Senate committee turns up heat on counterfeit parts in the military

By John Keller
Editor in Chief

I finally feel like someone is listening.

For years now, I and a select few involved in supplying high-reliability, high-quality electronics parts for U.S. and allied military applications, have felt like isolated voices in the wilderness when it comes to what might be the most dangerous and frightening development ever in the aerospace and defense electronics industry.

I'm referring, of course, to counterfeit electronic parts-integrated circuits, capacitors, amplifiers, batteries, connectors, and other electronic components that, despite some safeguards in place to prevent it, somehow can make their way into mission- and life-critical military systems where they can compromise quality, or wreak havoc much worse.

It's not too difficult to find the cause of counterfeit parts; like most things it boils down to money. Most military systems have to function in the field for decades, unlike commercial systems that run the courses of their useful lives in a few years before being replaced. The military doesn't have that luxury. It's too expensive to replace sophisticated military equipment every few years.

The problem involves maintenance, upgrades, and the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts purchased on the commercial market. In essence, the military is dipping into the same well as commercial systems designers who only have to keep the technology working for a few years before replacement. As a result, parts for military systems tend to dry up as parts manufacturers phase them out in favor of supporting the latest technology.

There is, of course, infrastructure in place designed to keep parts available for military systems. It largely involves aftermarket houses like Rochester Electronics in Newburyport, Mass.; Lansdale Semiconductor in Phoenix; and the Defense Supply Center Columbus, in Columbus, Ohio.

Despite this infrastructure, things fall through the cracks and crucial parts can disappear from trusted, authorized supply channels. That's where bad things can happen. Program managers under intense cost pressures start looking for replacement parts anywhere they can at a reasonable price, which often leads to the gray market or the black market where the counterfeit parts live.

A counterfeit part tends to be a cheap knockoff of an original part. It can look the same and fit the same, but its quality is suspect. Lots of counterfeit parts come from shady manufacturers here and abroad who are trying to make a quick buck. Some of them, however, may have more nefarious intentions in mind.

Counterfeit parts without the proper pedigree and documentation, which come from unauthorized sources, risk containing harmful software or hidden access that might enable an adversary to shut down an important military system, change the system's parameters, or turn these systems against their operators. It's a bad situation that can only get worse over time. Now, though, it looks like the people who have been warning about counterfeit parts might not be alone anymore.

U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) are working together with colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee and launching an investigation into counterfeit parts in the U.S. Department of Defense supply chain. The committee released a statement in March that reads, in part, "Counterfeit parts pose a risk to our national security, the reliability of our weapons systems, and the safety of our military men and women. The proliferation of counterfeit goods also damages our economy and costs American jobs."

The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to call public hearings on the matter of counterfeit electronic parts in the military later this year. It's about time that a problem of this magnitude got the public attention it deserves.

More Military & Aerospace Electronics Current Issue Articles
More Military & Aerospace Electronics Archives Issue Articles


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account.


Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

PC/104 SBC and Peripherals

Kontron PC/104 Standalone Single Board Computers (SBCs) serve in every format, even with consiste...

General Micro "Horizon" C299

The C299 Horizon is a third generation, 6U cPCI SBC module based on GMS’ upgradable CPU technolog...

Rugged Mobile Communications Server

Advanced communications server designed to be deployed in environments where it needs to meet cer...

API DC Link Power Film Capacitors

High reliability DC link capacitors for power inverter applications which require superior life e...

VPX3-453 3U VPX Virtex-6/8640D Digital Signal Processor

The Curtiss-Wright VPX3-453 is a high performance 3U VPX DSP and FPGA processor card that combine...

THINFAN

12- 32 VDC ELECTRONICS COOLING FAN,AEROSPACE PEEK,0.040 KG, 38 dB(A), -55C TO +85C OPERATING, MIL...

Silicones

Master Bond’s silicones are available in both one part and two part versions that offer the advan...

Epoxies

Master Bond offers an extensive range of one and two part epoxies for a variety of applications a...

Light Curing Systems

Master Bond offers a large family of light curing products that cure upon exposure to a UV or LED...

3rd Eye Monitors

AWTI develops rugged, robust monitors that are protected by die cast aluminum housing with the hi...

Related Companies

Kontron

Driving the world’s embedded computing platforms Kontron is a global leader in embedded computing technology.&n...

General Micro Systems Inc

Since 1979, General Micro Systems has been providing the most diverse line of single-board computers in the industry....

Elma Electronic Inc

Who we are...   About Elma Electronic Systems   The Systems division of Elma Electronic Inc. supplies the

API Technologies Corp

Who We Are API Technologies is a dominant technology provider of RF/microwave, microelectronics, and security technol...

Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc (X-ES)

 Extreme Engineering Solutions, Inc. (X-ES) is a leader in the design, manufacture, and support of standard and ...

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions (CWCDS) is a long establish...

Advanced Conversion Technology Inc

ACT designs and manufactures, since 1981, an extensive range of custom AC/DC and DC/DC power supplies (linear, rack-m...

Raycom Electronics

Raycom Electronics, Inc., a subsidiary of Electro Technik Industries (ETI), was incorporated in 1965.  The compa...

Crane Aerospace & Electronics

When failure is NOT an option...rely on Crane Aerospace & Electronics. We supply high-density, high-reliability c...

Omega Engineeering Inc

OMEGA offers more than 100,000 products for measurement and control of temperature, heating, humidity, pressure, stra...
Wire News provided by   

social activity

Webcasts

Meeting the Gen3 backplane challenge with OpenVPX and COTS

Tight Pentagon budgets mean military systems must stay in the field for longer than ever before. This doesn't mean obsolete technology, however. Today's military electronics are being upgraded constantly, an...
Sponsored by:

Digital signal processing for signals intelligence and electronic warfare

Military & Aerospace Electronics presents an expert Webcast on the design considerations for blending general-purposes processors (GPUs), general-purpose graphics processors (GPGPUs), field-programmable ...
Sponsored by:

Design Strategy Considerations for DO-178C Certified Multi-core Systems

Join Wind River to learn how system architecture and design choices can minimize your DO-178C certification challenges.

Sponsored by:

All Access Sponsors

View the 2014 Buyer's Guide Now!


Mil & Aero Magazine

October 2014
Volume 25, Issue 10
file

Download Our Apps



iPhone

iPad

Android

Follow Us On...



Newsletters

Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information
SUBSCRIBE

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers
SUBSCRIBE

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.
SUBSCRIBE

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications
SUBSCRIBE

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles
SUBSCRIBE