back to article Snowden doc leak 'confirms' China stole F-35 data

China now knows what most people in the west are catching up with: that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a lemon. The latest round of managed information release by Edward Snowden via Spiegel (one of a series) includes the snippet that Chinese security services copied “terabytes” of data about the aircraft. The release states …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    This is probably very bad..

    Either the Chinese willl copy the design and end up with the same crap or they'll improve it and make a superior A/C. I'm presuming they'll take the good and discard the bad and end up with a superior A/C.

    As for the The leak also says in 2013, the NSA asked for US$1 billion just to strengthen its “network attack operations”, I'm not even going to guess who they'll 'attack'... us citizens or some foreign power. If it was to prevent an attack, I would assume they would have used the term "network defense operations" but in the world of Washington Doublespeak, who knows what they spent it on.

    1. streaky

      Re: This is probably very bad..

      They can steal all the designs they like it doesn't give them the technical capability to actually build one or counter it.

      The F35 is an inherently (designed) unstable aircraft, if they made a carbon copy it'd just do a Tu-144 at the Paris Air Show type deal.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: This is probably very bad..

        I wouldn't be too sure about that. Their military is NOT their consumer goods factories. They've pulled a number of surprises and it's possible. Plus they put a lot of young people through PhD programs in various countries. I think they're a lot smarter than most people give them credit for. Much like the US did with the Japanese. The example (below your comment) about the Japanese applies.

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: This is probably very bad..

        do a Tu-144 at the Paris Air Show type deal.

        Which part? Crash from being harassed by opponent fighter jets? Or the widows of the crews being paid French government pension (a de-facto admission of what exactly happened there)?

        In any case, what the Chinese are developing does not seem to be an equivalent of F-35. It looks more like a heavy stealth figher-BOMBER (with emphasis on the second half) designed for elimination of missile sites in a potential conflict with its two nuclear armed neighbours.

        As far as fighter (including carrier fighter role) they are presently looking at buying and/or license manufacturing Su-PAKFA instead.

        1. streaky

          Re: This is probably very bad..

          "Crash from being harassed by opponent fighter jets?"

          Goes the propaganda. If either of the claimed "it was somebody else" theories were correct we can be sure of some things:

          * The Soviets would have shouted it from the rooftops

          * The project wouldn't have been cancelled as infeasible

          Chinese competition to the F-35? Heh. In the same way as the T-50 is supposed to be (popularly) competitive with the F-22 but patently isn't, I assume?

          Some people need to find a grip. It's pencils in space and graphite in your sensitive safety-critical electronic systems all over again...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: This is probably very bad..

            * The Soviets would have shouted it from the rooftops

            The soviets did shout it from the rooftops. They shouted even louder when the radar recordings and telemetry for the area were _WITHHELD_ from the original investigation. This was a recurring topic in any discussions on cooperation on anything between USSR (and later Russia) and France for many years.

            They actually continued shouting (and rightly so) until ~ 2000-es when France actually admitted that several Mirage jets were in the area. By the way, France admitted it _ONLY_ after one of the pilots of those gave an interview to NTV (promptly to die in a car accident with suspicious circumstances).

            Then, and only then, they (at that point Russian, not Soviets) shut up.

      3. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: This is probably very bad..

        Any fighter worth a crap is inherently unstable by design. A stable aircraft won't be as maneuverable.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: This is probably very bad..

          The F35 is so fat around the waistline thanks to that lift fan that it's outperformed by F15/F16s, let alone anything else.

          Bear in mind it was _designed_ to not need to contest air-superiority. That's what the F22 was for, but it ended up costing too much to be viable.

    2. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: This is probably very bad..

      "I'm presuming they'll take the good and discard the bad and end up with a superior A/C."

      Which Chinese knock-offs have been superior to the originals?

      I can for certain tell you that those outrageously blatant copied cars have no superior features, except of course, much reduced price.

      1. gollux

        Re: This is probably very bad..

        Hmm, wonder were all that Apple product comes from? Don't worry, Japan got accused of the same thing before their automobile industry ate the US car manufacturer's lunch.

        Borrowed engine designs modified for easier manufacture and field repairability

        Mazda 626/Ford Courier = BMW 1600-2002 4 cyl

        Toyota 4M = SOHC Mercedes 6 cyl

        Toyota Landcruiser = Chevy 235 6 cyl

        Datsun 1600-2000 = SOHC Mercedes 4 cyl

        And then they came up with their own designs and the rest is history.

        1. Mark 65 Silver badge

          Re: This is probably very bad..

          @gollux: I'd still have a BMW or Merc engine over anything Japanese any day of the week.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: This is probably very bad..

            Aren't merc now built in Arkansas or somewhere chosen solely for its lack of automotive unions and its "Totally Fscked Region" tax breaks?

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: This is probably very bad..

              "Aren't merc now built in Arkansas or somewhere chosen solely for its lack of automotive unions and its "Totally Fscked Region" tax breaks? "

              Merc build quality took a shocking nosedive after the daimler-chrysler merger and hasn't recovered since the split.

              It took the americans to teach the germans how to really fuck up a car design.

              1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

                Re: This is probably very bad..

                "Merc build quality took a shocking nosedive after the daimler-chrysler merger and hasn't recovered since the split."

                If it had been only build quality, it would be relatively easy to improve. But most problems started with design flaws, supply chain havoc and general pennypinching. Pretty much like Opel/Vauxhall screwed up in early nineties. Lately, it's been improving again, but it may take yet another design generation to get it right.

                Anyhow, last good Merc was W124 - which was phased out in 1995, three years before D-C merger. Much-lambasted W210 was introduced in 1992.

          2. Danny 14 Silver badge

            Re: This is probably very bad..

            Sherman vs panzer. Actually they did have them race head to head in platoons. Only when the british started upgunning the shermans did they stand a real chance vs the panzers.

        2. oblivia

          Re: This is probably very bad..

          Actually, the story in the 1980s was that Japan was going to become the world's dominant economy, much the same as people today fear China's potential. Be sceptical.

          As for this story, remember that the Chinese plane relies on a Russian engine, which presumably complicates any attempt to copy the F35. The designs are also old, which means that the Chinese have to solve many development issues on their own — and we can assume they will take longer to do this than the Americans.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: This is probably very bad..

            " much the same as people today fear China's potential"

            I have news for you: The chinese economy is now larger than the USA's

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: This is probably very bad..

          s/Borrowed/licensed/

          You missed that the Nissan/Datsun A-series engines were licensed 1930s Austin designs they updated continually right through to the late 1980s and were nearly bulletproof (I ran an A12 with no water for 50 miles at one point. No permanent damage)

          They may have copied to start with, but as soon as they started exporting hardware the copies were all done with the right paperwork.

          The chinese are already doing the same thing - and there's nothing "dumber" about them. There's just as much cheap knock-off crap produced in various parts of europe, but not as much fuss is made.

      2. Robert Helpmann??
        Childcatcher

        Re: This is probably very bad..

        I can for certain tell you that those outrageously blatant copied cars have no superior features, except of course, much reduced price.

        That might be enough in this context. Consider the example of the German Panzer versus the American Sherman tank. Sure, the Panzers were better, but the US produced Shermans at a rate of somewhere around 8 to 1. Additionally, knowing the capabilities of your opponents in a conflict makes planning a lot easier. That's one of the many reasons military tech tends to be classified.

        1. gollux

          Re: This is probably very bad..

          And that Sherman superiority in numbers had an acknowledged really bad history, such that tank crews nicknamed them "Ronsons, guaranteed to light on the first strike". Their popgun was a joke as they were out-gunned by the Panzers in range and striking power. You didn't just run a Sherman out to do head-to-head battle, you tried to get a group of Shermans positioned to exploit the weaknesses that Panzers exhibited.

          Thankfully, as shown in Operation Barbarossa against the Russians, the German army had superior technology supported by inferior tactics and logistics.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: This is probably very bad..

            And so having defeated a technologically superior enemy weapon system by mass producing a cheaper simpler system the US military learned from Germany's error and concentrated on making smaller number of ever more complex and expensive advanced weapon systems ?

            Or as somebody (probably a Marine general) said - the USAF will be defeated when the one single ultimate invisible hypersonic stealth fighter which constitutes the entire air force is destroyed when a hanger roof collapses.

      3. Thorne

        Re: This is probably very bad..

        "I can for certain tell you that those outrageously blatant copied cars have no superior features, except of course, much reduced price."

        As the Russians once said during WW2 "there is a certain quality to quantity"

        A plane half as good but ten times as many in the air is still superior........

        1. Diogenes

          Re: This is probably very bad..

          As the Russians once said during WW2 "there is a certain quality to quantity"

          ...

          Or as my great uncle, who commanded a unit of 88's said - "The Russian T34s came at us, I ran out of shells before they ran out of tanks, and that is how I was taken prisoner"

          Another military size related saying that dates back to Korea "how many thousand men are in Chinese platoon ?" (source an old RSM of mine who served in Korea as a Private)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This is probably very bad..

          I understood the number of Typhoons on the Falklands were calculated to have 1 refuel whilst the others shoot down whatever Argentine put in the air. The total number of Typhoons is 4.

          1. Danny 14 Silver badge

            Re: This is probably very bad..

            the Argentinians hardly have the same numbers as the Chinese or Russians though.

      4. P. Lee
        Trollface

        Re: This is probably very bad..

        >Which Chinese knock-offs have been superior to the originals?

        I hear Lenovo make some ok PCs.

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge

          Re: This is probably very bad.. @P.Lee

          >>Which Chinese knock-offs have been superior to the originals?

          >I hear Lenovo make some ok PCs.

          I hear that too, but they aren't 'knock-offs' I was after.

          The counterfeit Lenovo batteries and Lenovo mobile phones are very likely inferior to the genuine Lenovo parts. Do you disagree?

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: This is probably very bad..

      So either we will be able to buy Chinese knock-offs for 10% of the price and so the Royal Navy will actually be able to have aeroplanes on its new carriers.

      Or the Chinese will end up with a fighter than can't take off without melting the deck, can't land without dumping all its fuel and weapons, can't fire it's cannon, needs 3years maintenance everytime somebody turns it on and costs 5x what it was supposed to.

      1. BernardL

        Re: This is probably very bad..

        Actually, it can take off ok, sort of, providing there's no FOD stuff around. Sorry, USMC, your dream of operating it from austere forward airstrips and pocket carriers in the ground-support role has gone up in smoke. The F35 has eaten the USMC budget for decades to come. Best thing they could do is scrap it and buy the A-10s that the USAF wants to get rid of.

        It's landing that the F-35 has a problem with, at least if you don't want to melt the deck and everyone within 100m. Oh, and turning seems to be a bit of an issue. And short legs. And software that nobody understands. Oh well, at least it hasn't suffocated a pilot yet.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Numbers game...

      "Admiral, there's a number of aircraft approaching the Carrier Group."

      'Okay, send up our F35. It can take out 32 aircraft at once. By the way, how many are incoming?'

      "85 Sir."

  2. asdf

    F-35 eh?

    We probably gave to them on purpose. Lets see if they can piss away a trillion on it like the US has still remain solvent. The starwars program even today is largely a pipe dream but sometimes you don't actually have to deliver an effective weapon system (which the F35 will never be) to bankrupt your enemy and win. Guess though when they are the ones lending the US the money that strategy may back fire.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Boffin

      Re: F-35 eh?

      > The starwars program even today is largely a pipe dream but sometimes you don't actually have to deliver an effective weapon system to bankrupt your enemy and win

      A system that Reagan was convinced to fund by a couple of Sci-Fi writers (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) and who probably also (when that turned out to be a total White Elephant) then came up with the ret-con argument that it was all a cunning ploy to con the Russians into trying to match it...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: F-35 eh?

        There is one story of Star Wars told by Thatcher (a scientist of sorts)

        There was a briefing which said they had achieved a power of 10^6W (or something) in a test but they needed 10^15W to shoot down a missile

        Excellent, nearly half way there - was the response from the US politicos. Presumably not a mistake President Carter would have made.

  3. JassMan Silver badge
    Joke

    They may be able to build a perfect copy

    ... But it will probably fall out of the sky the instant it flies inverted or pulls a 2G turn. Their alloys may be perfectly identical in terms of chemical composition, but they just don't how to do heat treatment etc. That's lucky for us or they would have taken over the world by now.

    You can tell this by comparing the strength of screws you buy in DIY shops (all made in China) against those that come from specialist suppliers eg.GKN

  4. Big-nosed Pengie
    Thumb Up

    No doubt there was much hilarity as the Chinese pored over the plans of the Flying Lemon.

    1. skeptical i
      Devil

      Laughter compounded

      Then some mid-level lackey brought press coverage of citizen uproar in Valparaiso, FL, and other states where the Pentagram has threatened to base the F-35: "But check this out, it's a voracious money-sucker, has failed most of its test flights, and the Great Satan's own people hate it to the point of lawsuits yet, *snigger*, they keep going forward with it -- deep in hole, keep digging! Bwah-hah-hah-hah, we will so own their asses!"

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Laughter compounded

        Deep in hole, keep digging, get to China?

        1. skeptical i
          Pint

          Re: Laughter compounded

          Touche. :^)

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      There is always a possibility that the entire program was a ploy to make the Chinese waste money stealing and then building it? Rather like the USSR and the space shuttle

      1. ScissorHands
        Facepalm

        The USA "Space Shuttled" the USSR

        The USSR "Tokamaked" the West

        Something similar applies in this case, I think.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sometimes sponsorship on articles is ....

    "It suggests that the activities the NSA and its spook buddies love so much, like cracking crypto and disabling target networks, is still too difficult to be cheap or easy. ®

    Sponsored: DevOps for Dummies"

  6. Kev99

    Let the Chinese have the data for our own good

    The F-35 is a poor attempt to reinvent the wheel three times. If the copy the designs, then the US and other countries will no trouble defeating the plane. Just like the Bosnians shot down the undetectable B-2. I wonder if the idiots designing these stealth planes are testing them against the radars in use around the world. I doubt it.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Re: Let the Chinese have the data for our own good

        I might be more persuaded by your analysis if you knew the difference between a B2 and an F117A.

        1. Ogi

          Re: Let the Chinese have the data for our own good

          And that it was the Serbs, not the Bosnians, who shot it down:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_F-117_Nighthawk#Combat_loss

          Although I remember there being a rumour that a B2 was hit as well, but was able to fly back for repairs.

          The F117 was shot down by a S-125 SAM, not exactly hot new technology.

          Apparently US stealth planes were designed to be invisible in only a narrow band of radiation, most used by modern radar systems. Old WWII/Cold war radars used lower frequencies, which were less accurate, but could see the planes no problem.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Let the Chinese have the data for our own good

        "The B2 was completely undetectable by the airborne radar of the day - when it was planned."

        Bollocks. The B2 is perfectly detectable by ww2-vintage VHF radar and is detectable by anything looking at it outside of a 30 degree cone on the nose.

        The UK's radar system picked it up just fine as it was flying up the bristol channel.

    2. Ian Michael Gumby

      @Kev99 Re: Let the Chinese have the data for our own good

      I think you need to do a bit more homework.

      The B2 is stealthy, even by today's standards.

      You have to understand how the terrain impacted its stealth capabilities.

    3. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Re: Let the Chinese have the data for our own good

      "Just like the Bosnians shot down the undetectable B-2"

      Welll...that's not entirely true.

      - as already pointed out, it was F-117A, not B-2

      - not over Bosnia, but Vojvodina district of Serbia

      - SAM batteries belonged to the Serb/Yugoslav regular forces, not Bosnians

      - there was a hefty amount of skill and luck involved: F-117A used a predictable flightpath, so it could be ambushed with a modified longwave radar. And when its bomb bays opened, there was just enough radar visibility to get a lock. Cool feat indeed.

  7. Medixstiff

    Then again, the fifth generation planes from China and Russia take much bigger weapons payloads than the F-35. Plus the Chinese are building four different versions of their jet.

    So it's not like they are putting all their eggs in one basket like the US is.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      FAIL

      What you mean just like the US isn't building the F22 as well?

      1. Ian Michael Gumby
        Black Helicopters

        @Gordon 10

        "What you mean just like the US isn't building the F22 as well?"

        Actually no, the US is not building new F22 aircraft. Too expensive.

        That doesn't mean if / when the Russians or Chinese can catch up, we couldn't build more.

        To the best of my knowledge, only one F22 combat mission has been flown, or rather publicly acknowledged. This was in Syria.

        Want to guess why? ;-)

        1. asdf

          Re: @Gordon 10

          >Want to guess why? ;-)

          Cost of flight and the fact that our goat herding enemies aren't fielding many modern fighter aircraft?

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Ian Michael Gumby

            Re: @Gordon 10

            A couple of theories...

            1) It was a test of sorts.

            2) It was done to silence critics that it was a total waste of money, creating an air superiority fighter with no one left to fight.

  8. dan1980

    Colour me shocked

    What, so Australia has bought into an under-performing, overly-expensive (not to mention perpetually delayed) military white elephant?

    Well that's a first . . .

    At least we're not alone and even we didn't balls it up quite like the Brits and their seeming inability to match planes with carriers.

    1. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Re: Colour me shocked

      At least we're not alone and even we didn't balls it up quite like the Brits and their seeming inability to match planes with carriers.

      That's only because you don't have real aircraft carriers. Had Australia possessed them then they'd have similarly screwed that up in their comparable haste to by this US tat.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Colour me shocked

      The canadians are buying it aswel although they are in trouble after somebody discovered the govt classified the cost increase as Top Secret and left the original cost in the budge for "National Security Reasons"

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The F-35 is a good thing for the US, as is China stealing the plans

    Because it is taking up so many resources and has so much momentum, it sucks the oxygen that a new manned fighter program would require. That's a good thing, because if we started another one now we'd follow it through to the conclusion 20 years from now, long after manned fighters have become totally obsolete.

    That we're (hopefully) getting China to follow us down that stupid path is even better. Otherwise they might realize how simple it is to beat the US's best planes in a dogfight in the very near future (or maybe even now): Build a shitload of cheap unmanned fighters with little or no weapons. They could probably build 50 of them for the price of one F-35. The F-35 pilot will run out of missiles long before they're all gone. How is the F-35 going to dodge or otherwise avoid 30 missiles shot at once? Or avoid 30 planes trying to ram it at once?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “terabytes” of data

    doc, xls, jpgs... you name it.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was probably leaked on purpose

    Most of China's aircraft development people are probably now in hospital with severe ruptures due to serious uncontrolled laughter.

    Copying an aircraft design where reportedly the engine ripped out of the fuselage 6ft vertically and then exploded is not a design anyone should copy.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Phase II courtesy of Chinese engineers and accountants

    So Chinese have the plans. They can estimate costs from plans. They know the F-35's programme costs are a touch over $1tn. They may be deeply curious to know where the money has really gone. Meanwhile, trojans planted in the stolen docs can monitor the Chinese attempts to solve the F-35's issues and cost reduction techniques, and report those back home.

  13. Mark Exclamation

    If only you REALLY knew....

    It's amazing how little you all *actually* know about the F35. Yes, it has problems, but so does much new, advanced technology. There is (obviously) a *huge* amount that none of you are aware of about the F35, but I'll just say, you are all way off the mark.

    On the other hand, anyone who puts top secret documents on an internet-connected computer deserves to get it stolen!

    1. skeptical i

      Re: If only you REALLY knew....

      Hi, Mark: True, I don't know about the nuts and bolts of the F-35 but I trust the science and engineering/ design that have gone into it are pretty impressive.

      But I DO know that (a) the Pentagram and the manufacturer (Lockheed?) have been less than forthcoming about the true noise impacts to neighborhoods and residents adjacent to the bases where this magnificent boondoggle will be bedded down, instead warbling on about potential impacts deduced from "noise modelling" which may be well and good, but what about some real deal flyovers with certified sound measurements? Nope, no can do, just trust us, it'll all be fine. Until it's not, as the citizens of Valparaiso found out.

      And (b) the cost overruns have been staggering, yet the proponents of this aircraft have been careful to lard almost every state in Amurka with a piece of the construction work to ensure that most Congresscritters will support it for the "jobs"; had the production (and testing and et cetera) been concentrated in one or two states, I am pretty sure it would have had the plug pulled long before now.

      So, I dunno, given the shenanigans used to get the thing approved (give every state a small slice of the action) and how American citizens near the beastie are being treated (read: disregarded at best and usually disrespected) for trying to protect their homes and kids -- and I shudder to think how we'll treat "furriners" with the misfortune to live near 'Merkin bases overseas -- I think I have all I need to know. But I'd he happy to read anything you'd care to share.

      1. Mark Exclamation

        Re: If only you REALLY knew....

        1. If you don't like aircraft noise, don't live near an airfield.

        2. ALL military aircraft make a lot of noise. The F35 is not significantly noisier than any of the other Fs or Bs.

        3. Do you seriously think the noise it makes is relevant?

        4. If ever you feel threatened by an aggressor, please don't expect them to fire up their noisy machines to come and protect you.

        5. Yes, there are cost overruns, but please enlighten me of any other project (high-tech or otherwise) that has NOT overrun its costs.

        6. The F35's abilities, both individually and, in particular in multiples, far exceeds anything else available in the world for the medium-term future. It's just that most people don't know that, for obvious reasons.

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