According to a report by The Washington Post, the breaches occurred in January and February of 2018. The Chinese hackers compromised a contractor who had been hired by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. The Rhode Island-based military organization focuses on researching and developing submarines and naval weapons. Navy officials have not publicly identified the contractor.
The stolen information was technically unclassified when isolated, but could be potentially considered “classified” when combined. The data included information about Project Sea Dragon and naval codes. The Navy is leading the investigation and is aided by officials from the FBI.
Sources state that the Navy is especially concerned about the stolen information related to the Sea Dragon project. The Sea Dragon project was formed by the Department of Defense in 2012. The Pentagon has revealed little information about the project except that it integrates “an existing weapon system with an existing Navy platform” and boasts a “disruptive offensive capability”. General Dynamics Electric Boat was awarded a contract for Sea Dragon in 2016. The Department of Defense has spent more than $300 million since 2015 and had been planning on testing the project in September 2018.
Many suspect that the Sea Dragon project focuses on submarines. General Dynamics Electric Boat has been the primary producer of submarines for the United States Navy for more than one hundred years. It also has an outfitting facility a little over twenty miles away from the headquarters of the the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
Bryan Clark, a naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, remarked, “U.S. naval forces are going to have a really hard time operating in that area, except for submarines, because the Chinese don’t have a lot of anti-submarine warfare capability.” He argued that submarines would be necessary in the early stages of a war with China. It is feared that China has already developed or stolen naval technology that can rival American capabilities. The United States and China have recently been fighting over trade issues, like the now-lifted export ban of ZTE, negotiations with North Korea, and the Chinese militarization of islands in the South China Sea.
There is currently little available information about the investigation. Navy spokesperson Lt. Marycate Walsh stated that “it would be inappropriate to discuss further details at this time.” The FBI has refused to comment on the investigation.