A supplier of software used in machine tools at United Launch Alliance's rocket factory turned out to be partially owned by Chinese interests, ULA's CEO Tory Bruno said on a virtual fireside chat aired Sept. 15 during the Air Force Association's Air Space Cyber Conference.
Bruno revealed the incident in a pre-recorded video in response to a question from Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of the U.S. Space Force.
Thompson noted that China has been known to steal U.S. intellectual property and exfiltrate sensitive data from systems "to catch up and move forward quickly" in the development of advanced technology. China is "working their way into our supply chains. What are you all doing about that?" Thompson asked Bruno.
Bruno said the Chinese-owned vendor identified in ULA's supply chain was a provider of software for tools used to manufacture the company's next-generation rocket Vulcan Centaur. Because the issue was detected quickly, no sensitive information was extracted by that supplier, Bruno said.
The Pentagon has shown growing concern about the problem and continues to impose cybersecurity requirements on contractors. "But I have to tell you this is just shocking in terms of the scale and ubiquity of this threat and this effort on the part of China to not only gain access to intellectual property through traditional means — hacking or espionage — but through infiltration of the supply chain," Bruno said.