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February 13, 2018

American Military Tech Is Being Cloned by Our Foes

The Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace was based on ours. And that’s not the only example.

In a very troubling development over the weekend, a purported Iranian drone was found to have entered sovereign Israeli airspace for approximately a minute and a half before being shot down by an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) helicopter.

In addition to destroying the drone, Israeli jets later struck Iranian control system targets located in Syria, as well as air defense assets operating under the control of Bashar al-Assad. Following the military actions, rumors began to circulate about what type of UAV was being utilized by the Iranian-backed forces in Syria. Upon further investigation, various news sources confirmed that the Iranian drone was in fact a copy of a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 “Sentinel,” which Iran intercepted in December 2011. Unfortunately, such warnings were prescient.

The fact that the Iranian government was able to reverse engineer a drone is not half as troubling as the fact that it represents the latest incident of a foreign government using American technology to enhance their own capabilities. The facts speak for themselves. Since the American government made the decision to purchase commercial off-the-shelf equipment (both software and hardware), our adversaries have had an easier time in gaining access to a myriad of secrets.

Probably the two most egregious examples are China’s government sponsored hackers, who stole gigabytes of information from defense contractors. Their cyber piracy enabled the Chinese government to develop copies of the F-22 and F-35 at a fraction of the cost of developing the capability themselves.

China’s prowess at espionage doesn’t just extend to aircraft. Back in 2013, a Defense Science Board report, listed over 50 Defense Department system designs and technologies that they believed had been partially compromised by Chinese hackers.

However, China isn’t the only American adversary to try and steal military technology. Just last week it was announced that Russian hackers had been actively probing dozens of military contractors from Lockheed Martin, Boeing and many others since 2015 in the hopes of stealing military information.

The hackers, nicknamed “Fancy Bear,” are allegedly tied to the Russian military and are the same group that tried to influence the U.S. election in 2016. While the U.S. government hasn’t gone on record to say if secrets were stolen, the Associated Press reported that approximately 40 contractors clicked on the phishing links. All of the workers were tied to sensitive projects like military drones, rockets and missiles.

Which gets us back to what occurred in Syria. The incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace is a dramatic, new phase in the storied history of the Levant. It’s only a matter of time before proxies of the Iranian government, from Hezbollah to Shiite militias, have this technology available and use it in order to provoke an Israeli response.

While only time will tell what the next flashpoint in the Middle East will be, in the meantime it is incumbent for the United States government and the Trump administration to devote more resources to safeguarding our nation’s military capabilities. America simply can’t afford to allow our adversaries access to our military’s weapons of war. Anything less than a full commitment from the U.S. government not only puts our uniformed members at risk but also our country’s standing in the world.

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