Restricted documents pertaining to the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet have been published on an online forum dedicated to the popular video game, War Thunder.
The game, in which players battle each other with an array of historical and modern military vehicles, has been a source of numerous controversies. Disgruntled gamers have posted classified documents on multiple occasions to convince developers to change the portrayal of a vehicle found in the game.
The latest controversy was sparked by a post published on the game’s forum, created by user spacenavy90 on January 16, 2023.
“Interesting thing I found during my research. During early AMRAAM testing you can see how F-16A would equip the AIM-120 and use TWS on the non-MFD stores control panel “SCP”,” the user said.
A document, which has since been deleted by the moderators of the forum, was attached to the post. A moderator then replied to the post saying that the document contained export-restricted data and, as per US laws, publishing it is banned.
A discussion ensued, according to which the document posted by the user was either a F-16 flight manual or a part of it. While the ‘classified’ status of the manual has expired, the forum’s users argued, its distribution is still restricted and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Without knowing the nature of the document posted, AeroTime could not confirm its status.
A persistent problem
This is not the first reported incident where potentially classified or restricted documents regarding military vehicles have been posted by fans of the game.
The first such instance appears to have taken place in 2021, when excerpts from a British Challenger 2 tank user manual were posted on one of the game’s forums, an attempt made by one user to convince the game’s developers to revamp the in-game model of the tank.
In the coming years, various restricted documents pertaining to French-made Leclerc tanks and Chinese DTC10-125 anti-armor shells were also posted by users, followed up by a host of classified documents regarding China’s latest Type 99 tank.
In addition to tanks, the game’s players also posted restricted documents detailing armor layout on the Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter.
Forum moderators promptly removed the documents in all these cases.
Forum rules have reportedly been modified to ban the behavior. Furthermore, in 2021 Gaijin Entertainment actively reached out to the users of the game, asking them to stop publishing classified documents. However, these efforts appear to have had limited success.
As noted by some reports, at least some of the restricted documents posted by the game’s fans had already been leaked and can be found elsewhere on the internet – a caveat that likely extends to the F-16 flight manuals in question.
However, publication of such documents may still be restricted by national law in some countries, as was the case with the manuals of Leclerc and Challenger tanks.
UPDATE 01-17-2023, 16:20 (UTC +3): According to Anton Yudintsev, the founder of Gaijin Entertainment, the documents contained in the post were considered export restricted and contained information on the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and its use on the F-16.
“We always delete posts containing classified or restricted information from our forum as soon as possible. We forbid our users to share documents like this on our platforms. We remind our users again and again that it’s both illegal and pointless, so they should never do that,” Yudintsev explained in an emailed comment to AeroTime.
“We never use them in our work and that policy will never change. Development team does not even look at the contents of the documents, moderators just check if the information on the military vehicle or armament in question is still classified or not. If the answer is a yes, we delete everything ASAP. Our game developers are never exposed to this information or the user posts that accompany the documents, so they are not influenced in any way by these situations,” Yudintsev added.
UPDATE 01-18-2023, 15:30 (UTC +3): On January 18, 2023, yet another leak happened when a host of restricted data on McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet was posted on War Thunder forum.
UPDATE 01-18-2023, 16:00 (UTC +3): In response to an enquiry from AeroTime, spacenavy90, the user who posted the restricted document, explained that they were not aware of the document’s status and thought it complied with community guidelines.
“These were only a couple screenshots from a document that I found online,” the user said in a message to AeroTime. “I had no clue about the restricted nature of them and Gaijin (War Thunder developer) has a rule that they allow manuals to be posted from 30 years and over so I assumed incorrectly that it was okay to post. When it was found out that they were infact still restricted I communicated immediately with the devs and the post was quickly removed.”