Preventing Counterfeit Military Equipment: Protecting Property and Lives

On June 16th, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Combating Military Counterfeits Act (S.1228) into the Senate, co-sponsored by Senators McCain (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC) and Coons (D-DE). This bill would help prevent and punish the sale of counterfeit supplies and equipment to the Armed Services. In doing so, it would protect both the intellectual property of those who supply the military and the safety of military personnel who depend on the reliability of their equipment on a daily basis.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Sen. Whitehouse explained that the bill would increase the penalties for those caught supplying counterfeit military goods and passing these imitation goods off as being approved for use by the US military.

There are at least four good reasons that this bill is earning bipartisan support. First, there is the simple issue of safety and reliability. Military goods must meet exacting specifications for use in the stressful conditions encountered in the field. Obviously, no such standards have been met by counterfeit goods. To cite two simple examples, Senator Whitehouse described instances of the military being sold imitation Kevlar body armor, which does not provide the same level of protection as the genuine Kevlar demanded. A second example is that the military has been sold faulty chips for missile defense systems, which, since they do not meet the stress tolerance requirements of the actual chips, decrease the reliability of the system by up to 15%.

A second reason to support this bill is that in the case of electronics, imitation equipment may be more vulnerable to cyber-attacks than the genuine equipment. This is a particular concern since much of the counterfeit equipment originates in China. Third, the cost of locating and replacing the counterfeit equipment, particularly if it is a component of a larger weapons system, can be substantial, draining defense resources.

As if these reasons were not enough to support this bill, there is a final concern – intellectual property rights. Every time a criminal sells a counterfeit product to the military, they steal from the legitimate developers and manufacturers of military equipment. The defense industry is among the most research-intensive, and create some of the best-paying manufacturing and research jobs of any economic sector. Depriving these producers of their lawful intellectual property is bad for property rights, bad for national security, endangers the lives of soldiers, and needlessly costs taxpayer dollars. It is therefore not surprising that this bill has gained bipartisan support.