New laws are taking a tough stance on counterfeit parts, requiring defense contractors to establish ways to detect them and keep them out of the military supply chain. For the first time, contractors will be required to absorb the costs of correcting an issue when counterfeit items are discovered.
What can help these companies deal with the problem? Botany, researchers say.
New York-based Applied DNA Sciences is working with the Defense Logistics Agency to use the hereditary traits of plants to keep parts that have been tampered with out of military electronic systems.
“There are lots of stops along the way between a microchip manufacturer and a jet fighter where bad things can happen,” said Janice Meraglia, vice president for military and government programs at Applied DNA Sciences.
Adversaries could make a missile go astray or program a “kill switch” to stop a weapon system cold in the middle of a mission. A missile traveling 20 seconds or 20 feet off its intended course could spell disaster, Meraglia said.
Applied DNA has created botanical marks to authenticate products in a manner that cannot be copied. The company so far has focused on microchips. Researchers have been able to embed complex identification data within a molecule that they can inject into the manufacturing process through inks, plastics, metals and other materials. A microchip encoded with plant DNA can be identified with a handheld device or through a more sophisticated forensic swab. A part marked with the DNA will glow during such an inspection, making it easy to track as it moves through the supply chain.
Plant DNA is more complex than human DNA, Meraglia said. It has been used to mark money overseas and has been cited as evidence in cases against suspects where cash has been stolen in truck robberies. It also is being introduced to the pharmaceutical and textile industries to confirm the validity of medicine and fibers.
“There is a lot of content in a very little DNA,” Meraglia said.