In the sixth such case, enthusiastic players of the free online game War Thunder posted sensitive documents of another military platform, this time the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, on the game’s discussion forum.
As usual game company developers and forum admins download material not otherwise rated, but distribution license is still limited.
Penetration of French, British, American and Chinese weapons
Since 2021, War Thunder players have released sensitive information about the British Challenger-2 main tank (MBT), the French Leclerc missile, the Chinese DTC-10215 anti-tank missile, the Type 99 MBT and the Eurocopter attack helicopter.
However, some military observers believe that while the data is sensitive, it does not completely compromise the weapons platform. In addition, private gun manufacturers sometimes advertise the main performance and technical specifications to attract buyers.
These business issues are also intrinsically linked to the spread of the gaming industry, which has been spurred by a boom in military affairs, conflict, and warfare over the past decade.
Players’ motives for posting such material convincing developers or other players of the actual physical characteristics of weapons and expecting this to be reflected in the gameplay experience speaks to this phenomenon.
The game, developed by Budapest-based Gaijin Entertainment, has players fighting with a range of historical and modern military vehicles. A post by user ‘spacenavy90’ on the game’s discussion board on January 16, 2023 sparked the latest controversy.
“An interesting thing I found during my research. During early AMRAAM testing, you could see how an F-16A would equip an AIM-120 and use TWS on a non-MFD shop control panel “SCP,” the user says.
The moderator immediately flagged a “blocked” tag on the document and that his post would be banned before promptly deleting it. Although the restricted nature of the document has expired, its distribution is still controlled and may be construed as a violation of national security laws.
Interestingly, the F-16 is one of the aircraft that Ukraine initially wanted to acquire from the United States to turn its air campaign against Russia from a no-fly mode into an offensive one.
However, US and European allies have long ruled out sending larger strike platforms to prevent escalation of the war and direct involvement in the conflict.
War Thunder has already been exposed to military leaks
The first leak concerns Britain’s CCP Challenger 2. In 2021, a player who identified himself as a commander in Challenger 2 released his user guide to convince the game developers to revamp the in-game tank model and bring it closer to reality.
The document was an Military Equipment Support Bulletin (AESP), a kind of user manual, which has however had the “restricted” label crossed out and stamped “unclassified” and large parts have been redacted. This and the fact that the user claimed to have served at Tidworth – home of the Royal Tank Regiment – meant he was unlikely to lie, and the document was not really considered technically sensitive.
The British Ministry of Defense still replied to Gaijin that the document was kept secret, which was sent by the forum administrator and deleted.
It must be for security reasons. Not to mention, it’s always embarrassing to have a detailed technical specification for an MBT sitting on the Internet, on a platform not as serious as a PC game, for the frivolous desire for more realistic virtual entertainment that undermines someone’s real world and military concerns. Excellent as a tank commander.
Another user, who claimed to have served in a French Army tank unit, followed this up, revealing how fast the French Leclerc S2 turret rotated. However, this is not a very serious revelation as weapons experts and military observers can derive accurate estimates by watching propaganda videos.
Later, the Chinese claimed that DTC10-125 and CCP Type 99 anti-tank missiles were also loaded. This was followed by the release of the Eurocopter Tiger armor design materials. Immediately after the F-16 leak, there was another article about the American F-15E Strike Eagle, which was also deleted by the moderator.
Passion over wisdom
Although Gaijin repeatedly changed the forum rules, communicated with players with warnings, and quickly deleted posts, it was all in vain. Discussions about military technology get heated and heated and push players to prove their point by posting such materials.
The EurAsian Times spoke to a former officer in the Indian Army’s Military Intelligence Corps, who said cyber agencies have long been concerned about espionage through unintentional online revelations.
But these involve foraging for military personnel and other forms of social media phishing. They are looking for information that is not available on the open source internet, so these documents are not very serious.
Documents that are top secret about military projects and that one country doesn’t want other countries to know, won’t be online in the first place and the spy will carry them in a separate USB drive for his handlers. Had it been serious, there would have been reports of game users and military personnel being arrested. »
The former spy isn’t entirely wrong. What has been released so far are user manual type documents that are not essential to a battle plan or how an enemy might counter a piece of military hardware.
Even players who claim to be military, as in the Challenger and Leclerc case, may be private persons with little knowledge of the military administrative terms in which they claimed their service history. But it cannot be ruled out that the game could also become a platform for major operational security breaches (OPSEC), necessitating close monitoring by military authorities of its personnel and online activities.