St. Pete defense contractor issues microchip alert - WFLA News Channel 8

St. Pete defense contractor issues microchip alert

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By Mark Douglas

A defense contractor under federal investigation over defective or counterfeit parts issued an international alert Friday because of a "nonconforming" microchip found inside a device designed to save military pilots from drowning.

The contractor's British-based parent company notified customers and investors and recommended replacement of any device equipped with the "nonconforming" microchip.

Cobham Life Support Systems of St. Petersburg, also known as Conax, makes life safety devices called SEAWARS, which release parachutes with an explosive charge when pilots land in water after ejecting.

Cobham spokesman Greg Caires said someone with the U.S. Navy discovered the problem during testing this summer.

The Navy asked Cobham to inspect all SEAWARS devices under production at the company's St. Petersburg facility on 75th Street North.

Caires said only one nonconforming microchip has been found. "There have been no known SEAWARS failures due to this nonconforming chip."

The Navy is the primary customer for SEAWARS, and Caires said Conax shipped 435 of the devices in September after determining none contained suspect parts.

"It is in an absolute abundance of caution that we are making these public statements," he said.

The problem surfaced shortly before the July 15 raid of the St. Peterburg facility by federal and military investigators.

According to the search warrant, the investigators were looking for evidence of defective or counterfeit parts used in SEAWARS and other life safety products made for the military.

Brooke Harris, the resident agent in charge for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, headed up the July raid.

"We are continuing to investigate the matter," Harris said Friday, declining to comment about the "nonconforming" microchip due to the pending criminal probe.

Because of the criminal investigation, Navy officials won't comment on any impact Conax's announcement may have on its fleet of planes.

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