China targeting U.S. military secrets to support arms buildup

Over the past several years, there have been "number of cases of either export control violations or potential espionage" related to the theft of sensitive U.S. military technologies by China, according to a new Pentagon report. 

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The report, released Monday, claims China is leveraging pseudo-academic and defense industry organizations, along with traditional spy craft, to obtain classified and unclassified details of the Defense Department's top weapons programs. 

Beijing's "network of government-affiliated companies and research institutes often enables [China] to access sensitive and dual- use technologies . . . under the guise of civilian research and development," the Pentagon report states. 

Traditional espionage efforts by Chinese military and intelligence officials has allowed the country to "obtain key national security technologies, controlled equipment, and other materials not readily obtainable," the Pentagon review adds. 

David Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, declined to go into specifics regarding the claims made in the DOD report on China. 

"I would say that what we've talked about in the report is about as far as I'd like . . . to say on those particular cases," Helvey told reporters on Monday. 

"We're always mindful of the potential threats to the security of our defense technology and defense systems," he said, declining to identify which American weapon systems had been compromised, due to Chinese espionage. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), head of the Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee, hammered Pentagon officials on the issue in late April. 

Specifically, Manchin pressed DOD leaders in charge of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program on possible leaks of the next-generation fighter's design to China. 

Prototype versions of China's J20 and J31 fighter jets feature a number of particular design characteristics unique to the F-35, Manchin pointed out during the subpanel hearing on the fighter's progress. 

The first J20 took flight in January 2011 flight test while the first J-31 flight test took place in October 2012, according to Helvey. 

Both aircraft are not expected to achieve any real-world combat capability until 2018, he said Monday. 

That said "if the Chinese government can produce in 22 months competitive aircraft, there had to be piracy or espionage," Manchin said in April. 

Air Force Lt. Gen Charles Davis, the top military adviser on Air Force acquisition, said at the time there was "no doubt" a large amount of sensitive information on the JSF design made it into the J20 program "in some shape, form or fashion." 

F-35 chief Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan told Manchin that any classified or unclassified details on the JSF likely came from the industry side of the program. 

"I think over the last few years we have implemented some fairly robust procedures to keep F-35 data within the confines of the Department. I'm a little less confident about industry partners to be quite honest with you," Bogdan said.