Secret intelligence documents, exposed by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, have revealed Chinese spies stole “huge volumes” of Australian Defence Force (ADF) information pertaining to a new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jet.
German magazine Der Spiegel published disclosures of information collected by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) – for whom Snowden once worked – which reveals Chinese operatives acquired “many terabytes of data” about the design of Australia’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II JSF.
The stolen data reportedly contains details relating to the jet’s engine schematics, radar systems and methods for cooling exhaust gas and “aft deck heating contour maps”.
Fairfax Media reports that the documents reveal Australian authorities have been made aware of the leaked information.
This isn’t the first time this particular aircraft has been allegedly targeted by Chinese spies; however, the new documents provide the first confirmed public evidence of cyber espionage.
The cyber information theft operations predate Australia’s acquisition of the aircraft, with the US Defence Department reporting more than 500 intrusions in one calendar year.
In early 2014, the Australian Federal Government approved the purchase of 58 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, at a cost of up to $12 billion, taking the total number of aircraft on order to 72.
“The F-35 will provide a major boost to the ADF’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
The plane has been billed as the most advanced fighter jet in the world, though its development has been plagued by a series of setbacks.
Issues with the software used by pilots to control the aircraft and its advanced systems have also been raised, with some experts warning it could be hacked, rendering the F-35 inoperable without a single shot ever being fired.
The first of the fighters will arrive in Australia in 2018, and will not enter service until 2020.
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