According to cliché, the whole is only as good as the sum of its parts. That is true; if the parts break, the whole thing breaks as well. But it can be even worse -- what if the parts are set up to fail? Or to spy on the entire project?
That is why American weapons need to be made in America by Americans using American parts. Period. That’s the only way we can assure that the weapons will work and that they are serving us, not feeding information to our enemies.
This is important to remember right now, because just this month, the Pentagon stopped accepting deliveries of new F-35 jets after discovering that at least one part in the plane is made with metal sourced from China.
“An investigation that gathered steam in mid-August found that an alloy in the engine's lubricant pump did not comply with U.S. procurement laws that bar unauthorized Chinese content,” Reuters news agency reports1.
These Chinese parts represent a threat on two levels. First, as we’ve all learned over the last few years, supply chains can be cut. The longer the chain, the greater the threat. A military jet that relies on metal or parts from China could be grounded if the U.S. ends up at war with the Chinese. We simply cannot afford that risk. Even if our countries never fight, we need to ensure that we have a safe and reliable American source for all the parts in all our weapons. Anything from overseas is at risk.
Second, there is also the chance that a part could be spying on the whole system, or could be used to disable it.
In fact, the U.S. did something similar a decade or so ago. We managed to launch the Stuxnet virus into Iran. It “was unlike any other virus or worm that came before. Rather than simply hijacking targeted computers or stealing information from them, it escaped the digital realm to wreak physical destruction on equipment the computers controlled,” as Wired magazine reported2.
Malware loaded into Iranian computers caused its centrifuges to malfunction and its computers to crash. This set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions by years, perhaps a decade. We only know about the successful attack because somebody leaked it to the New York Times. Otherwise, it might never have become obvious there had been an attack.
Well, once we start inserting parts from China into American weapons, we will face the same threats. The part could be programmed to undermine the weapon at a vulnerable time.
The war in Ukraine is serving as a reminder to everyone that it is dangerous to depend on communist countries to supply necessary parts and elements. Russia is threatening to cut off the flow of natural gas to Germany just as winter closes in, and the Germans have no domestic fallback. We cannot allow American weapons to suffer the same fate.
The Pentagon says it will use an American source for this particular part in the future. However, “There are other Chinese-origin magnets on the jet which have received waivers from past Pentagon officials,” Reuters adds1. That means the entire F-35 program remains vulnerable. Are these parts allowing China to track this supposedly stealthy jet? Are they allowing the Chinese to disable the jet at a crucial moment? Will the parts be on hand if we come to blows with the Chinese?
These are all questions that should be answered before the military takes delivery of any more F-35s. The national security of the United States is at stake. We can’t leave it in the hands of Chinese suppliers.
Bob Haueter, a Bandera resident, was Deputy Chief of Staff to former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon.
1. reuters.com/business/aerospace- defense/pentagon-stopsaccepting- f-35-jets-check-chinese- content-source-2022-09-07/ 2. wired.com/2014/11/countdown- to-zero-day-stuxnet/