In the latest twist to the cyber-war between China and the U.S., a high-level defence group here has accused Beijing of hacking into U.S. system and stealing designs of advanced weapons described as the “the backbone of the Pentagon’s regional missile defence for Asia, Europe and the Persian Gulf”.

Among the weapon designs subject to alleged cyber-theft are three powerful anti-ballistic-missile systems, the Patriot Missile, THAAD, and Aegis.

Though the Defence Science Board (DSB), a military advisory group, did not explicitly allege Chinese involvement, The Washington Post quoted unnamed senior military and industry officials “with knowledge of the breaches” as saying “the vast majority were part of a widening Chinese campaign of espionage against U.S. defence contractors and government agencies”.

In the DSB report submitted to the Pentagon in January, the panel had said the Pentagon was not prepared to counter a full-scale cyber-conflict. However, in that version the list of compromised weapons designs was not provided.

Core elements

In addition to anti-missile systems, core elements of the U.S.’ military arsenal that Chinese hackers were said to have purloined include vital combat aircraft and ships such as the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter, the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship designed to patrol waters close to shore, and most importantly “one of the most expensive weapons system ever built”, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon made unprecedentedly candid remarks citing China’s alleged role in cyber-espionage against U.S. interests, saying in its annual report to the U.S. Congress that Beijing was responsible for cyber “intrusions”, and had built up an arsenal of skills “similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks”.

The blunt remarks came barely two months after a U.S. cyber-security company Mandiant said it had traced an “Advanced Persistent Threat” to a shadowy unit of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

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