We are all familiar with the influx of knockoff designer goods being sent to the U.S. and the crackdown on the criminal rings who are smuggling these goods into the U.S. Although this problem hurts our economy and supports slave labor, it is not as frightening as the recent discovery that counterfeit parts are being used in our weapons.
A months-long congressional probe found at least 1,800 cases of counterfeit electronics in U.S. weapons, with the total number of suspect parts exceeding 1 million.
The results of the investigation, conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, were recently presented at a hearing where senators grilled defense contractors about lapses in monitoring their parts supply chain.
In more than 70 percent of the cases in which investigators traced parts back to their source, the trail led to China. And nearly 20 percent of the remainder were traced to Britain and Canada — resale points for counterfeit Chinese parts, Senate staffers said.
“We cannot allow our national security to depend on electronic scrap salvaged from trash heaps by Chinese counterfeiters,” said committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). He called the report’s findings — based on records from 10 defense contractors and their testers — “just the tip of the iceberg.” Levin said that China’s authoritarian rulers could stop the counterfeiting “if they want to stop it.”
Fake electronic parts often are produced in China by burning raw material off old circuit boards, washing the components in sometimes-polluted rivers and drying them on city sidewalks, Senate investigators said. They said the resulting parts are unreliable over the long term, even if they pass initial factory testing by manufacturers.
Slipping counterfeit weapons components into the Pentagon’s supply chain is a practice known as “sprinkling.” Fake parts are mixed with real parts with the hope that the weapon won’t begin to malfunction until after it’s been tested, approved, purchased and distributed amongst the troops. This is some scary stuff. We are not talking about a fake Gucci bag here that might fall apart. We are talking about weapons that might not function in our defense.
The recycled materials used in those parts are often sold overseas through a complex web of suppliers, contractors and subcontractors. And the use of counterfeit parts, Senate staffers said, has at times resulted in millions of dollars in waste, with U.S. taxpayers footing the bill when contractors discover the need for replacements.
Thomas Sharpe, VP of SMT Corp, which distributes electronic components, gave a presentation that claimed, among other things, that “Counterfeiting performed in Shantou was not regarded as IP theft or improper in any way. It was seen as a positive ‘green initiative’ for the repurposing of discarded electronic component material.” Conspicuously absent from the proceedings was a representative of China.
The question is will an examination of U.S. trade agreements with China ever really be reviewed and will legislation be passed to stop everything from unfair trade practices, China’s reluctance to allow its currency to “float” with the markets, slave labor, and now a threat to our national defense? I sure hope so, but I have a feeling the U.S. will continue to want to have its cake and eat it too. This has been a sensitive topic for a long time, and thus far, no administration has taken the steps to solve these huge problems.