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U.S. Waived Laws To Keep F-35 On Track With China-made Parts 348

Posted by Soulskill
from the boondoggle-that-won't-die dept.
An anonymous reader sends this report from Reuters: "The Pentagon repeatedly waived laws banning Chinese-built components on U.S. weapons in order to keep the $392 billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter program on track in 2012 and 2013, even as U.S. officials were voicing concern about China's espionage and military buildup. According to Pentagon documents reviewed by Reuters, chief U.S. arms buyer Frank Kendall allowed two F-35 suppliers, Northrop Grumman Corp and Honeywell International Inc, to use Chinese magnets for the new warplane's radar system, landing gears and other hardware. Without the waivers, both companies could have faced sanctions for violating federal law and the F-35 program could have faced further delays."
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U.S. Waived Laws To Keep F-35 On Track With China-made Parts

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  • by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:39AM (#45865209)

    There's a lot of electronic parts in those planes. Seriously, where do you get the electronic components to run a modern warplane if not from China this last decade?

    • The US has numerous fabs and electronics manufacturing facilities. I suspect this was done to help alleviate the job slaughtering and cost inflation caused by economic uncertainty and the fiscal cliff, related to Congress's inability to pass a budget.

      The budget has become Congress's albatross, and has far reaching implications in the defense industry.
    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:44AM (#45865233) Homepage Journal

      Did you not even read TFS? Electronics weren't being imported, rare-earth magnets were. We're still capable of building our own electronics, we just can't do it as cheaply as the Chinese.

      • Absolutely! The US can and does still produce their own electronics. As for "cheap", that's changed. The West has moved enough jobs offshore that we have created salary competition in China (even though their education in science and engineering still sux). It's rather like what we did for India around software development and call centers a decade ago. Cost parity between formerly cheap East and formerly expensive West has been achieved.

        • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:28PM (#45865483)

          I build electronic things and I have yet to see a single transistor or other part with a 'made in usa' designation.

          go to the usual supply houses and find some for me, ok? mouser, digikey, newark, jameco, etc. go browse for common parts like resistors, chips, caps, diodes, etc. find me any significant amount of those common yet important parts that are made here.

          some of you are quoting wiki, but having been in the electronics industry for several decades, I have yet to see any modern parts (other than specialized stuff) being made here at the component level.

          go and prove me wrong. but I'd need to see more than 'wiki' to believe it. every part I have used that I bought from a distributor is made overseas. 100% of them. and I've been doing this for a long, long time - longer than many of you have been alive.

          I do try to find US made parts but I have to go to a surplus store and buy stuff from the 50's and 60's to find 'new old stock'. anything from the 80's onward (roughly) is outsourced. everyone knows it, too, who is in the industry.

          • Mouser, Digikey, Newark, Jameco basically sell 'generic' electronics. Suitable for every day use. If you want American sourced products, be prepared to pay and be prepared to source them differently. None of those parts distributors could make it on the prices one expects to pay for USA! stuff. Interestingly, though, a quick look through Thomas Register failed to find any distributor that sells predominantly US made components. It may be such a small market that only the people that need to know have th

          • by Bite The Pillow (3087109) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:42PM (#45866243)

            I'm sure if there are sourcers for purchasing military approved reading Slashdot, and they happen to read your comment, and are allowed to post such information, you will feel stupid. Until then you have basically said "I operate in completely different circles" much like using your social connections to prove Kardashians don't exist because they are not at your gatherings.

            In other words, your industry sounds like consumer goods, not military hardware. Consumers won't pay domestic prices, military sourcing will. Ergo, I give your first hand experience zero relevance.

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          Cost parity between formerly cheap East and formerly expensive West has been achieved.

          Umm, no it hasn't:
          1. In countries in the formerly cheap East, they don't have pesky environmental or labor laws (or at least nothing effective), so unlike the West they (for example) don't have to pay extra when they work people 7x16 hours a week instead of 5x8 (or 5x7).
          2. If there really was parity, right now there'd be a glut of electronics manufacturing jobs in the West for goods for export to the East. That has demonstrably not happened.
          3. In India, an average software developer earns about Rs400,000 a

      • Did you not even read TFS? Electronics weren't being imported, rare-earth magnets were. We're still capable of building our own electronics, we just can't do it as cheaply as the Chinese.

        DO they currently manufacture LCD displays in the USA? At all?

      • by citizenr (871508)

        Did you not even read TFS? Electronics weren't being imported, rare-earth magnets were. We're still capable of building our own electronics, we just can't do it as cheaply as the Chinese.

        Why do you think they used Chinese magnets? Do you believe those were magic unique magnets that only China can make? or that they were simply cheaper?
        Now that they got the waiver they will use more cheap Chinese parts.

        • by ppanon (16583)
          Apparently you are blissfully unaware that China used predatory pricing on rare-earth metals to put every other non-Chinese rare-Earth mine out of business or mothballed quite a few years back, and then parlayed that into a monopoly in powerful magnet production [oilprice.com] by squeezing out every other manufacturer once they had the monopoly on the raw materials.
    • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning.netzero@net> on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:45AM (#45865241) Homepage Journal

      It sort of shows how vulnerable America really is in terms of being able to wage a major war, and how badly the U.S. Congress has sold out the American people with it encouragement of outsources manufacturing outside of America. Sure, there are many reasons why electronics companies in particular no longer manufacture their components or devices in America any more (where at one time 100% of all ICs were made in America on a global basis), but a great deal has to do with both treaties that Congress has ratified and specific trade policies that have basically gutted the manufacturing base in America.

      I guess we shouldn't go to war against China, as we would be literally destroying our own factories.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bartles (1198017)
        You left out tax policy, environmental policy, and labor policy as well. Those are more responsible for gutting the manufacturing base. I speak as a manufacturer.
        • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:31PM (#45865505)

          Right. If only we'd allow you to pay an even more miniscule tax rate, use slave labor, and dump your toxic waste into the public water supply you could be more competitive. Forgive me if I'm not sympathetic.

          A proper response would be not to weaken local regulations, but to impose tariffs on imported goods manufactured in conditions exploiting such socialized costs. Of course that would likely start a trade war with China, which we can ill afford. So perhaps we should encourage public shaming of domestic companies that import products with such an unfair advantage?

          • Of course that would likely start a trade war with China, which we can ill afford.

            Start a trade war? We've been in a trade war with China for many years, but only one side has been fighting it. As for who would be hurt worse if we started fighting back, it would be China. It would mean the loss of a major market for them, but we would benefit from bringing back some of our manufacturing and R&D. It's been sold out for the short term benefit of a small group of people that does not include you and me. I don't think we should try and make low end products in the US though, but there a

          • by Bartles (1198017)
            Right, because that's the only alternative to policies that destroy american manufacturing. Miniscule tax rates, slave labor, and toxic water supplies. I'll forgive a mistake but not willful idiocy. Destructive regulations, punitive tariffs, and public shaming. Yes. That sounds like a country I want to live in. What flavor of authoritarian do you consider yourself?
          • by Bartles (1198017)
            It should also be noted, that you don't allow me to do anything. The people give consent to be taxed and regulated. If that consent is abused, it can also be revoked. There's a few ways that can happen. It generally doesn't work out well for the people that think it is their job to "allow" people to be successful.
      • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:30PM (#45865499)

        F-35's are not for "major wars". It's bleeding edge, horribly expensive multi-role aircraft that does none of the roles well. The ill-founded claims by its manufacturers that it is "eight times more effective in air-to-ground combat" is pointless since it is almost 10 times as expensive to build and operate as a more specifically ground combat focused aircraft. The "build a core design and bolt on different components for different roles" has led to a variety of tragic design flaws that have been incredibly expensive to address for all its different variations. It's also a complete maintenance nightmare: the redesigns needed to reduce the weight, after it was enlarged to hold more weapons and provide larger engines, has led to customized parts that no one else uses, on the very edge of the strength/weight tradeoff to keep the weight down. So they fail, frequently, and are very expensive to replace. When confronted with various design flaws, such as the extremely por cockpit visibility leading to trivial destruction by cheaper aircraft in combat, Boing's suggestion that "that pilots worried about being shot down should fly cargo aircraft instead"

        There is no chance that this aircraft will have the reliability and longevity of many existing models of current US aircraft, which means incredible ongoing costs in repairing and replacing expensive aircraft that can never be used at their full capabilities_. They are displacing budgets for manpower (needed for ground warfare and holding territory, as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan), supply craft (for keeping troops and warcraft supplied), base maintenance (to train and equip men and machines), and drones (which are far cheaper and more effective than modern aircraft at targeteed strikes). The best thing that could happen for the US milatary with this aircraft is to pull the plug on it _now_, throw 1/3 of money into a rebuild and oversupply of more conventional aircraft, use 1/3 the budget to build newer, more specifically suited aircraft for each military branch instead of a Swiss Army Aircraft, and use the remaining 1/3 for manpower support. America is short on the ground troops and personnel to run the several occupying wars we're in the midst of.

    • You get them made from your own designs in Taiwan, which is not exactly PRC.

    • Given that the aircraft contains hundreds of thousands of parts, I'd be willing to bet more than just a few "China" parts have slipped in. It's one thing if it's some $10,000 part...but for a handful of $2 magnets (which if we did go to war with China could be found in stockrooms all across the US) who cares. Don't get me wrong - this should be avoided. It happened as an oversight and a waiver was granted. Thats the kind of thing waivers are for. We don't need Uncle Sam spending $100K to replace $2 mag
      • by glavenoid (636808) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:00PM (#45865333) Journal

        ..but for a handful of $2 magnets (which if we did go to war with China could be found in stockrooms all across the US) who cares

        I do. They're probably counterfeit magnets made out of melamine and lead paint, and they probably don't even have a south pole...

      • It isn't just a question of a few foreign parts slipping in. Counterfeit military grade parts have been an ongoing scandal for decades. In some cases the parts have not received mandatory testing, in others the parts have been inferior and have failed in use.
    • You get them from the US. There a number of domestic fabs pumping out military parts. You also don't need, or even want, cutting edge electronics because of the need for high reliability over wide temperature extremes and radiation exposure. This allows domestic production without the need for billion dollar manufacturing facilities.

    • by plopez (54068)

      Jobs are a major argument for military boondoggles. So much for that argument.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:40AM (#45865213)

    And maybe better for national security.

  • Do the Russians also make their war machines using components from potential rivals or is this purely an American thing?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:59AM (#45865317)

      "Components. American components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!"

    • It's not an American thing, that's why there is a law. It had to be waived because unimportant parts from the supply chain were not domestic-only, and replacing the parts on principal is a stupid waste of time and money.
      I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you. This is the best I can do. I'm pulling for ya, kid- just hang in there.

  • Exaggeration much? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nemyst (1383049) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @11:47AM (#45865249) Homepage
    Assuming that there is any sort of provision to waive the restriction under chosen circumstances (and if there aren't, then the law could use a bit of a fixing), we're talking about magnets here. This isn't as though they're using a whole PCB from China with their firmware or something. Magnets. You can't do much spying with a piece of metal. If the random testing they do on all components anyway passes, I don't see any reason to find this problematic. China already has a near monopoly on rare earth materials so it's not particularly surprising that this is happening.

    The good thing to do would be to try to plan ahead and develop internal facilities so that eventually it's roughly breaking even to use US magnets instead. The danger isn't in the magnets but in the dependency on another country.
  • ...where we'd outsourced defense materials to the Soviet Union. That would rightfully be called "freaking insane."

    This isn't too different.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      During the height of the cold war, around the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the US built the SR-71, which was designed to spy on the Soviet Union, out of titanium supplied *by* the Soviet Union, which at the time had a near-monopoly on titanium.

      • Out of temporary necessity, the titanium was bought through third parties without the USSR knowing what it was being used for. The supply situation was also rectified ASAP.

      • by PPH (736903)

        We could have bought it from Canada. Had we not fucked over their military aircraft program for the benefit of US arms manufacturers. That ill will must run deep for us to have to turn to Russia for our supply.

    • by codegen (103601)
      During the latter part of the cold war, some older search radars used by the US and Canada used vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes were no longer manufactured in western countries and were only manufactured in Czechoslovakia which was part of the communist block at the time.
    • I don't know how true this is/was, but I read a story about the Soviets sourcing natural gas pumping systems from the U.S. (potentially stealing, not sure...) anyway, U.S. intelligence got wind of it and planted malicious control software in the systems - made a big, expensive boom.

      This was "Cold War" stuff, we have too much active trade with China to be doing stuff to actively hurt them.

  • the parts they sourced seem pretty harmless and they are only doing this for the test phase... the main production will be all US parts and again these weren't secret parts.

    • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice&gmail,com> on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:08PM (#45865381)

      The F-35 is already in production and has been for several years - its in a phase called Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) and the aircraft produced under is are indeed final production examples (barring any rework needed) rather than test aircraft.

      100 production standard aircraft have been produced to date.

      • Do you think we gave the chinese compromising technical knowledge of the plane by sourcing some magnets from chinese companies?

        I don't.

        I think for FUTURE planes they should be sourced entirely from US production. But since they made a stupid mistake they should just leave the chinese parts alone assuming they were accurate when they said it was only simple non-classified parts.

        • Do you think we gave the chinese compromising technical knowledge of the plane by sourcing some magnets from chinese companies?

          I never said the US were giving any technical knowledge away, I was merely pointing out that the F-35 program is well past just "testing" airframes at this point, so your assertion that "they are only doing this for the test phase... the main production will be all US parts" is completely false.

    • I believe the magnets could be called a "rare commodity" - something that we should probably be buying from overseas in bulk to help keep it expensive for everyone else. There are U.S. sources, but why use up those when you can reduce other countries' supply instead?

  • Magnaquench (Score:5, Informative)

    by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:02PM (#45865339)

    Wasn't it a clever idea to let Magnaquench be sold to China? For those unfamiliar with it Magnaquench was one of, if not the, pioneer in rare earth magnets, and their use in various applications, including military. Here are links to articles about it in two websites that are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Anything that the Heritage Foundation and DailyKos agree on is definitely worth considering.

    http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2008/05/magnequench-cfius-and-chinas-thirst-for-us-defense-technology [heritage.org]

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/05/03/508203/-Magnaquench-160-Weapon-technology-with-a-bow-on-it [dailykos.com]

  • Laws like this are generally only enforced when it is convenient for those that make the rules. When they are no longer convenient, they go out the window.
  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:39PM (#45865527)

    If you think the magnet thing is bad, how do you feel about G.E. to Share Jet Technology With China in New Joint Venture [nytimes.com]? No dual use there, right? An easy field to develop expertise in, right? Which explains why the three major Western jet engine manufacturers (GE, Pratt-Whitney and Rolls-Royce), have been in control of the field since WWII. This is not something you figure out overnight. It's also no secret that jet engines are the biggest obstacle to developing "all Chinese" fighters.

  • ...the contractors "saving face". Reliability and performance are secondary considerations, at best. Color me unsurprised.
  • China vs. Japan (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fnord666 (889225) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @12:40PM (#45865535) Journal
    I like the part where the article's headline specifically calls out the Chinese sourced magnets even though in three of the four violations cited the magnets came from Japan, not China.
  • When the request for parts comes in, or on the bill of sale for that matter, I wonder if it says "Lockheed Martin". Or if they use another company to purchase the parts. It's not like the Chinese are building engines and navigation systems for the F-35. If they don't know what the parts are for, this might not be so bad. If they do know, that is bad. Of course, now that it's a story on the internet, I suppose the cat's out of the bag anyway - which I am not comfortable with.
  • From the article it seems that the US is not using any electrical equipment from China. The waiver seems to be for raw materials needed for the plane like magnets and specialty metals for the landing gear.
  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @01:29PM (#45865775) Journal

    When the shit hits the fan and a US pilot is in a dogfight with a Chinese pilot, and the Chinese pilot throws the switch which tuns off the magnets in the US plane...

    • by ka9dgx (72702)

      They thought the Civil war in the US would be over in an afternoon. People rushed into WWI, because the didn't want to miss it. The Germans thought they could roll through and capture Russia before taking over England, etc, repeating the mistake of Napoleon.

      It's not about the first weeks of war... it's about the long fight that they all turn into... sure, we could have millions of cheap fancy Chinese made gizmos in our arsenal... but what happens if the war lasts long enough to need resupply?

  • by plopez (54068) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @01:43PM (#45865855) Journal

    The F-35 is a huge threat to US security. It is bankrupting the nation, incapable of doing the job, and every squadron that adopts it becomes immediately non-operational due to all of its problems. If a foreign government did this to the US the cruise missiles would have been launched long ago. Kill the program!.

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:12PM (#45866029) Homepage

      What? Are you crazy? Putting a stop to the F-35 would end a large component of the American Way of Life (TM) - taking ridiculous sums of taxpayer money to pay a small set of favored contracting companies to build a bunch of military stuff at ridiculously inflated prices that may or may not work, in exchange for bribes^Hcampaign donations to the politicians who made the decision to engage in this policy.

      This policy isn't about protecting the American people, and hasn't been since at least 1989.

  • I told you this would happen [slashdot.org] last year.

  • The US has no national interest in Asian wars. (Any war which does not benefit the general public is recreational.)

    If China's rich neighbors want it restrained, they ought to arm themselves with nuclear weapons and be ready to implement MAD, for nothing else but will to exterminate your existential enemy even if you die where you stand restrains serious foes.

    The US military-industrial complex is not concerned with the national debt so it is delighted at being built up even when it defends one set of our eco

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @04:11PM (#45866653) Homepage

    On December 19, 2013, Molycorp started up their rare earths separation plant. [miningweekly.com] It's in Mountain Pass, California. So now there's a US source.

    It's not that the US lacks rare earth metal resources. It's that, until recently, China was a cheaper supplier. Then the goverment of China tried to keep the price up and insisted that Chinese companies sell motors and other completed products, not raw materials. Some rare earth metal prices shot up by a factor of 20. So the Mountain Pass mine, closed in 2002, was cranked up again, this time with new equjpiment better pollution controls.

    Pollution controls for a rare earth mine are a big deal. "Rare earths" are present in low concentrations, which means that a mine generates a small amount of product and huge amounts of toxic sludge. The big rare earths mine in China has the world's largest sludge pond, and it leaks. [nytimes.com] This created an environmental disaster area for tens of kilometers around. Villages have had to be evacuated because of sludge pond leaks. The Mountain Pass, California mine is less than a mile from I-15 between Barstow and Las Vegas. The US EPA, California regulatory authorities, and the Sierra Club [desertreport.org] all had to be satisfied that this project wouldn't create a big mess. That was done.

    Now Molycorp complains that smuggling of rare earths out of China is pushing the price down, but they're digging them up, processing, and shipping them. Problem solved.

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