Pentagon Admits F-35 Data Theft is a ‘Major Problem’

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Mike O'Brien

A top Pentagon official admitted in a Senate hearing this week that the theft of sensitive design data by hackers targeting programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has wiped out a huge U.S. advantage.

Defense acquisitionschief Frank Kendallsaid the theft is allowing rivals the chance to rush through development of their own stealth aircraft.

Mr. Kendall said he was fairly confident that classified information related to the F-35 was well-protected, but a lot of unclassified details were not protected.

"A lot of that is being stolen right now and it's a major problem for us," Mr. Kendall said.

"What it does is reduce the costs and lead time of our adversaries to doing their own designs, so it gives away a substantial advantage."

The F-35, which is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history, is a fifth generation aircraft capable of evading radar and integrated air defense systems.

It was developed by Lockheed Martin and the U.S. intends to buy more than 2,400 of the aircraft, Reuters reports.

Mr. Kendall told Senators on Wednesday that his main concern was that the design and production edge had been compromised by competing powers.

He said: "It's the amount of time and effort they're going to have to put into getting their next design and staying with us.

"And as you're probably well aware, at least two nations are well into developing fifth-generation aircraft right now, so that's a concern."

He did not name any countries, but China and Russia are both developing their own fifth generation fighters.

Mr. Kendall said the Pentagon is working on bringing in stronger sanctions against defense contractors who fail to protect sensitive data.

Some analysts have been surprised at the rapid pace of stealth fighter development in China, which is suspected of stealing vast amounts of F-35 data.

In 2011 the communist country conducted a test flight of its J-20 stealth fighter in a show of force just hours before then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with then-President Hu Jintao during a visit to Beijing. A year later, it tested another stealth fighter, the J-31.

Hacking issues will be discussed at IDGA's Cyber Security for Government event in August. For more information, go to