Pentagon worried about fake weapons parts from overseas

The Pentagon on Tuesday said U.S. weapons manufacturers run the risk of getting fake parts each time they work with foreign contractors.

The startling statement from Pentagon spokesman George Little followed the release of a Senate report that put the blame for counterfeit parts in U.S. weapons systems squarely on China’s shoulders.

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During a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon, Little argued the problem is broader than China, and that the opportunity for fake parts to be built into American systems can arise “from any part of the supply chain.”

Little’s comments come the same day a Senate report commissioned by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) tagged China as the “dominant source” of counterfeit parts.

Levin said a “flood of counterfeit parts, overwhelmingly from China, threatens national security, the safety of our troops and American jobs.”

The report “underscores China's failure to police the blatant market in counterfeit parts, a failure China should rectify,” Levin added in a committee statement released Tuesday.

Little said the issue of fake Chinese parts in American weapons was not brought up during recent talks between Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie in early May.

Of the hundreds of cases where fake electronic parts were uncovered in U.S. weapons by DOD investigators, roughly 70 percent could be traced back to Chinese manufacturers, the Senate report said.

Canada and the United Kingdom came in behind China as top sources of fake weapons system parts, according to the report.

McCain argued the problem has only gotten worse as manufacturers of counterfeit parts have become more adept at ducking DOD efforts to verify the validity of weapons parts.

“The Department of Defense and its contractors must attack this problem more aggressively, particularly since counterfeiters are becoming better at shielding their dangerous fakes from detection,” McCain said.

It is unclear whether Levin or McCain will push legislation on the issue into the fiscal 2013 defense bill being debated by the Senate defense committee this week.

It is unlikely the Senate could force federal mandates limiting or barring outright Chinese industries from participating in DOD programs, since any such limits would be considered illegal by the World Trade Organization.

—This story was posted at 4:16 p.m. and updated at 5:04 p.m.