Fake Parts from China Used on US Military Planes

Up to a million pieces of counterfeit electronics entered the US military supply chain, reported the US Senate Armed Services Committee. Some of these parts have already been installed in aircraft and other equipment currently deployed in Afghanistan, according to Bloomberg.

Counterfeit parts confirmed to have been installed in seven US military aircraft include display units on C-27J Spartan cargo transports. The displays, which were supposed to have been produced by US-based L-3 Communications, contained 38 suspect video memory chips. Counterfeit parts were also uncovered in thermal weapon sights and the mission computer for missile systems. These items are merely the “tip of the iceberg”, according to committee chairman Carl Levin. Most parts suspected of being counterfeits have not been reported.

Of 100 cases uncovered so far 70% can be traced back to China. The counterfeit parts on the C-27J display units were made by the Shenzhen firm Hong Dark Electronic Trade which had also delivered fake L-3 parts in 2009. The counterfeits entered the US through three or four sham companies or through resale points in the United Kingdom and Canada, according to McCain and Levin.

Detecting counterfeiters has become more difficult because they have changed their methods to avoid detection, according to SMT Corporation vice president Tom Sharpe. The active cooperation of the Chinese government would be needed to stop most counterfeiters, Sharpe said.

So far counterfeit parts have not been linked to casualties or crashes, Levin said. They threaten the US military’s safety and mission readiness, McCain was quoted as saying by ABC News. For example, the failure of counterfeit memory chips on the aircraft’s display units could lead to pilots losing access to critical status data like engine condition, fuel, location and warnings.

Unless China responds promptly to these concerns, the US should treat all shipments from China as suspect, said Levin. He suggested that their shippers would be required to pay for the cost of subsequent inspections.