Chinese Hackers Infiltrate U.S. Air Force Striker Jet Program

April 22, 2009 Updated: April 6, 2011

Hackers have struck at and possibly stolen data relating to the Joint Strike Fighter program, an aircraft military research project spearheaded by the United States and European countries, according to a report published in The Wall Street Journal.

The hackers, believed to be backed by the Chinese regime, are reported to have penetrated Lockheed Martin Corp, the largest defense contractor in the U.S., as well as other defense contractors. The Journal report also stated hackers had penetrated the United States Air Force's air traffic controller systems.

Citing officials, the report said that the attacks were traced to China through tracking the IP addresses of the computers used in the attack, as well as other "digital fingerprints" from attacks that had occurred in the past. The report cited the infiltrations as coming from China with a "high level of certainty."

The Joint Strike Fighter program is the most expensive weapons program ever for the United States' Department of Defense. Totaling over $300 billion, the fighter program is being conducted in partnership with Israel and a few other European countries.

Specifically, it is believed that the technology stolen is related to the F-35 Lightning II fighter, among the most advanced strike aircraft in the world.

The project to develop this plane is led by Lockheed Martin. Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems PLC, two other large defense contractors, are also believed to be involved in the development.

The control for the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet is reported to have around 7.5 million lines of code, three times as much as the most complicated control code for fighter jets in existence today.

The hackers were "able to copy and siphon off several terabytes of data related to design and electronics systems," the Journal reported, citing several government officials.

The scale and target of the attacks indicates backing from China's ruling totalitarian regime.

Chinese Communist Hackers 'relentless,' Obama Administration Concerned

The penetration of core U.S. military technology has alarmed U.S. government officials in recent months.

The Obama administration has taken cyber-security as a high priority, and is looking into expanding the $17 billion program for cyber-security that the Bush administration had initiated to protect government and critical private networks from cyber-attacks.

In a speech given on April 3 at the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas at Austin, National Counterintelligence executive Dr. Joel F. Brenner, from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, raised alarms for research and business executives involved in technology.

Confirming news reports about Chinese hackers penetrating U.S. electric grids and other critical parts of U.S. infrastructure, he said: "The Chinese are relentless and don’t seem to care about getting caught. And we have seen Chinese network operations inside certain of our
electricity grids."

Dr. Brenner also raised alarms about computer chips from China being used in United States military, indicating that those chips could be used to decisive advantage in possible warfare. “We’re also seeing counterfeit routers and chips, and some of those chips have made their way into U.S. military fighter aircraft … You don’t sneak counterfeit chips into another nation’s aircraft to steal data."

"When it’s done intentionally, it’s done to degrade systems, or to have the ability to do so at a time of one’s choosing.”

Dr. Brenner has also expressed his concern over the penetrations in critical U.S. infrastructure. "Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do. Our networks are being mapped."