WASHINGTON - US officials and defense firms have concluded that Chinese hackers have breached networks containing designs of many advanced US weapons systems, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The Post, citing a confidential report prepared for the Pentagon, said the breaches were part of a broad Chinese campaign of espionage against US defense contractors and government agencies.
The newspaper said the Defense Science Board, a senior advisory group with government and civilian experts, said the systems breached included the designs for two dozen major weapons systems critical to US missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships.
The Pentagon had no immediate comment to an AFP query on the report.
According to The Post, the advisory report stopped short of accusing the Chinese of stealing the designs, but the conclusions help explain the ramped-up US warnings to the Chinese government.
It said the breaches gave China access to advanced technology and could weaken the US military advantage in the event of a conflict.
A public version of the report disclosed in January said the United States is ill-prepared in the case of a full-scale cyberwar.
The Post said it obtained a confidential version of the report with a list of the designs hacked including the advanced Patriot missile system; an Army system for shooting down ballistic missiles; and the Navy's Aegis ballistic-missile defense system.
Also breached, according the daily were designs for combat aircraft and ships, including the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter and the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ship.
Another program on the list is the massive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to the Post, which had been subject to a previous computer intrusion dating back to 2007.
If the report is accurate, "it means the US military is less effective and the Chinese military is more effective," said James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"It tilts the balance."
Lewis said it was not clear when these breaches took place, but noted that "people did wake up to this issue in the last couple of years and made it harder."
But he said that "between 1999 and 2009 it was an open door for Chinese (cyber) espionage."
According to The Post, the systems whose designs were breached included those built by major defense contractors including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
Hacking accusations have strained ties between Washington and Beijing. Earlier this year, the New York Times and other American media outlets reported they had come under hacking attacks from China, and a US congressional report last year named the country as "the most threatening actor in cyberspace."
China has called the charges groundless and state media have accused Washington of making China a scapegoat to deflect attention from US economic problems.
A separate report Tuesday by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said Chinese hackers had stolen top-secret blueprints of the country's new intelligence agency headquarters.
The report said the documents taken in the cyber hit included cable layouts for the huge building's security and communications systems, its floor plan and its server locations.