Exception PCB, a Chinese-owned company based in Gloucestershire, England, manufactures the circuit boards that control the engines, lighting, fuel and navigation systems of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system ever made. While the UK’s Ministry of Defense insists the company is an established supplier to the defense industry and presents “no risk,” months of flogging the China-spying narrative have done their job, and UK media and politicians are up in arms over this “shocking revelation.”
“We have been completely and utterly naive about the role of China and it is only now that people are beginning to wake up,” former Tory defense minister Sir Gerald Howarth told the Telegraph, expressing concern about Chinese involvement in a classified defense program.
“I think it’s breathtaking,” Tory MP and army reservist Bob Seely told SkyNews. “It’s not a question of: Is this bad? But it’s a question of: how bad is it?”
Exception PCB was bought by Shenzhen Fastprint in 2013, has never concealed its Chinese ownership and has also worked on the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet and the Apache attack helicopter, among other sensitive programs. A director from the company told SkyNews there are “clear firewalls in place” between the Exception and its Chinese owners, that the company only produces bare circuit boards, and that no additional electronic information is supplied. But Lockheed Martin didn’t seem so sure, informing Sky that “like all components of the F-35,” the circuit boards “are inspected repeatedly at each stage of manufacture.”
“Exception PCB has no visibility or access to any sensitive program information and there is limited to no risk associated with their minimal role in the program,” Lockheed said, adding that they had alternate sources of supply to draw from “should Exception PCB be determined an unapproved source in the future.”
This isn’t the first time the US military has concealed Chinese involvement in the F-35’s supply chain. In 2014, the Pentagon sought multiple waivers to a ban on using Chinese-built components in its efforts to keep the cost-overrun-plagued program on schedule. Suppliers Northrop Grumman and Honeywell both were permitted to use Chinese-made magnets in the plane’s radar system and landing gears as the Pentagon feared further delays to the project would cut into foreign orders needed to finance it, ultimately triggering an investigation by the Government Accountability Office over whether the “mistake” was made “knowingly and willfully.”
The nonchalance with which both US and UK defense ministries have made use of Chinese parts should raise questions about the Huawei spying panic, if nothing else. The US has banned Huawei from doing business with American telecom companies and has made a concerted effort to have Huawei and other Chinese tech firms blacklisted throughout Europe, to the point of threatening to freeze the UK out of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network over merely the suggestion that the Chinese company might be allowed to bid on a peripheral component of the country’s 5G network. Germany, too, has been threatened with curtailment of intelligence-sharing over worries that Huawei tech is riddled with backdoors to the Chinese government.
Another Chinese firm making their top-secret military equipment, however, is just fine. This is because the US is not actually worried about the security risks of Huawei equipment at all, according to Huawei chief security officer John Suffolk, who has offered US officials the opportunity to test its equipment in whatever way they need to confirm the absence of the dreaded backdoors. Instead, it’s competition they fear - both in technological development and in control of global communications networks. As Suffolk has pointed out more than once, it’s US technology that has been weaponized to surveil the entire world. And it doesn’t take kindly to competitors.
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