PARIS — China’s models of military planes at the Paris Air Show bear resemblance to U.S. aircraft, drawing attention to the rising concern in the Defense Department that the country is using cyber espionage to obtain sensitive defense technology.
The state-run Aviation Industry Corporation of China had a large exhibit of military and civilian models of aircraft at the show, held outside Paris at the historic Le Bourget airfield.
The display included three fighters and a drone: a single-seat version of the FC-1, a single-engine fighter built for the Pakistani air force and designated JF-17; a dual-seat variant of the FC-1 in development; the dual-seat, twin-engine L-15 trainer; and an unmanned system called Wing Loong.
The fighters looked like the F-16 made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the drone bore resemblance to the MQ-1 Predator made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., without the inverted tail. The Chinese drone is designed as a low-altitude craft that can fly up to 16,500 feet and loiter for 20 hours.
A spokesman from the Beijing-based corporation was quick to note that the FC-1 is “a lot cheaper than the F-16,” though he declined to provide a figure. The man gave a brief overview of the systems to Military.com but declined to be named, citing corporation policy.
Notably missing from the exhibit was any display of the J-20, China’s classified stealth-fighter program.
During talks this month at an estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., President Barack Obama reportedly warned the new Chinese President Xi Jinping that cyber attacks against the U.S. threaten the two countries’ strategic relationship. Xi insisted China is also the victim of computer hacking.
Obama faced pressure to raise the issue after the recent leak of a classified section of a Defense Department report showed that designs for the most advanced U.S. weapons have been compromised by suspected Chinese hackers. The list of weaponry includes the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Littoral Combat Ship, and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, among others.
The Pentagon in its latest annual assessment of China’s armed forces for the first time blamed China directly for targeting its computer networks. The attacks were focused on extracting information, including sensitive defense technology.
“In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” it states. “The accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks.”
That document also concluded that the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, considers the strategy of “information dominance” a critical form of defense against countries that it views as “information dependent,” such as the U.S.
China called the accusations “groundless” and “not in line with the efforts made by both sides to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation,” according to a May 9 article published on the state-run website, “People’s Daily Online.” The country is a “victim itself of cyberattacks,” it states.
A Chinese espionage group since 2006 has stolen hundreds of terabytes of information from at least 141 companies across 20 major industries, including aerospace and defense, according to a February report from Mandiant, a closely held company based in Alexandria, Va., which sells information-security services.