the JSF’s info systems weren’t built with cyber espionage in mind, this led to a bunch of subcontractors networks being ‘totally compromised.” Shocking considering the plane was meant for the 21st Century. C’mon guys.

Defense analysts note that the JSF’s information system was not designed with cyberespionage, now called advanced persistent threat, in mind. Lockheed Martin officials now admit that subcontractors (6-8 in 2009 alone, according to company officials) were hacked and “totally compromised.” In fact, the stealth fighter program probably has the biggest “attack surface” or points that can be attacked owing to the vast number of international subcontractors.

There also is the issue of unintended consequences. The 2009 hacking was apparently not aimed at the F-35 but rather at a classified program. However, those accidental results were spectacular. Not only could intruders extract data, but they became invisible witnesses to online meetings and technical discussions, say veteran U.S. aerospace industry analysts. After the break-in was discovered, the classified program was halted and not restarted until a completely new, costly and cumbersome security system was in place.

62 Comments on "Did Chinese Espionage Lead to F-35 Delays?"

  1. If the Soviets had lasted into the modern age, the KGB would be rolling on the floor laughing their asses off.

    We've leaked like sieves before. But has it delayed our procurement by this much before?

  2. The government and DoD does a lot of talking about cyber security but I don't see much being done in the way of actual effort. This is absolutely unacceptable.

  3. I'm beginning to think this truly is the age of transparency.

    You'll get it no matter what one way or another.

  4. Really?…. I'd like to think our defense industry isn't so outrageously silly from time to time…

  5. It would better for security if you just build a separate "internet" not connected to the main web, but a separate series of computers and servers only on their own network, and only linked to major bases, contractors, etc. Problem is building that in this economic environment.

  6. Is it possible that part of our counter-espionage tactics include overstating the damage of an intrusion like this? Let them listen to conversation A so they don't drill down farther to something we really don't want them hearing? Then rant about how the Chinese hacked an important meeting? Wish I could believe we were that buttoned up.

  7. Sometimes the "Stone Age" is not that bad.

    As far as cyber security is concerned, there is no barrier that people can't find their way around. You need to think about the physical means in which your data is being transferred in order to stop data theft.

    Serial connections are the only feasible means of doing this – Connect PC "A" with PC "B" and not anywhere else – No internet, No outside connection, no Wi-Fi… you would actually need to physically commit theft.

  8. Yeah, it's the Chinese that are causing F-35 development to crawl along at a snail's pace. It certainly is not the fact that we pay the defense contractor a profit incentive to drag out development. No, it is clearly China's fault. Right. We have found the enemy, and it is us.

  9. Never would have happened in the Kelly Johnson days.

  10. I run four servers and I constantly see Hong Kong IP's trying to get in.

  11. How many acts of war must China commit against us before we do something about it?

  12. Possible. Now we need to reboot the price to $ 1.

  13. I think they're releasing this info to make us feel more "protected" when they cram SOPA type law down our throats.

  14. Just don't hook the server to the internet. Use firewall, secured router and secured satellite cable from IBM.

  15. Time to pull the plug on these contractors and subcontractors. None of them should have internet access anywhere. No such thing as secure internet. Also time to fine the hell out that taxpayer leech LM for being cheap, incompetent and lazy.

  16. Would it be so hard to keep everything offline?
    Whats wrong with Snail mail?
    Is flying so expensive they cannot get together?
    Granted, this would slow things down, but it would also make the aircraft not an open book…..

  17. Whats wrong with Snail mail?

    Kinda saiz it all right there imagine the delays with snail mail.

  18. If the DoD is so serious about cyber security, why do they run almost solely Windows, Outlook, etc…?

  19. While yes the Chinese could be trying to hack into US aircraft makers databases I doubt all could but related to the many delays in this troubled planes development. A big problem is that this is a international program so some allied nations have access to materials and lacks security to keep them confidential.

    Overall the J-20 was based on Russian technology NOT American a F-35 is still ahead of a J-20 by light years.

  20. That said, it is possible that attempted theft by the PRC and causing these types of delays could be their mission in the first place. Hard to say that they aren't winning the longer JSF is delayed.

    If they wanted immediate deliverables, hack P&W and GE and grab engine designs, then prioritize reproducing next-gen American engines. Why sleep at night?

  21. We SERIOUSLY need to retaliate for Chinese espionage and cyberattacks. This kind of behavior cannot go on tolerated like this. The United States NEEDS to respond with economic penalties, cyber-retaliation of its own, and other punitive measures.

  22. Nothing connected to the Internet can ever be secure. We need to stop deluding ourselves that we are so clever that we can keep other, equally clever, people from hacking into our stuff. Nothing is more secure than NO CONNECTION (except maybe powered off…). When will these dweebs figure this out? We are not that smart, despite what we tell ourselves…

  23. Wow… and thought the F-35 design itself was a problem. This takes things to a whole new level. Our security is seriously fucked up right now. However, I still believe it's true that we are getting more information on the Chinese than they are on us. The question is who is really benefiting from the espionage? We certainly have a lot more to steal in the area of advanced technology. I doubt we can acquire anything new from the Chinese as they exist now.

  24. How about this:

    You steal our stuff, we stop all business with you…

    and and by the way, you can forget about getting your loan to taxpayers paid back.. consider the money you borrowed the US a DOWNPAYMENT on the secret stuff you stole!

  25. Its time to take the kiddie gloves off when dealing with China

  26. If they're smart, the powers that be are only pretending to keep the almighty JSF tech secret. Because with any luck, the ChiComs will get sucked into swallowing it whole, and then destroy THEIR OWN air force and military budget by trying to copy the three-way cluster**** called the F-35.

    Once that's dopne, the DoD can finally reveal that its real name is not 'Lightning II, but 'Trojan Horse II"…

  27. Thank god this ani't the Cold War with our pal Ivan. But this is a new kind of Cold War with the PRC. They coutinually pull crap like this year in and year out. Honestly I hope we are getting more from the PRC than they are from us. But ending buissness with the PRC is not a great idea. They'll be able to weather the economic backlash better than we the USA will. For the time being lets wait till they do something really stupid. Like being coaught selling Iran missiles. Or becoming more aggressive in the South China Sea, as in firing on someone allied with us. So in the end our options aren't at all open. So for now, FEAR THE REDS!

  28. China doesn't need to hack into anything. With dems running the show all they have to do is name their price and it will be handed to them.

  29. Oh come on, this smacks of desperation, grasping at the last flimsy straw of spurious excuses to justify a monumental fuckup. FAIL.

  30. so your wife's taking a bath and not closed the windows and your neighbor's enjoying the show so you gonna grab your double barrel and shoot him? act of war lol…..

  31. is anybody getting the distinct impression that the metric of future world dominence won't be how many missiles or tanks, or how large a GDP or industrial base is but… how many "girls with dragon tatooes" a country can educate and support…?

  32. The rule of thumb:
    If you don't know who to blame, blame China.

  33. This is the dumbest story ever. Lets build a shitty plane and blame it on the Chinese. Brilliant.

  34. Chinese have already won the war. Entire areas of mostly Chinese in every major town globally. They say even, Canada, will someday soon have a Chinese majority.

    They will never war us simply for that fact. They just prepare for if Korea kicks off & to keep competitive in the arms market.

    As I see it they are smart, they prepare for the worst case scenarios. We haven't & hope we start soon.

  35. The F-35 is an extremely complex jet with all sorts of sensors and an extremely complex avionics suite as one might think it might be simply too much as they should essentially build a F-35 with the basics before adding in the avionics and more sophisticated avionics in later versions as this would allow the cost of the F-35 to be built for a lower cost like the F-16 which has a starting price of about $75-80M while the top tier variant with things like the AESA radar is almost $150M.

  36. Marcellus Hambrick | February 7, 2012 at 12:44 am | Reply

    This is okay with a lot if liberals. They dont like the fact that the US is the only superpower and want someone like the Chinese to match us economically and militarily.

  37. This happens because we all have computer parts, software, networking , radar boosters and etc all made in China. Think about it. Where did it go wrong?

  38. I agree – espionage is just part of the game. But its too easy to just blame it on the ignorance or an unwillingness of the contractors to prevent cyber attacks. Even with all of the technical resources, trained and dedicated people, and command authority available, the DoD gets hacked, too.

  39. It's a blame game gimmick that serves two purposes at once – (a) deflect responsibility for various failures on the part of the contractors such as severe budget overruns and delays in development, and (b) justify demands for additional funding to the tune of tens of billions to fatten the pockets of the contractors.

    The US military industrial complex will further benefits by hyping up the so-called China threat as part of their propaganda campaign to justify further theft of US taxpayers money through extraordinarily wasteful spending of various military programs.

    Whenever a news story comes out that has the consequence of justifying additional military spending while blaming foreign countries for espionage, it's time for heightened vigilance, suspicion, and scrutiny.

    I wouldn't take the report at face value. The US military and defense contractors have been persistent liars over the past 4-5 decades to say the least.

    I think they want more money and divert media's attention of their own failures.

  40. The US deliberately leaked details of the F-35 to the Chinese … how do you think the Chinese developed a stealth fighter that looks similar to the F-22 ? Once the Chinese come up with a reverse engineered variant of the F-35, Lockheed will use its lobby in the White House to push sales of additional squadrons of the F-35

  41. It's all about money. They want to squeeze US taxpayers dry by creating imaginary / false enemies and trick the US voters and the government into spending more on new weaponry.

    The modus operanti never gets old. The military industrial complex has more than enough money to wage propaganda campaigns via the mainstream media, and buy off corrupt politicians in Congress to give them trillions after trillions in outrageously priced products and services.

    That's why they have been funding Mitt Romney and his ilk, while sabotaging Ron Paul, even if it means flagrant fraud.

  42. edit: middle paragraph – and buy off corrupt politicians in Congress to give them trillions after trillions in exchange for outrageously priced products and services.

  43. The Editors of Proceedings, Defense Weekly., and Av Week published an editorial years ago foreseeing problems like this. They were imploring the Reagan Administration to restore educational funding, student loans, and Pell Grant programs. Without our own (American) educated students, we would be reliant on outsiders to procure, manage, and design these complex systems. They all considered it to be a matter of national security, and now we get to reap the rewards (if you can call it that) of an uneducated society. If you think education is expensive: try ignorance.

  44. I was in a unclassified JSF briefing in April 2008 where I later found out that the info presented was classified. I sent a "challenge" notice through my security bubbas.
    The response back was effectively, "We are JSF, we can do what we want. F. U.."

  45. Lockheed Martin is either making a scapegoat out of China because it cannot manage this project's costs anymore, or it is actually in cahoots with our soon to be Oriental overlords in bankrupting Uncle Sam. Either way, make LM pay!!!

  46. China is evil and our enemy. War will come. God help us. We will need every nuke we have to scrub this garage from the earth.

  47. You have no money for new airplanes anyways, so don't worry, at least somebody is using the technology…

  48. Why dont they justeet face to face/ Robert DeNiro prefered it in GoodFellas so people didnt WIRE INTO THEIR CONVERATIONS. we should be having face to face meetings about this top secret stuff until we get our cyber security up to requirements

  49. Blaming the Chinese now for fundamental design flaws – it's beyond laughable its just pathetic.

  50. Somehow I do miss military personnel commenting more in this forum. When occasionally they identify themselves as such, it's hard not to notice how the the quality of the comment is above average (including – notably – the spelling). Reading the comments from all the armchair warriors below is often a challenge, though.

  51. We should slap a huge tariff on all their export goods they are killing us in every area and not many seem to care. The JSF will be a helluva warplane..one day. Disgrace.

  52. Thomas L. Nielsen | February 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply

    "You're trying to branch out further by taking on manned lunar landing."
    I'm trying to branch out? It surely has not escaped your vastly superior intellect that in your post above (1 day ago by this time) you initially brought up your belief in a moon landing hoax. What we have done since then is simply refer back to this original statement.

    Regards & all,

    Thomas L. Nielsen
    Luxembourg

  53. Its not so hard to incorporate a tight security framework into these projects from the very beginning. This is an expensive lesson painfully learned. Hopefully from now on, any new technology and systems developed in the future will have cyber espionage countermeasures in place at every level.

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