Users of a war videogame forum “War Thunder” needed to prove that they were right about the speed of movement of a weapon in a tank, or the details of how a missile works. To this end, confidential documents from the Armed Forces of different countries have been leaked at least six times since 2021.
The last leak, with information about the American F-15E fighter, happened on January 18th — just two days after another user, nicknamed “spacenavy90”, posted a comment on page 48 of a post titled “F -16: History, Performance and Discussion”.
In this publication, on the 16th, the player wrote: “I found something interesting in my research”. Attached is a restricted document from the US Department of Defense with technical specifications for the F-16 fighter.
The classified nature of the document was quickly identified by other users and forum moderators, who deleted the post. But the damage was already done: it was the sixth time that classified information about military equipment had been leaked on the “War Thunder” forums.
The leaks, which have also reached military equipment in the United Kingdom, France and China, are made by players who either seek greater verisimilitude and improvements in the game or to win discussions regarding the technical details of the vehicles. In these cases, the source of the argument used was a confidential document.
In the case of the leak about the F-16, the user claimed that he did not know that it was classified information, and that it would not be strictly confidential, but restricted —different gradations on the US government paper confidentiality scale. Still, under the US penal code, disclosing US secrets can carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine.
One of the main topics of the forum where the documents were leaked is discussing whether certain vehicles that appear in the game should be “buffed” (have their performance improved) or “nerfed” (worse), a common discussion in online games. “War Thunder” is an MMO, a game with dozens of players facing each other simultaneously in which it is possible to pilot war vehicles such as tanks, planes or ships that were or are still used by the Armed Forces of different countries.
The difference is that “War Thunder” is a game for those who also like the technical aspects of these vehicles. Therefore, the game tries to accurately determine how they work, which generates discussions among enthusiasts, such as the speed with which the main weapon of a given tank moves — an issue that gave rise to another leak, this one in October. of 2021, when a user published classified documents from the French Leclerc tank to prove that he was right.
The game is full of details that seek to bring a realistic experience to the player. To destroy enemies, for example, it is not enough to shoot at random in the vehicles until they run out of life points. As there are more and less sensitive regions in them, the destruction caused will depend on the distance and angle of the shot.
As the player achieves objectives and wins matches, he earns coins used to buy new vehicles. The most basic are real models used in the First and Second World Wars, while the more advanced ones, which require more playing time, are from the late 20th century.
On the Steam platform, for PC, “War Thunder” is among the ten games with the highest number of daily players, with about 73 thousand. The title shares space with “Grand Theft Auto V”, “Counter Strike: Global Offensive”, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II” and “FIFA 23”.
Taking into account other platforms —the title is also available for PlayStation and Xbox—, the activeplayer.io website estimates around 900,000 active players daily.
But it’s not just because “War Thunder” is made for nerds who love military discussions that leaks have happened. Many of the players claim to be part of their country’s Armed Forces in real life. In a few minutes of browsing through the German-speaking community on the “War Thunder” forums, the report from Sheet found a user who says he is trained to fly Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks — the same type of vehicle that Germany recently announced it would send to Ukraine in the war against Russia.
The company that develops “War Thunder”, the Hungarian Gaijin Entertainment, prohibits real documents more recent than 1990 from being shared on the forums. In an interview with the specialized aviation website Aerotime Hub, Gaijin founder Anton Yudintsev said that the studio does not use sensitive information to make changes to the game, so leaking documents on the forums would not make sense – in addition to being illegal.
The first known case of such a leak happened in July 2021. A user complaining that the British tank Challenger 2 was not correctly represented in the game posted edited excerpts from the vehicle’s manual to appear as if they were not confidential. The post was deleted after Gaijin contacted the UK Ministry of Defense and confirmed that the document was, in fact, classified.
Of the six cases of leaks so far, five are related to vehicles that exist in the game. The most recent was about a fighter not yet part of “War Thunder”, the F-15E.
The repercussion of leaks on social networks generated a rumor on Reddit that Raytheon Technologies, one of the main US military industries, would be checking whether job candidates play “War Thunder”, at the risk of being disqualified —the company needed come forward to deny the story.
“We only look at a person’s education, jobs and criminal history when hiring. We never look at what video games a person plays and I can’t imagine a case where we would have a concern about any game,” a Raytheon spokesperson told the site. Sports Illustrated.
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