Chinese hackers have accessed data from nearly 40 US weapons programs and almost 30 other defense technologies of the “most sensitive advanced weapons systems,” according to an official report released on Tuesday.
They include systems that are vital for the defense of Taiwan.
As the US looks to grow its military presence in the Asia-Pacific, the cyberattack heightens worries that China can use the information to blunt the US’ military superiority and keep pace with emerging technologies.
The previously confidential report was made public after the Washington Post printed some details from it.
Prepared for the Pentagon earlier this year, the report is by the Defense Science Board (DSB), a group of top civilian and government scientists.
According to the report, the compromised weapons designs include the advanced Patriot missile system, the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense systems, the F/A-18 Hornet, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Washington Post said the weapons form the “backbone of the Pentagon’s regional missile defense for Asia.”
The newspaper said that the designs also included a US Army system for shooting down ballistic missiles, known as the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense and the US Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship.
“Access gained to the US designs allows the Chinese to have an operational edge, which could be exploited in any possible future conflicts,” the DSB report says.
“All of the weapons listed as cybercompromised by China are relevant to the defense of Taiwan,” International Assessment and Strategy Center senior fellow in Asian military affairs Richard Fisher told the Taipei Times.
“All of those weapons either currently or in the future will contribute to the American ability to deter Chinese aggression, not just against Taiwan,” he said.
However, Fisher said the Chinese leadership’s “bullheaded pursuit” of its cyberwar could backfire.
“By cybercompromising Taiwan’s non-nuclear weapons, Beijing may only end up reviving interest in non-conventional weapons,” he said.
The full extent of the hacking thefts has not been revealed, but US Department of Defense spokesman George Little said the Pentagon still had “full confidence in our weapons platforms.”
Hacking has saved China “billions of dollars” in weapons development costs, the DSB report says.
“China’s own defense industry can and will benefit from the US designs,” it says.
US President Barack Obama is to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in California next month and is expected to discuss the issue.
Heritage Foundation research fellow in Asian studies Dean Cheng (成斌) said following the release of the DSB report that the Obama administration’s approach towards China’s “cyberlooting” could be charitably described as optimistic.
“The sheer breadth of China’s cyberespionage as reflected in the types of programs is breathtaking,” Cheng said.
He said that when news surfaced months ago that elements of the People’s Liberation Army were engaged in cyberattacks, there was a hope that the Chinese government might be “shamed” into suspending such attacks.
“After only a brief pause, the Chinese appear to have renewed their cyberactivities, although they have modified some of their methods,” he said.
“This renewed set of attacks highlights the flawed assumption that Beijing can be coerced into suspending its broad range of computer network penetrations,” Cheng said.
National Security Adviser Tom Donilon is currently in China with cybersecurity as one of the many items on his agenda.