Last Tuesday, Lockheed Martin, the advanced technology defense company, released a statement that it has made significant investments in cyber security, given the fact that "program information resides in a large cyber ecosystem."

Lockheed is not alone in having cyber security concerns. Other top defense contractors are declining to say whether their systems have been breached but it's obvious they realize that it poses a serious risk to their business.

In its annual report last year, Northrop Grumman said that cyber intrusions "could damage our reputation and lead to financial losses from remedial actions, loss of business or potential liability." Randy Belote, a company spokesman, stated that "the number of attempts to breach our networks (is) increasing at an alarming rate."

The cyber espionage threat to the U.S. military's high-tech programs is occurring more frequently, according to a Defense Science Board report that was released earlier this year but only now is under public scrutiny. It shows that China used cyber attacks to access data from nearly 40 Pentagon weapons programs.

"In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military," the report states.

Among the programs breached were the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon, a land-based missile defense system that was recently deployed to Guam to help counter the North Korean threat; the MV-22 Osprey, which can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane; the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

The cyber theft not only allows the Chinese to keep pace or block America's technological advantages, it could also allow them to exploit the stolen secrets should a conflict erupt with the U.S. in the Asia Pacific region.

Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute on Asia security issues, was alarmed by the news that some of our most advanced military technology has been breached.

"That's staggering. These are all very critical weapons systems, critical to our national security. When I hear this in totality, it's breathtaking," Stokes said.

China, or any other nation or rogue group intent on cracking into our defense security, can carry out cyber espionage on a low budget. The intellectual property losses to the U.S., meanwhile, are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

President Barack Obama has been soft when it comes to dealing with the Chinese hackers and cyber security experts feel it's time to get tougher with more sanctions or other punishments. The issue should be a prime concern when Obama meets with with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week.

Shawn Henry, former cyber director at the FBI and now president of CrowdStrike Services, a security technology company, says "there are no sanctions, no diplomatic actions, no financial disincentives." The president would be wise top listen to his cyber military experts who are sounding alarm flags now.

Another current senior military official described the Chinese cyber espionage in more blunt terms.

"This is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China. They've just saved themselves 25 years of research and development. It's nuts," he said.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com