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Snowden reveals that China stole plans for a new F-35 aircraft fighter

Snowden’s documents reveal China stole designs for the US-built F-35 Fighter jet, and provides details also a counter-intelligence operation run by the NSA.

The documents leaked by Edward Snowden are a precious source of information, the last collection of confidential files have uncovered revealed a new large-scale industrial espionage campaign conducted by the Chinese Government. State-sponsored hackers have operated to steal sensitive information on advanced fighter aircraft, the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The Australian Government has ordered 72 F-35 jets that will be operational in 2020.

“The F-35 is the most expensive defence project in US history. The stealth aircraft, manufactured by US-based Lockheed Martin, was developed at a cost of around $400bn (£230bn), in a process dogged by delays and unforeseen costs.” reports the BBC on the case.

The US, UK and Australian are the major customers of Lockheed Martin for the fighter aircraft, meanwhile Australian and British companies have also been involved in manufacturing parts of the aircraft.

According to Snowden, the US Intelligence was aware that Chinese cyber spies have stolen “many terabytes of data” about the design of Australia’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II JSF. The details of the operation are described in a set of top secret documents published by the Der Spiegel magazine.

Chinese hackers have allegedly stolen as much as 50 terabytes of data, including the details of the fighter’s radar systems, engine schematics, “aft deck heating contour maps,” designs to cool exhaust gases and the method the jet uses to track targets.

The purpose of the Chinese Government is to acquire intellectual property on advanced technologies, benefiting Chinese companies on the market and narrowed the gap in the research of advanced technological solution. Military experts speculated that the stolen blueprints  could help the country to develop a new generation of advanced aircraft fighter, so called “fifth-generation” fighters.

f1 f2

Military experts confirmed a striking resemblance with the Chinese advanced fighter jets, the Chengdu J-20 and the Shenyang J-31 Falcon Hawk, this second vehicle quite similar to F-35 JSF.


The disclosed documents reportedly confirm that the Australian government was informed of the cyber-espionage and aware of the “serious damage” caused due to the breach relating to the development of the F-35 JSF.


Security experts believe that the hackers compromised the network of Lockheed Martin, in 2007, before orders for the F-35 Lightning II placed by Australia and Japan. In June 2013, the US Defense Department acquisitions chief Frank Kendall reporting to the US Senate confirmed that he was “reasonably confident” classified information related to the F-35 was now well protected, confirming that hackers compromised the US prime contractor in 2007.

“The Snowden documents confirm the Australian Government has been informed of the “serious damage” caused by Chinese cyber-espionage against the JSF. The leaked US NSA briefings, which predate Australia’s acquisition of the fighter, are marked as releasable to all members of Five Eyes, which comprises the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. ” reported the Australian magazine The Age.

The document leaked by Snowden also revealed an important counter-intelligence operation run by the NSA, US hacked infiltrates China’s espionage agencies and exfiltrated data from the computer of a senior Chinese military official. The exfiltrate information data revealed the Chinese intelligence targets in the US government and other foreign governments.


Not only F-35 documents were stolen, sensitive military data stolen by the foreing Intelligence included information relating to the Northrop-Grumman B-2 stealth bomber, the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, nuclear submarine and naval air-defence missile designs. The hackers also accessed tens of thousands of military personnel records.

“The total data theft was estimated to be equivalent to “five Libraries of Congress (50 terabytes).” 

Pierluigi Paganini

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