Designs for some of the United States’ most important and sensitive weapons systems have been “compromised” by Chinese hackers according to extracts from a confidential report obtained by the Washington Post.
The document, which was provided to the Pentagon by the Defence Science Board, an influential advisory body, said that more than two-dozen key weapons systems had been affected, including missile defense systems, fighter jets, helicopters and navy vessels.
Among the defence systems listed in the report are the advanced Patriot missile system, or PAC-3, the F/A-18 fighter jet, the Black Hawk helicopter and the V-22 Osprey, which is able to perform vertical takeoffs and landings.
It was not clear from the report when or how the designs had been compromised and its authors stopped short of accusing the Chinese government of attempting to steal the information.
But senior military sources pointed the finger directly at Beijing, telling the Washington Post the security breaches were part of a “widening Chinese campaign of espionage against US defence contractors and government agencies.” The Washington Post reported that such information could help China speed up the development of its own weapons systems while also giving the Asian giant an advantage in any military conflict with the US.
Mark Stokes, the executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank that focuses on Asia security issues, described the list of affected systems as “staggering”.
“These are all very critical weapons systems, critical to our national security. When I hear this in totality, it’s breathtaking,” he told the newspaper.
A senior military official who declined to be named added: “This is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China. They’ve just saved themselves 25 years of research and development. It’s nuts.” In March, president Barack Obama’s security advisor, Thomas Donilon, said “cyber-intrusions” had reached an “unprecedented scale” and took the unusual step of publicly calling on Beijing to “take serious steps to investigate” allegations about the hacking of US interests.
On Monday, Mr Donilon met with the Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing ahead of a 2-day summit between Mr Xi and Mr Obama that will start in California on June 7.
Mr Donilon reportedly told Mr Xi that the US president was “firmly committed to building a relationship defined by higher levels of practical cooperation and greater levels of trust, while managing whatever differences and disagreements might arise between us.”
China’s state-run media quoted Mr Xi as saying that US-China relations were at a “critical juncture”.
Cyber-security is likely to be high on the agenda when the two leaders meet next month on a private estate in Rancho Mirage, southern California.
On Monday, Australia’s ABC Television claimed that Chinese hackers had stolen the blueprints for the new £402 million headquarters of that countries spy agency, the Australia Security Intelligence Organisation.
China has repeatedly denied involvement in cyber attacks on foreign companies and governments.