* Classified F-35 program data secure, official says
* But theft of sensitive design data "a major problem"
* Testimony follows report on China and cyber espionage
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, June 19 The theft of sensitive
design data by hackers targeting programs like the F-35 Joint
Strike Fighter takes away a big U.S. advantage by allowing
rivals to speed up development of their own stealth aircraft, a
top Pentagon official said on Wednesday.
Defense acquisitions chief Frank Kendall told a Senate
hearing he was reasonably confident that classified information
related to the development of the F-35 was well-protected.
"But I'm not at all confident that our unclassified
information is as well-protected," he said.
"A lot of that is being stolen right now and it's a major
problem for us," Kendall told a Senate hearing on development of
the Lockheed Martin fighter, a so-called fifth
generation aircraft capable of evading radar and integrated air
The F-35 is the costliest weapons program in U.S. history.
The United States is building it along with eight international
partners and intends to purchase nearly 2,450 of the aircraft at
a cost of almost $400 billion.
Responding to questions from senators concerned about
whether cyber theft had left the F-35 vulnerable to attack,
Kendall said his primary concern was that the design and
production edge had been forfeited to competing powers.
"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," Kendall 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," he
added. "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."
Kendall did not name specific countries, but China and
Russia are among the nations developing fifth-generation fighter
The acquisitions chief said he was working on steps that
would result in stronger sanctions against defense contractors
who fail to do a better job at protecting their sensitive
The remarks by the defense acquisitions chief came a month
after the Pentagon said in its annual China report that Beijing
was using cyber espionage to acquire advanced technologies to
fuel its fast-paced military modernization program.
The report for the first time charged that cyber intrusions
into U.S. government computer systems appeared to be directly
attributable to the Chinese government and military, adding the
main purpose was to benefit its defense industries.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel raised those concerns this
month at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore, a multinational
Asian security event that included a high-level Chinese military
U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the issue with
Chinese President Xi Jinping at their summit in California a few
days later, warning that if the intrusions were not addressed
they would become a big problem in bilateral economic relations.
China conducted a test flight of its J-20 stealth fighter
jet in January 2011 just hours before then-U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates met with then-President Hu Jintao during
a visit to Beijing. The test was seen as a show of force by the
A second Chinese stealth fighter, the J-31, made its maiden
flight late last year. One security analyst said China's
production of a second stealth design in as many years suggested
a "pretty impressive level of technical development."
Pentagon officials have played down the Chinese aircraft
advances, saying Beijing was still years away from being able to
field a stealth aircraft despite the prototypes.
China was suspected of being behind a reported 2009 cyber
intrusion that resulted in the theft of a huge amount of design
and electronics data on the F-35. Pentagon and Lockheed Martin
officials said no classified information was taken.