Taxpayer-funded missile tech ended up in China

A Washington Post investigation published Monday found that Pentagon-funded firms made more than 300 sales of missile tech to Chinese hypersonics and missile program research groups since 2019.

The 50-plus firms that made the sales to China received millions of dollars in grants from the Department of Defense to develop the technologies.

They got around export bans by selling to “private” Chinese distributors that end up being middlemen for the technology, which ends up in the hands of the state.

“It’s very disturbing, because the bottom line is that technology that can be used for military hypersonics was funded by U.S. taxpayers, through the U.S. government, and ended up in China,” University of Colorado Center for National Security Initiatives director Iain Boyd, also a hypersonics researcher, told the Post.

Winning the race

The hypersonic technology China has acquired through these sales will potentially save them decades of their own development as they race with the United States to build hypersonic weapons.

“In this case the American technology is superior—we can’t do certain things without foreign technology,” a Chinese hypersonic vehicle researcher told the Post. “There isn’t the same technical foundation.”

Selling the technology to private Chinese firms is actually the same thing as selling them to the state, because the state controls all business in China, but the laws in place currently allow this as a loophole.

“U.S. export controls require a license for the export of any type of software, hardware, or technology to China if there is knowledge that it would be used to develop a missile or other item used for weapons of mass destruction,” former senior official at the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security Kevin Wolf told the Post. “And that license would generally be denied.”

Selling us out

The companies claim to be “blind” to how the technology will be used after it is sold, when the likely application is for Chinese weapons technology.

“What we’ve always told companies is you cannot self-blind,” Commerce Department deputy assistant secretary for export administration Matthew Borman told the Post. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m selling it to a distributor, I don’t know what they’re going to do with it.’ Especially if it’s a party where it’s readily ascertainable that they are a supplier to the Chinese military.”

Two of the companies–both Pentagon grant recipients–sold software to the Chinese Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, which helped to develop China’s 2021 hypersonic missile test.

The U.S. firms, Arizona-based Zona Technology and California-headquartered Metacomp Technologies, as well as the others, should be held accountable and prevented from any further sales to Chinese firms.