The Department of Defense (DoD) relies on a large network of global suppliers for parts used in communication and weapon systems. In Fiscal Year 2014, the DoD managed more than 4.7 million parts at a cost of over $96 billion. All of these parts are at risk of being counterfeited, which can affect the integrity of systems, delay missions and endanger the lives of service members. Experts at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) help the nation avoid these dangers by developing and maintaining systems to detect and avoid counterfeit parts in the DoD’s supply chain.
Counterfeit parts have been covertly modified to appear to be new, reliable parts when in fact they may be used, substandard parts that are highly susceptible to premature failure. The primary motivation for counterfeiting is profit, but the parts may also be susceptible to malicious tampering. A Senate Armed Services Committee report for Fiscal Year 2015 included a provision for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the DoD’s efforts to address vulnerabilities to counterfeit parts after Congress raised questions about the DoD’s ability to report on counterfeit or suspect counterfeit parts. The GAO’s assessment praised NSWC Crane as a facility that is leading the way to mitigate these risks by providing testing and other support for preventing counterfeit parts from entering Navy and Missile Defense Agency systems since 2009, investigating more than 3,000 parts.
“We’re microelectronics experts who are heavily engaged in the counterfeit parts issue and we play a vital role in helping the nation overcome this threat,” said Global Deterrence and Defense Department Director Ben Harkness, adding that personnel perform more than 24 types of electrical and physical tests to authenticate and analyze parts.
NSWC Crane works with DoD organizations, the intelligence community and suppliers in acquiring and analyzing newly discovered forms of counterfeiting to identify emerging threats, such as a trend in which exact copies of electronic parts not supplied by the original manufacturer are reverse-engineered from stolen intellectual property. “The collective capability at NSWC Crane is unique in the DoD and fulfills a crucial role in ensuring our customers’ systems are reliable,” explained NSWC Crane Chief Strategist for Strategic Missions Brad Secrest.
NSWC Crane has helped perform audits and assessments of more than 60 independent distributors and defense contractors to evaluate their capabilities to avoid, detect and report counterfeit electronic parts. NSWC Crane Chief Engineer for Trusted Microelectronics Brett Hamilton explained that personnel are also assessing the extent to which counterfeit electronic parts cause failures in deployed systems. “Unreliable microelectronics put our warfighters and their missions at risk, so it’s absolutely critical we understand the impact on system readiness if they are not detected beforehand,” said Hamilton.