On June 8, the Biden administration sanctioned three U.S. companies for sending drawings and technical drawings of satellite and rocket technology and other defence prototypes to China.

US Department of Commerce has blocked the three companies – Quicksilver Manufacturing Inc., Rapid Cut LLC and US Prototype Inc. – from exporting goods abroad for 180 days. The penalty, known as a temporary restraining order, is considered to be among the most severe civil sanctions available to the department.

These companies provide 3D printing services to customers, including space and defence technology manufacturers.

The trade department says customers would send drawings and drawings of what they printed to these companies, which in turn would send that work to China, presumably to reduce costs.

That transaction would have required the approval of the U.S. government, but no permission was requested, the Department of Commerce said.

“Outsourcing 3-D printing of space and defence prototypes to China is harming US national security,” said Matthew Axelrod, an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement, in a statement. “By sending their customers’ technical drawings and drawings to China, these companies may have saved a few dollars – but they did so at the collective expense of protecting American military technology.”

The 11-page order from the Ministry of Commerce does not claim that the cartoons were exploited by the Chinese military, but it does say the actions present “serious national security concerns”.

The Commerce Department used corporate clients to check their records to ensure that their intellectual property was not compromised.

The latest incident could be equivalent to serving the sensitive US military technology on the plate to China, which for years has been engaged in various forms of espionage with the aim of stealing classified US military information, which includes technological secrets about advanced US military platforms.

Chinese Espionage

China has been accused by the United States of having built its advanced fighter jets, the J-20 and FC-31, based on the stolen technology from the US F-35 fighter jet.

Chinese hackers allegedly stole many terabytes of data related to the F-35 program, including information about the F-35’s radar design, engine, etc.

In addition, the Chinese hackers also appear to have obtained material regarding the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor and B-2 Stealth bombers, as well as space-based laser, missile control and tracking systems and designs for nuclear submarines and anti-air missiles.

In addition to hackers, China also used some traditional espionage tools to obtain B-2 Stealth technology. In 2005, an Indian-American engineer, Noshir Gowadia found provide assistance to the development of Chinese stealth technology using the knowledge he had acquired from his involvement in the early stages of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

Gowadia was angry about not being involved in the project in future phases and therefore decided to start his own consulting firm.

He admitted many of the allegations that federal investigators raised against him, even though he claimed he had only used declassified materials. A jury disagreed and Gowadia was sentenced to 32 years in prison, disappointing prosecutors who had sought life in prison.

In another case, a Chinese-born naturalized U.S. citizen, Chi Mak, was found guilty in 2007 of conspiring to export sensitive defence technology to China. Mak worked as an engineer for the California defence contractor Power Paragon, part of L-3 Communications.

He had worked on fleet engines and had collected sensitive information from other engineers before sending them to China. When the FBI raided Max’s home, they found stacks and stacks of classified information related to fleet technology, much of it still going into new fleet ships.

Also, the Chinese Y-20 heavy transport aircraft is said to have been developed using design stolen from Boeing.

The Y-20 bears a massive resemblance to the US military’s Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. Interestingly, in 2009 a former Boeing employee was allegedly convicted of selling C-17 technical details to China while the Y-20 was still in early development.

Although relatively smaller than the C-17, the Y-20 is still a massive transport aircraft capable of transporting heavy Chinese weapons across the planet.

In April, China undertook an unprecedented overseas mission as part of this six Y-20 heavy transport aircraft flew at the same time all the way to Serbia, and surprised flight trackers and aviation observers.

These Y-20s carried FK-3 ground-to-air missiles to Serbia, which was seen as China demonstrating its military power in Europe in the midst of the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

According to Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, the operation demonstrated significant progress in the PLA Air Force’s long-range strategic transport capabilities, as well as the intercontinental logistics support and maintenance capacity of heavy transport aircraft.