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The development cost of the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint task force fighter is (as of now) $396 Billion.  And guess what we are getting for our money.  The Microsoft of warplanes, i.e., a product that is so plagued by cyber security issues, its value, cost and reliability are no longer worth the hassle to own.  

You think I'm kidding? Hackers employed by the Navy broke into the computerized logistics systems that the F-35 relies upon earlier this year.

When computer "hackers" working for the U.S. Navy succeeded in breaking into the computer logistics system that controls the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 Joint Strike Fighter earlier this year, they did the company a favor: allowing it to fix a critical vulnerability in the $396 billion program.

Now, as the Marine Corps prepares to set up its first operational squadron of F-35s next week, some experts say other security risks may lurk within such a large and highly networked weapons support system.


Lockheed now says those "vulnerabilities" are fixed.  But for a fighter so heavily reliant on its computer networking capabilities, and one that has been built using subcontractors in practically every state in the country (and in Europe and japan) the risk of other cyber attacks makes it a very dicey proposition.  Some examples:


Chinese spies hacked into computers belonging to BAE Systems, Britain's biggest defence company, to steal details about the design, performance and electronic systems of the West's latest fighter jet, senior security figures have disclosed.

The Chinese exploited vulnerabilities in BAE's computer defences to steal vast amounts of data on the $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a multinational project to create a plane that will give the West air supremacy for years to come, according to the sources.

The hacking attack has prompted fears that the fighter jet's advanced radar capabilities could have been compromised. [...]

Suspicions that the Joint Strike Fighter had been targeted by Chinese hackers first emerged in the US media in 2009.

BAE is a major subcontractor for the F-35 program, and the data stolen occurred continuously over an 18 month period.  Unfortunately, BAE is not the only subcontractor for the F-35 with hacker issues.  Anonymous also hacked into companies deeply involved in working on the F-35 in March of this year.

Although completely different for impact and motivations, a second attack has just been announced by the infamous hacking collective Anonymous, which, in name of the #OpFreePalestine operation, has published the contact details for senior staff at BAE (hit once again), Lockheed, Gulfstream Aerospace, a division of General Dynamics, and the United States Division Of Israeli Owned Arms Company Elbit Systems. An attempt to embarrass military industry considered involved in the events happening in Palestine

The problems are easy to assess.  The more subcontractors, the greater the risk of cyber attacks to obtain information regarding the F-35 and other US warplanes and drones that rely heavily on electronic and computer systems to operate.

[H]aving such a large and widely dispersed group increases exposure to cyber attacks, said Ben Freeman, national security investigator with the non-profit Project on Government Oversight.

"Even if Lockheed has top-notch cyber security, it's still vulnerable if its subcontractors are vulnerable," he said. [...]

And the weapons designers are having difficulty keeping up with the hackers. While it often takes years to field new weapons systems, cyber threats are evolving and changing on a daily basis, said Raphael Mudge, a former Air Force engineer and independent cyber expert.

"You have to be continually assessing the risk," he said.

Now, putting aside the cost of protecting the plane's computer systems from cyber attacks, consider the projected maintenance cost for keeping the F-35 fighter operational over the next 50 years: $1.2 Trillion.  Do the math.  That works out to $24 Billion per year to maintain the 2,457 planes the Pentagon hopes to buy through 2035.  That makes the F-35 a pretty damn expensive weapons system considering how highly susceptible to cyber attacks it is.  

We already know that the Chinese managed to keep secret for 18 months their theft of data from BAE related to the F-35.  How many other security breaches of F-35 subcontractors have occurred that Lockheed and our military have either not disclosed or of which they may be unaware?  Clearly it is a major concern, or they would not have tested the F-35 using their own hackers, a test that revealed numerous additional vulnerabilities.

The F-35 may be the most advanced weapons system in the history of the world, but it also seems likely to be the one most vulnerable to hackers, whether working for other governments or on their own.  And its only one weapons system in our bloated military arsenal that is increasingly at risk of cyber attacks, whether stolen data, or infections from viruses and other malware designed by our enemies.  What will be the the cost of constant monitoring by our military to protect the F-35 from current and future security flaws and fix them without compromising the lives of the pilots who will fly these planes?  As we have discovered, just through the example of Anonymous alone, hackers always seem to be one step ahead of the security measures taken to stop them.

At some point we have to ask ourselves if our investment in these expensive and vulnerable weapon platforms is worth the cost in dollars and lives.  Hacking is relatively inexpensive.  Building weapons such as the F-35 are extraordinarily costly, both to produce and maintain.  If we can't keep them immune from the inevitable cyber attacks of "unfriendly countries" maybe we need to reconsider what weapon systems we really need, and whether our current model of contracting for and developing those weapons makes sense.  After all, there is a limit to what any country can spend on such expensive weapons, even ours.

The F-35 program has been restructured three times in recent years, in part to try to cut costs. Earlier this year the Pentagon said "no more money" would be put toward cost overruns and the military would buy fewer planes if costs rose.

Something to consider when Republicans demand extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans in the coming months, and "tax reform" that would eliminate the most popular tax deductions for the middle class, as well as spending cuts to education and our social safety net.  In the final analysis, a strong vibrant economy, with a highly educated work force and a healthy middle class, is our best means of insuring our national security.  

The F-35 and other massive weapons systems may be a luxury we cannot afford in a time of asymmetrical warfare.  We need a cheaper military focused more on the actual threats to our national security.  At a time when our infrastructure at home is crumbling, and our students' achievement in math and science rank among the lowest among developed countries, and millions are out of work, our continued persistence in wasting money of weapons that do not directly address the greatest security threats to our nation - climate change, a failing economy and cyber warfare - is becoming more and more unsustainable.

Originally posted to Steven D on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 06:33 AM PST.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fire some lobbyists. That's the first place they (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Steven D, Aureas2, BOHICA, llywrch, trumpeter

    should be forced to save money.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 06:43:34 AM PST

  •  More military money laundering, the drug (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Steven D, duha, divineorder, Aureas2, BOHICA

    cartels from Mexico and Columbia could learn a thing or two from our MIC.

    Keep funneling money to it and line the pockets of the execs who line the pockets of the politicians.

    I would prefer to just be robbed by the assholes directly, make them face me when they steal from me.

    "If you don't sin, then Jesus died for nothing!" (on a sign at a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans)

    by ranger995 on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 06:53:36 AM PST

  •  After personally witnessing countless (9+ / 0-)

    military airplane development cycles since the late 50s (via news media), I can definitely say the political portion of the cycle goes like this:

    1) Propose a new system to replace the system currently in prototype test, which is getting too expensive and is already obsolete

    2) Hype up the new system until it appears that only fools with money at stake should still support the one currently under prototype test

    3) Get the current prototype's production run curtailed to the point where each example's fixed + variable cost can be said to add materially to the national debt

    4) Invest large sums in the new system to get it to prototype test phase "to achieve vast savings" in the end.

    Go to 1)

    Now we have a slight variation on the process, in which step 1 involves no proposal for a replacement system similar to the bad new prototype one. Plus now we have global warming, the economy, cyber hacking, and the Chinese to throw at it.

    Probably a logical progression, since drones seem to be the wave of the future. And they will be so much cheaper....

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 06:56:22 AM PST

  •  And of course there's also the issue that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, Steven D

    pilots don't want to fly the F-35 because its oxygen system is broken.

  •  Shame that it sucks so bad... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, Steven D, BOHICA

    Because it's really cool looking!

  •  Why don't we just do this... (5+ / 0-)

    we really need all of these F-35s.  So I say we appropriate several more billion dollars to fix the issues that it has.  To offset this, all you need to do is just give up a little in your social security and medicare.  If that doesn't equalize in the out years, you can just give up a little more.

    You know the Lockheed-Martin goes, so goes America!

    "We will never have the elite, smart people on our side."~Little Ricky Santorum

    by Dahankster on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:13:23 AM PST

  •  Is it time to displace fighters... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, Steven D, Quicklund, condorcet

    ...with "superdrones"?

    A large portion of the high cost of air superiority fighters is pilot survive-ability: building safeguards to protect the pilot. Additionally, live pilots can't stay conscious at G-forces that aircraft could other execute to complete tasks and missions.

    We still need pilots, but they'd be in a "mother ship" in proximity to the mission, or some ground facility, though those are also subject to cyber hacking or other attack.

    Just some stray thoughts.

    When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Egalitare on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:14:36 AM PST

  •  The damned things are loud too. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Steven D

    I mean breaks-windows-when-it-takes-off loud. They were thinking of basing them at the air base in my neighborhood, I live about a mile from the end of the runway, and there was talk of the Air Force paying for "noise abatement" for homeowners in the flight path. I think they ended up deciding to base them in Phoenix instead. That was good news for a lot of us, although there were some people who wanted them here. Some even had bumper stickers.

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:26:44 AM PST

  •  Don't be so hesitant. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, Steven D
    The F-35 and other massive weapons systems may be a luxury we cannot afford in a time of asymmetrical warfare.
    Without hesitation we simply cannot afford this giant boondoggle in the sky. The F-35 program is government welfare to defense industry contractors. The cry about saving jobs doesn't hold water. Economists have shown that 11 jobs in place of 7 will be created for the same amount of money spent in non-defense, as opposed to defense, industries.
  •  I've attended unclassified briefings (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, adamsrb, Iberian, Quicklund, mookins

    on the F-35 and am convinced it is the Starship Enterprise compared to previous jet fighters.  At this point, we can't afford to cancel.  Not only is the US military gearing up for this, but many NATO allies and Israel are counting on this airplane.  The Royal Navy is building two large aircraft carriers for the F-35 B and Italy and Spain have 4 carriers already in the water.  Right now they are flying aging Harriers and are counting on the F-35 as a replacement.

    Hacker issues can be dealt with.  

    And the Chinese will inevitably come up with their own version.

  •  Smedley Butler updated (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wonmug, ranger995, Quicklund, mookins

    "War Defense contracting is a racket"

    White-collar conservatives flashing down the street, pointing their plastic finger at me..

    by BOHICA on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:44:58 AM PST

  •  I wonder what fraction of the engineers, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ranger995, Quicklund

    middle managers, and factory line workers who have worked hard yet pointlessly on this project consistently vote to slash the wages and benefits of lazy, greedy public employees.

    To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

    by UntimelyRippd on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 08:23:56 AM PST

    •  Yeah, factory line workers are real bastards. lol (0+ / 0-)


      Moderation in most things.

      by billmosby on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 08:50:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  there's nothing more common than (0+ / 0-)

        defense industry workers who hate on high taxes (the ones that -- you know -- pay their wages) and lazy government workers (the ones that -- you know -- work for the same government they do, but without the middle man.

        they aren't bastards, they're dumbasses.

        well ... some of the middle managers and engineers are bastards.

        To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

        by UntimelyRippd on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 08:11:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  THe F-35 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, Egalitare, FrankSpoke

    or similar platform is actually really needed for asymmetrical warfare. Without it the British, and other allied navies, would be out of having naval aviation. The Marines will suffer too

    The worse of all this is that this was supposed to be the single engine CHEAP plane

    •  Yes. F-16, F-18, etc all over again, lol. n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Quicklund, Iberian

      Moderation in most things.

      by billmosby on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 08:51:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  heh - had forgotten: ..supposed to be the .. (0+ / 0-)

      ..single engine CHEAP plane.

      That's right - thanks for reminding us to add more seasoning to this sh*t stew.

      My favorite piece of late cold-war memorabilia is a DoD publication "Assessment of the Threat - '88" which authoritatively portrays a resurgent Soviet Union and its bloc of puppet states accelerating their research on, innovation with, investment in, and production of.. all categories of military hardware at a rate that will condemn the US to third-world, defensive fighting status for decades to come, if not eternity.

      Their warning/summary: if we don't spend all we got - right now - you might as well hand the keys to the world over to the Russkies.

      Military Intelligence - the ultimate oxymoron., where did I leave my torches and villagers?

      by FrankSpoke on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 11:51:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  All computerized systems are so vulnerable (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You've demonstrated nothing to indicate the F-35 program has been under more cyber-stress than any other DoD program. And you seem to have taken a massive leap from hacking into the logistical support software to implying the F-35 can be cyber-attacked while in flight.

    The logistical support function is there to aid ground crews service the plane. It can be cyber-attacked like any networked computer system. That much is not specific to the F-35 system.

    It is true that America's defense behemoth is much more reliant on remote signals and transmission security than other militaries. That is both a strength and a potential weakness. But that is a characteristic of the American military not just the F-35. This characteristic shows why America's military dominance hinges upon America's space dominance in terms of satellites.

    There's no doubt America can cut down on the defense budget and still retain a vastly powerful military. But the fact foreigners have stolen military secrets is does not rise to proof the program is fatally flawed. Military secrets have been stolen since they have been kept.

    What determines if the F-35 is a success or not is if it can perform the missions it is asked to perform. And here the jury is very much out. Cyber attack holes can be patched. But if it turns out the Boeing design should have won the F-35 contract then that is an irrecoverable error.

  •  And who were we planning on having all (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mookins, ranger995, Steven D

    these wars with?

    I thought we stopped hiding under our beds in fear after the Soviet Union collapsed.

    The "Red Menace" is over.

    •  We need this stuff so that all the tech nerds (0+ / 0-)

      who think it is so cool, can associate with being a bad ass warrior vicariously. Just look at some of the posts in this diary.

      OOhh man that is so cool. It's a video game.

      "If you don't sin, then Jesus died for nothing!" (on a sign at a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans)

      by ranger995 on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 01:45:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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