Counterfeit parts: problem with military electronics designs finally getting attention on Capitol Hill

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller .

Maybe the magnitude of the problem has finally sunk in among U.S. political leaders at the highest levels. I'm talking about the scourge of high-tech -- namely counterfeit electronic parts that have been finding their way into military and aerospace electronics and have the potential to compromise U.S. national security.

Counterfeit electronic components pop up in military and other mission-critical systems when sources for these parts dry up, or if systems integrators are under such financial pressures that they turn to the unreliable sources of electronic parts to cut costs.

The problem threatens at least parts of substandard or unreliable quality that could cause critical military systems to malfunction at the worst possible time. At worst, counterfeit parts could contain software or other back doors that might enable enemies to disable them during periods of conflict.

Now the problem has grown such that it is getting the attention of powerful leaders on Capitol Hill -- one of them a recent presidential candidate.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., are launching a congressional investigation into counterfeit electronic parts in the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) supply chain. The bipartisan team of lawmakers released a statement Thursday that reads:

"The Senate Armed Services Committee has initiated an investigation into counterfeit electronic parts in the Department of Defense's supply chain. Counterfeit electronic 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 presence of counterfeit electronic parts in the Defense Departments supply chain is a growing problem that government and industry share a common interest in solving. Over the course of our investigation, the Committee looks forward to the cooperation of the Department of Defense and the defense industry to help us determine the source and extent of this problem and identify possible remedies for it."

The problem of counterfeit parts has received attention in corners of prime U.S. defense contractors, as well as from electronic parts suppliers and distributors.

Perhaps now the problem will get the attention -- and perhaps the resolution -- that it truly deserves.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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