(Photo : Wikimedia: David B. Gleason)
On the heels of reports from U.S. officials that Iranian hackers have gained a worrying amount of access to U.S. energy firms in an attempt to sabotage utility systems, comes new reports that Chinese cyberspies have compromised the system designs of a long list of important U.S. military assets.
The designs of over two dozen major weapons systems were exposed in the cybersecurity breach, including programs critical to air combat vehicles, ships, and U.S. missile defense, according to the Washington Post story on Tuesday, based on a newly divulged section of a confidential report by the Defense Science Board. The Defense Science Board is a senior advisory committee, appointed to advise the U.S. Department of Defense on science and other technical items.
And while the advisory group did not accuse China of stealing the plans, senior industry and military officials with inside knowledge told the Washington Post that most of the cybersecurity break ins were part of a large, and growing, Chinese cyberspying program against U.S. military and industrial targets.
The exposure of confidential plans to military systems is a big problem. It can give China the edge in conflict scenarios, with operational knowledge of U.S. systems that can possibly be exploited, while also saving China development costs for their own military, which could be more easily upgraded.
So what defense systems were exposed in the breach? Here's a list of some of the major military assets that are suspected of being compromised by Chinese hackers.
The F-35 Lightning II is Lockheed Martin's answer to the Pentagon's Joint Strike Fight program, meant to replace the F-16, F/A-18 Hornet and A-10 programs. The fighter was developed to be a stealth fighter that was more flexible, networked and advanced than any previous fighter. Development cost overruns and various setbacks with the F-35 has made it the most expensive weapon in the world, costing an estimated $397 billion total, and that's after recent cutbacks by the Pentagon. Air Force Lt. General Mark D. Shackelford once called it "America's premier surface-to-air missile killer." Now we might want to rethink how exclusive this expensive weapon system is to America.
While the F/A-18 Hornet, which was also compromised, was slated to be replaced by the F-35, the EA-18g Growler is a relatively new addition to the U.S. military arsenal. It's a modified version of the F/A-18F "Super Hornet," which is designed for modern electronic warfare. It is capable of running several different kinds of electronic jamming equipment while escorting fighters, and was used in combat operations over Libya in 2011 to enforce the UN no-fly zone.
Built by Bell Helicopter and Boeing, the V-22 Osprey is a tiltrotor aircraft that is capable of vertical take offs and landings. It is slated to replace the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, which is used by the U. S. Marine Corps. The V-22 also had a long development period and ended up costing much more than it originally was thought to. It's been operational much of the last decade, and is was exclusive to the United States.
Another huge program exposed in the breach is the Global Hawk, one of the U.S. military's premier unmanned areal vehicles (UAV). They've been used in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. Besides being a combat UAV, the Global Hawk has been used for NASA research and for military surveillance. Ironically, both Japan and South Korea have requested to buy Global Hawks in the past for reconnaissance over North Korea and China.
PAC-3 (Patriot Missile Defense)
The PAC-3 was the most recent upgrade of the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile defense system, with completely a redesigned radar system capable of customizing defense against chemical warheads and detecting whether an incoming aircraft is manned or not. New missile designs have made it more mobile and effectively four times more capable, increasing the number of missiles in a particular canister from one to four. The PAC-3 was to be the U.S. military's premier medium-range missile defense shield. Other Patriot missile systems have been sold to South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, which has the up-to-date PAC-3 system.
Other Compromised Systems
The Washington Post lists several other defense system designs and technologies that have been compromised. The list is so long, diverse and vague as to make you think we need to start from scratch. Some of the other systems include:
Space Surveillance Telescope
Electronic Warfare Systems
Mk54 Light Weight Torpedo
UAV Video System
USMC Tracked Combat Vehicles
UH-60 Black Hawk