Top-Secret US Navy Submarine Warfare Plans Stolen by Chinese Government Hackers

Technology > Security

USS Kitty Hawk, one of the aircraft carriers of the US Navy. / Photo by: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Stephen Rowe via Wikimedia Commons


Highly confidential data on submarine warfare stored on the computers of a US Navy contractor, including designs for a supersonic anti-ship missile to be deployed on US submarines by 2020, were stolen by Chinese government hackers. The US Navy did not disclose the identity of the contractor who does contractual work for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, according to Ellen Nakashima and Paul Sonne, reporting for The Washington Post. 

The hacking incidents happened in January and February this year and involved the theft of 614 gigabytes worth of data from a project with the code name Sea Dragon; signals and sensor data; submarine radio room information related to cryptographic systems; the submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library. 

The cybersecurity incidents are part of China’s continuing effort to thwart American superiority in military technology and remain as the dominant superpower in East Asia. It has a long history of stealing sensitive US military secrets -- designs for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; the Patriot PAC-3 missile system; the US Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile system; and the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship. The theft of such restricted data has led to the development of copycat technology, such as Chinese-made drones similar to US unmanned aircraft. 

The Sea Dragon is a special project of the US Department of Defense which promises a disruptive offensive capability by combining an existing weapon system with an existing Navy platform. As much as US$300 million has already been spent on the project and underwater testing is scheduled to begin this September.  

Defense analysts believe the theft of such data will allow China to have capabilities that would make it difficult for the US Navy to defend US allies in Asia in the event of armed conflict with China. The Asian superpower has stepped up the development of sophisticated platforms such as quieter submarines armed with the latest weapons.