Chinese hackers assault Rolls Royce’s IT system

Rolls Royce Earlier, this year, I attended Jane’s U.S. Defense Conference, an annual event packed with security analysts and the defense contractors who love them. One of the more interesting topics discussed was the trend of Western militaries relying increasingly on commercial—rather than exclusively military—supply chains. In practice, this means that, say, U.S. combat vehicles ...

597827_071204_rollsroyce_05.jpg
597827_071204_rollsroyce_05.jpg

Rolls Royce

Earlier, this year, I attended Jane's U.S. Defense Conference, an annual event packed with security analysts and the defense contractors who love them. One of the more interesting topics discussed was the trend of Western militaries relying increasingly on commercial—rather than exclusively military—supply chains. In practice, this means that, say, U.S. combat vehicles include more and more parts that are manufactured by firms that aren't strictly "defense contractors." In some cases, it can mean that such vehicles even share parts with commercial, non-military cars, trucks, and planes.

This can be cheaper for American taxpayers and more efficient for the military, but it comes with risks. Consider this: The London Times reports that hackers based in China recently tried to break into the IT systems of Rolls Royce, which manufactures engines for British, U.S., and NATO combat platforms and in fact claims to be the "number two military aero engine manufacturer in the world." Notably, Rolls Royce engines are to power the advanced Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Air Force's new baby. There are obvious implications for the military balance of power here. China's jet fighters are getting better, but they're still behind. But manufacturing airplane engines is notoriously difficult, and the Chinese are no doubt eager to learn trade secrets from Western firms.

Rolls Royce

Earlier, this year, I attended Jane’s U.S. Defense Conference, an annual event packed with security analysts and the defense contractors who love them. One of the more interesting topics discussed was the trend of Western militaries relying increasingly on commercial—rather than exclusively military—supply chains. In practice, this means that, say, U.S. combat vehicles include more and more parts that are manufactured by firms that aren’t strictly “defense contractors.” In some cases, it can mean that such vehicles even share parts with commercial, non-military cars, trucks, and planes.

This can be cheaper for American taxpayers and more efficient for the military, but it comes with risks. Consider this: The London Times reports that hackers based in China recently tried to break into the IT systems of Rolls Royce, which manufactures engines for British, U.S., and NATO combat platforms and in fact claims to be the “number two military aero engine manufacturer in the world.” Notably, Rolls Royce engines are to power the advanced Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Air Force’s new baby. There are obvious implications for the military balance of power here. China’s jet fighters are getting better, but they’re still behind. But manufacturing airplane engines is notoriously difficult, and the Chinese are no doubt eager to learn trade secrets from Western firms.

And Rolls Royce could be just the tip of the iceberg. Internet security firm McAfee reports that China is foremost among 120 countries that are experimenting with cyber warfare capabilities. And firms that supply parts to Western militaries obviously represent fat targets for Chinese snoops or saboteurs. Rolls Royce has supplied the British Royal Air Force for many years, so presumably it is no stranger to the security game; but when it comes to more recent entrants, do we really know how secure these supply chains are?

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.