A Pentagon report claims that Chinese hackers may have compromised more than two dozen sensitive weapons systems. The designs include projects from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, such as the brand new-advanced F-35 multirole fighter.
The Defense Science Board, a senior advisory group comprised of civilian and military experts, prepared the report for senior Pentagon leaders. In it, they warned that cyberintrusions and cyberattacks could allow China to close the military gap between it and the United States and deprive the United States of its military technological advantage in any future combat situation.
The report was part of a confidential report that was obtained by the Washington Post. A public version of the report had been released this January. It warned that the Pentagon was grossly underprepared to combat against cyber-attacks, concluding, "With present capabilities and technology it is not possible to defend with confidence against the most sophisticated cyber attacks."
However the list of compromised weapon systems was not included in the public version of the report. Over two dozen weapon systems were compromised by Chinese cyber-spies. The list is large and varied and includes well-known programs. A brief list of the more notable compromised programs is below:
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense
Patriot Advanced Capability-3
Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System
USMC Tracked Combat Vehicles
Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T)
UH-60 Black Hawk
AMRAAM (AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile)
Littoral Combat Ship
F/A and EA-18
Image credit: USAF
UAV video system
Dual Use Avionics
Electronic Intelligence Processing
Nanostructured Metal Matrix Composite for Light Weight Ballistic Armor
Space Surveillance Telescope
Electronic Warfare systems
PII (email addresses, SSN, credit card numbers, passwords, etc.)
Image Credit: DAHLGREN
The report by the Defense Science Board did not go all in accusing the Chinese government of stealing the designs. However, they claim that it was part of a wider campaign of espionage against American defense contractors and government agencies.
The story comes amid news that Chinese hackers may have stolen blueprints for a new Australian spy agency headquarters for the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. Australian officials refused to confirm or deny the reports.
One of the compromised weapon systems, the F-35 multirole fighter, was allegedly hacked back in 2007. The F-35 has seen numerous problems in its development cycle but soldiered on, becoming one of the most expensive weapons systems ever built at $1.4 trillion.
Image Credit: U.S. Army
Other compromised weapons include missile defense systems. The Patriot-3 is a long-range surface to air missile battery that is also utilized in ballistic missile theater defense against short-range ballistic missiles. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is a state-of-the-art pure anti-ballistic missile system designed to provide mobile ballistic missile theater defense against short and intermediate range ballistic missiles. Both were compromised.
Although it is unknown at the time if the majority of the hacks came through government agencies or defense contractors, Pentagon officials have said in the past that they are frustrated by the private sector's lack of cybersecurity when they are routinely classified information. The increasing role of private corporations in the development of advanced weapon systems has accelerated this problem, providing more possible doors for cyber-intrusions from hostile parties as military development is fragmented among contractors and sub-contractors.
A senior military official spoke on the problem saying, "In many cases, they don't know they've been hacked until the FBI comes knocking on their door."
The problem has grown to be so severe that the government has had to intervene, helping the private defense industry improve its cyber-defenses in a pilot program launched two years ago.
The news of the breach of critical weapon systems comes as reports have surfaced that elite hacking units with links to the Chinese People's Liberation Army have resumed attacks after falling silent for several months.
The whole incident serves to illustrate the growing importance of cyberwarfare, which has been referred to as the fifth domain of warfare in addition to land, sea, air, and space. Time will tell if the United States military and private defense industry can rise to meet this new threat.