China obtained F-35 secrets through an extensive cyber spy operation carried out in 2007 against U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, U.S. officials and defense analysts said, and they have shown up China’s new stealth fighter jet.
Codenamed Operation Byzantine Hades, the multiyear cyber-espionage operation yielded sensitive technology about the United States’ latest fighter jet which in turn was incorporated into the development of China’s new J-20 fighter, the Washington Times reported.
According to Defense officials, a Chinese military unit known as the Technical Reconnaissance Bureau (TRF), located in the nation’s Chengdu province, was behind the cyber-espionage. Once the data had been acquired, the TRF is said to have transferred it to the state-run Aviation Industry Corp. of China, which then used that stolen data in building the J-20 fighter jet, the Washington Free Beaconreported.
Having started 10 years ago, the F-35 development program is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon that has cost $392 billion, making it the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program ever. The program’s original price tag was $233 billion; however it ballooned due to delays brought on by cost overruns.
Referred to as a “fifth-generation” warplane, the F-35 fighter jet will be replacing the popular F-16 and more than a dozen other warplanes that are currently in use by the United States and foreign governments around the world.
As of late 2013, the U.S. partner countries of Britain, Canada, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and Denmark, Israel, and Japan have already ordered F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin.
Also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35 is said to be the most technically-advanced plane in the United States’ arsenal with 7.5 million lines of computer code controlling its weapons system, which is triple the amount of coding currently used in the top Air Force fighter, the Government Accountability Office told The Wall Street Journal.
“You’ve seen significant improvements in Chinese military capabilities through their willingness to spend, their acquisitions of advanced Russian weapons, and from their cyber-espionage campaign,” James A. Lewis, a cyber-policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Washington Post. “Ten years ago, I used to call the [People’s Liberation Army] the world’s largest open-air military museum. I can’t say that now.”
In addition to the apparent cyber theft of secrets pertaining to the F-35’s development, China has also reportedly accessed other U.S. weapons systems, including the Patriot missile system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and the Army’s ballistic missile interceptor program.
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By Michael Mullins