While Rick Perry’s “Oops” moment is one of the most reported from Wednesday night’s debate, Rep. Bachmann dropped a bomb on the stage that seems to have largely been ignored by the media – Chinese counterfeit computer components are showing up in U.S. defense weapon systems.
As long ago as 2005, Bloomberg reported that fake computer components were causing failures in multiple military systems. Some reports say that as much as 15% of the spare and replacement components the military buys are counterfeit.
While reliability and safety are prime concerns, national security must also be considered. If it is such an easy matter to get a non-conforming component into a U.S. Department of Defense weapon system, it would be even easier to hide code in those components that might cause failure on command or under a certain circumstance.
Senator Carl Levin spoke at a hearing on Tuesday relaying that his committee had investigated 100 cases of suspected counterfeiting. More than 70% of the couterfeit components came from China.
One weapon system reported to have been impacted by Chinese knock-off chips is the P8-A Poseidon military patrol aircraft. A chip in the de-icing system failed and upon inspection it was discovered that the system had a counterfeit chip.
Counterfeit transistors have also been found in the Navy’s SH60-B helicopter by Levin’s committe. Raytheon, the defense contractor responsible for the components, did not know about the fake circuits until the investigation by the committee revealed them.
The GAO has also reported that the Navy had purchased counterfeit routers that have a high rate of failure, the Air Force had bought counterfeit chips for use in F-15 flight control systems and unreliable oscillators had been bought from a “prohibited supplier” for use in Air Force and Navy navigation systems seemingly for use in unmanned vehicles.
Sen. Levin testified that the use of counterfeit Chinese components in an Air Force missile cost American taxpayers $2.7 million to repair. Sens. Levin and John McCain are working on legislation preventing Pentagon reimbursement when counterfeit components cause problems. “There’s no reason on earth that the replacement of a counterfeit part should be paid for by American taxpayers instead of by the contractor who put it on the system.”
Defense contractors Raytheon, BAE and Northrop all purchased counterfeit components through brokers such as VisionTech who, despite not employing a single engineer or quality control expert, was able to sell components to defense contractors.