By F. Michael Maloof
WASHINGTON – Fake electronic components from China have been discovered in thermal weapons sights delivered to the U.S. Army on mission computers for the Missile Defense Agency’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missiles and on military aircraft, including several models of helicopters and the P-8A-Poseidon, according to federal investigators.
Suspected electronic parts were found in the Forward Looking InfraRed, or FLIR, Systems being used on the Navy’s SH-60-B. The counterfeit parts were delivered by Raytheon, which alerted the Navy.
The new evidence comes reports that the problem with faked Chinese electronic components being installed in U.S. military systems is far more widespread that originally thought.
The G2Bulletin recently reported a U.S. Senate investigation revealed counterfeit electronics are being found in U.S. defense systems. The parts don’t just come directly from China anymore; they also are coming from suppliers in Britain and Canada who redirect Chinese products.
The Senate panel tracked some 1,800 cases of suspected counterfeit parts through the supply chain. It found that U.S. defense contractors had purchased many of the critical components from U.S. companies who in turn obtained them from Chinese firms but never subjected them to testing before handing them over to the U.S. military as part of their contract.
The Senate unit, whose investigators were denied access to Chinese firms by Chinese authorities, said that the evidence “consistently point(s) to China as the epicenter of the global trade in counterfeits.”
To put the growing problem into perspective, Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said, “We do not want a $12 million missile defense interceptor’s reliability compromised by a $2 counterfeit part.”
The military aircraft that have been affected include the SH-60B, AH-64 and CH-46 helicopters; and the C-17, C-130J, C-27J and P-8A Poseidon airplanes
Investigators said if the component in the FLIR’s Electromagnetic Interference Filter, or EIF, had failed, then the FLIR itself would fail and the SH-60B could not conduct surface warfare missions, which included firing its hellfire missiles.
A FLIR failure also would compromise the pilot’s ability to avoid hazards and identify targets at night, thereby limiting the SH-60B’s night mission capability.
A defense subcontractor in Texas had sold the components to Raytheon. The components prior to that sale traveled through four states and three countries, originating with a company called Huajie Electronics Ltd in Shenzhen, China.
Suspect parts also were found in the C-130J and C-27J, two military cargo planes equipped with display units that provide the pilot information on aircraft performance, engine status, fuel use, location and warning messages, according to documentation from Senate investigators.
The display units were manufactured by L-3 Display Systems, a division of L-3 Communications. L-3 Display Systems manufactures the display units for Lockheed Martin, which is the prime contractor for the C-130J. For the C-27J, L-3 Display Systems manufactures the display units for Alenia Aeronautica, a subcontractor to L-3 Integrated Systems.
Display Systems, however, learned that a memory chip used in the display units was a suspect counterfeit. By the time it was noticed, however, the company had installed counterfeit components in more than 500 display units, including in units for the C-27J, the C-130J and C-17 aircraft, and the CH-46 helicopter used by the Marine Corps.
“Failure of the memory chip could cause a display unit to show a degraded image, lose data, or even go blank,” the Senate report said.
While L-3 Display Systems told Alenia after discovering the problem, neither L-3 nor Alenia told the U.S. Air Force for nearly a year after it was discovered that the C-27Js were affected by the suspect parts.
According to the Senate report, L-3 Display Systems had bought the suspect memory chips from an electronics distributor in California. That distributor had bought the chips from Hong Dark Electronic Trade, a company in Shenzhen, China.
In fact, the Senate investigators had uncovered the fact that L-3 had purchased tens of thousands of Hong Dark electronic components that had entered the U.S. defense supply chain.
According to Senate investigators, the U.S. Air Force had reported that more than 84,000 counterfeit electronic parts purchased from Hong Dark “entered the DOD supply chain and many of these parts have been installed on DOD aircraft.”
Senate investigators said that these counterfeit parts are driving up defense costs, in addition to compromising safety and national security.
For example, the Middle Defense Agency had learned that mission computers for THAAD missiles contained suspect counterfeit memory devices. If the devices had failed, MDA said the THAAD missile itself would have failed.
In this case, the memory devices were purchased by Honeywell from an independent distributor. Honeywell had installed them on mission computers which it sold to Lockheed Martin which in turn supplied them to MDA.
Honeywell and Lockheed Martin informed MDA when they determined the parts were suspect and fixed the problem.
However, the cost to fix the problem, which MDA reimbursed to the two companies, was nearly $2.78 million.
“Counterfeit electronic parts pose long-term reliability problems, and reliability is a major driver in the overall cost of a weapon system,” the Senate report said.
The problem of coping with potentially counterfeit parts stems from a policy decision that was made years ago during the Clinton administration to give priority to off-the-shelf components as a way to reduce cost. But they also were supposed to be tested and current investigations indicate that such testing isn’t always occurring.
In the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, there are a number of provisions to address weaknesses in the defense supply chain, such as those identified by Senate investigators.
The NDAA has provisions to strengthen the inspection regime for imported electronic parts. The NDAA also has provisions to eliminate purchases from unknown and frequently suspect suppliers, given that counterfeit parts often change hands many times before being purchased by defense contractors.
The Senate report said that aggressive inspection and testing practices are necessary to catch counterfeit parts that make it into the supply chain.
“When suspect counterfeit parts are identified, they must be reported,” the report said. “Failing to do so allows suspect suppliers to operate with impunity and puts everyone at risk.”
The earlier article said the issue appears to be connected to “unvetted independent distributors who supply electronic parts for critical military applications.”
The problem of faked or counterfeit products from China, as well as contaminated products, are issues on which WND has reported for years.
WND columnist Phyllis Schlafly wrote last year about fake computer chips that were being purchased by the U.S. military for use in U.S. warplanes, ships and communications networks.
She wrote that malfunctions traced to the chips were being reported as early as 2005. Targeted were computers aboard U.S. F-15 fighter jets at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
Even at that point, officials said at least 15 percent of the spare and replacement chips the Pentagon was buying were counterfeit.
Officials in the National Intelligence Agency and the FBI expressed concern then that the fakes could let the Chinese gain access to secure systems inside the United States.
Schlafly wrote at the time: “The U.S. bought 59,000 counterfeit microchips from China for use in our warships, planes, missile and antimissile systems but fortunately were discovered they are fake in time. How many didn’t we catch?”
One Senate investigator even discovered that electronic components had been harvested from “e-waste” and sometimes were sold on public sidewalks and in public markets in China.
There also are whole factories in China with up to 15,000 people employed for the purpose of counterfeiting products.
WND has not been alone in its reporting. DefenseTech also reported on the danger: “You don’t have to be a genius to see the safety nightmare presented by fake parts on incredibly complex systems like submarines, fighter jets and tiltrotors.”
On a related issue, WND has led the way in reporting on contaminated or defective consumer products coming out of China.
During a one-month period, 17 of 28 products recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission were Chinese imports.
- Hammock stands that are unstable and cause those who use them to fall to the ground in alarming numbers: About 3,000 imported by Algoma Net Co. of Wisconsin and sold in Kohl’s, Target and other retail outlets have been called back. There have been at least 28 reports of brackets cracking or breaking and consumers falling to the ground.
- Toy castles that could choke your young child: Some 68,000 Shape Sorting Toy Castles produced by Infantino were recalled after at least four reports of children nearly choking on colored beads that slid off the toy and lodged in their throats.
- Kids jewelry that could poison them: About 20,000 Essentials for Kids Jewelry Sets have been recalled by the CPSC because of toxic levels of lead in the paint – a frequent problem with products from China.
- Magnet toys that could perforate your child’s intestines: About 800 Mag Stix Magnetic Building Sets were recalled by the CPSC, which found the plastic sticks can be swallowed or aspirated. The agency found one 8-year-old girl was hospitalized after swallowing loose magnets. Extensive surgery was required to remove the magnets and repair intestinal perforations.
Other products found to have problems were portable baby swings that entrap youngsters, swimming pool ladders that break, faulty baby carriers that result in babies falling out and getting bruised, Easy-Bake Ovens that trap children’s fingers in openings, resulting in burns, oscillating tower fans whose faulty wiring results in fires, exploding air pumps, oil-filled electric heaters that burn down homes, notebook computer batteries that burn up computers and circular saws with faulty blade guards.
Found to have been contaminated in recent years are Chinese products ranging from pet food to seafood intended for humans.
A WND study showed the Food and Drug Administration found products intended for human consumption tainted with pesticides, carcinogens, bacteria and banned drugs.
China was found to be raising most of its fish products – intended for the U.S. – in water contaminated with raw sewage and compensating by using dangerous drugs and chemicals, many of which are banned by the Food and Drug Administration.
Also, the deadly contaminant found in Chinese-made toothpaste – diethylene glycol – is a solvent used in antifreeze that killed 107 Americans when it was introduced in an elixir 70 years ago.
A resurgence in lead-poisoning cases in U.S. children was linked to Chinese imports – toys, makeup, glazed pottery and other products that contain significant amounts of lead and are being recalled by the CPSC on a regular basis.
Imports from China were recalled by the CPSC twice as often as products made everywhere else in the world, including the U.S., showed a WND study of 2007 government reports.
WND reported how China was shipping to the U.S. honey tainted with a potentially life-threatening antibiotic as well as adulterating exports with sugar.
F. Michael Maloof, staff writer for WND’s G2Bulletin, is a former senior security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He can be contacted at [email protected]