Is China trying to stockpile US jet engines?

A California woman has been convicted of attempting to export US fighter jet engines to China.

Wilfredo Lee/AP/File
A US Air Force Thunderbird F-16 aircraft in Daytona Beach, Fla., Feb. 16. A California woman was convicted on Thursday of conspiring to export US military aircraft engines to China.

A California woman was convicted in Florida on Thursday of conspiring to illegally export American military technology and technical weaponry data to China. Wenxia Man faces up to 20 years in prison for violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which regulates the export of defense materials and services.

"Man was convicted of conspiring to evade U.S. export laws by agreeing to illegally acquire and send to China fighter jet engines, a highly sophisticated military drone and related technical data," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin said in a statement. "Circumventing U.S. laws designed to safeguard our most sensitive materials serves to undermine our national security interests and we will aggressively pursue those who try to do so."

Which brings us to the question: Why does China want American military technology?

Although China has spent the past 30 years building an extremely sophisticated military machine, the engines in its warplanes still lag behind those made in the West. China's own Defense Ministry acknowledged to Reuters that there's a gap between China's military technology and that of other developed countries.

To cover manufacturing gaps, China has been outfitting its warplanes with engines made in Russia. Last November, China signed a deal with Russia to purchase 24 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, making it the first foreign buyer of one of Russia's most advanced warplanes.

Ms. Man lived in San Diego, where she worked for an electronics company. According to her indictment, she worked with a Chinese resident named Xinsheng Zhang, who was acting on behalf of China to procure weapons and military articles abroad.

The jet engines they sought to illegally export are used in F-35, F-22, and F-16 US fighter jets. The F-35 jet is the most advanced strike fighter in the US military arsenal. The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, a military drone, has been used against targets throughout the Middle East, Somalia, and Libya.

Man's sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 19.

"Protecting our nation from the illegal movement of technology and defense articles is a top national security concern," Wifredo Ferrer, US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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