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By Len Zuga, partner (TBI LLC)


In just two decades massive change in the design, development, testing and distribution of electronics components and software have given consumers nearly limitless, increasingly mobile and vastly more capable complex communications and computing capabilities far more advanced than the most sophisticated military technologies of twenty years ago. Those of us who marveled at the first electronic calculators, then desk top PCs and laptops can hardly keep up with the pace of change that today’s advanced electronics provide to consumers with their smart phones capable of video, data and voice transmission around the world.

Unlike the cold war era of space and military electronics developments with spin offs to consumer applications, the post cold war era has reversed that process with military data processing and communications capabilities now highly dependent on advances in commercial electronics and computing. The increasingly low cost and constantly shrinking electronics emanating from this paradigm shift have benefited militaries around the world through the enabling of network centric warfare and the efficiencies of tail to tooth logistics and battle management. But the dark side to all of this benefit in the shift from high cost, high reliability supply chain management practiced by western military electronics manufacturers up until the COTS era is loss of total supply chain control and the many vulnerabilities and potential failure points in military communications systems today. Likewise, as has been repeatedly illustrated through terrorist activities and insurgency warfare, sophisticated command and control for even the least technologically sophisticated adversary is made available through the creative use of the internet and advanced commercial smart phones at a cost affordable to teenagers about the globe. This paper will address NCW’s electronics hardware and material supply chain vulnerabilities


In 2004 the US Government Accounting (GAO) analyzed the development and production of eleven Department of Defense (DoD) weapon systems and found that defense contractors’ poor practices for systems engineering activities and manufacturing and supplier quality control contributed to billions in cost overruns, years-long delays, and decreased capabilities for the war fighter. In October of 2008 Business week magazine openly addressed the potential consequences Pentagon’s lax supply chain management in its article titled Dangerous Fakes noting that “The American military faces a growing threat of potentially fatal equipment failure—and even foreign espionage—because of counterfeit computer components used in warplanes, ships, and communication networks.” Even counterfeit Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) communications routers made in China and sold to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines over the past four years are considered to be possible facilitators of foreign espionage. The problem is severe enough to warrant an annual industry seminar on counterfeit electronics and supply chain management at the Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE) at the University of Maryland.

The most detailed public report of counterfeit electronics finding their way in to U.S. weapons systems was published by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) in January of 2010. That study found that out of the total of 387 companies and organizations that participated in the 2005 – 2008 research, representing all segments of the supply chain, 39 percent encountered counterfeit electronics during the four-year period. Moreover, information collected highlighted an increasing number of counterfeit incidents being detected, rising from 3,868 incidents in 2005 to 9,356 incidents in 2008. These counterfeit incidents included multiple versions of DOD qualified parts and components. Thus, su

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