China's global reach is more than economic. Their military spending is now second only to the U-S.. and their expanding military is one reason President Trump called out China and Russia as rivals, to our interests and values. But in examining their impressive arsenal, we found some striking similarities to American weapons. Our Lisa Fletcher talked with a former top Pentagon official about the stolen secrets.
Lisa: The F-35 has taken more than 20 years and a trillion dollars to take flight. The high-tech fifth-generation stealth aircraft is the latest and greatest for the u-s and its allies to have a competitive edge in the skies. That is until the Chinese unveiled their latest edition - the J-31.
Dr. Stephen Bryen: Well what emerged was that the Chinese came up with a couple of stealth fighters that look an awful lot like the F-35.
Doctor Stephen Bryen served as deputy undersecretary of defense at the pentagon. He like others claims the Chinese based their latest fighter jet off of American blueprints.
Lisa: What happened when the Chinese stole the F-35 plan?
Dr. Stephen Bryen: Well I mean this was a theft with intention. So the Chinese said you know if we're going to deal with the Americans on an equal basis we have to have stealthy aircraft. Well an easy place to do is to steal the American design copy it is exactly what they've done. So they built the J-20, which is already deployed.
The pentagon huddled with defense companies in 2007 to urge firms to better protect their networks. Two years later, came the suspected breach of F-35 design data.
Dr. Stephen Bryen: And so instead of having the indomitable F-35 fleet that can do what it wants. Now I’m not so sure. We have a problem and we may confront Chinese fighters in the future if we're not careful. Who knows. It's not a good thing. And I think it could have been prevented.
Equally alarming, weaponized drones. Here are the iconic American-researched designed as well as built MQ-one predator and MQ-nine reaper. Here are the Chinese versions the Wingloong one and Wingloong two. Defense analysts say the less-reliable Chinese versions are turning up in cash-strapped militaries around the globe... Because they sell for a few million dollars -a fraction of the cost of the American drones.
Dr. Stephen Bryen: So I like to say we have two defense budgets one for us and one for them because that is the truth of the matter is we're underwriting the Chinese military.
And the US isn’t the only victim. China bought advanced SU-33 jets used by Russia. And its designers quickly turned out their own version the Shenyang J-15 flying shark ... Around twenty now serve on china’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning.
Dr. Stephen Bryen: I would guess but many many systems are being compromised whether it's drones whether it's aircraft whether it's naval equipment whether it's submarines you know go on and on and on because it's all vulnerable. And even our defense contractors know that many worry about but it's very difficult to protect using commercial hardware and there's no other hardware. You can't go out and buy a secure computer today because there isn’t any. And certainly none that’s really protected by the U.S. Government. So, we need to have that whole change in how we go about this if we're going to have protection in the future. I think you know we need the equivalent of a Manhattan project you know for computers like we did for the atomic bomb.
In a report published in 2017, the commission on the theft of American intellectual property named china as the main offender. In fact, 87 percent of counterfeit goods coming into the u-s are Chinese. That same report estimates the annual cost to the u-s economy could be as high as six hundred billion dollars per year in counterfeit goods, pirated software and theft of trade secrets. It also estimates that at this rate the u-s has suffered roughly one-point-two trillion dollars in economic damage.
Lisa: Based on what you’re saying, it sounds like we’re a siv?
Dr. Stephen Bryen: We are a total siv. The u.S. Is the most vulnerable country in the world. We have the most you know we spend the most on defense of any country in the world. We have the most advanced systems of any country in the world. I mean there's no doubt about that. But if we're going to give it away to the whole world we're neutralizing ourselves, aren't we?
The Chinese military reportedly held its first-ever combat exercise with the J-20 stealth fighters just a few weeks ago. That’s important because it means those jets as well as pilots flying them...are now fully operational and ready for deployment. Here at home, the US military’s F-35s are engaged in practice missions, but have yet to be officially deployed.