By F. Michael Maloof
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.”
Find out just what the U.S. government is doing about China’s antics, in “Bowing to Beijing.”
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.