China uses US-funded technology to obtain hypersonic missiles

State-of-the-art software is acquired by these military organizations through Chinese private companies that resell them. (Photo: Reproduction)

Military research groups responsible for China’s most advanced hypersonic missile programs — many on the U.S. export veto list — are buying a range of American technologies, including products developed by companies that have received millions of dollars in aid and contracts from the Pentagon. , according to an investigation by The Washington Post.

State-of-the-art software is acquired by these military organizations through private Chinese companies that resell it, despite US export controls designed to prevent sales and resales to foreign entities deemed to be threats to US national security, investigations show.

Scientists working at China’s broad network of military research academies and the companies that support them said in interviews that American technologies — such as specialized aeronautical engineering software — fill in critical lapses in domestic technologies crucial to advancing Chinese weapons.

“In this case, American technology is superior — we are not capable of certain things without foreign technology,” said a Chinese scientist who works in a university laboratory that conducts tests for hypersonic vehicles. “There is not the same technical foundation.”

Some of the US companies whose products are making their way to Chinese military research groups have benefited from Department of Defense aid to spur next-generation innovation, according to a federal program database, creating the specter of the Pentagon subsidizing advances. Chinese military.

“It’s very disturbing, because the reality is that technologies that could be used for military hypersonic projects were funded by US taxpayers, through the US government, and ended up in China,” said Iain Boyd, director of the Center for National Security Initiatives, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who conducts experimental research in the hypersonic field.

The Washington Post has mapped more than 300 sales since 2019 of U.S.-originated technologies to dozens of entities involved in Chinese hypersonic or missile programs, analyzing contract applications and concession documents issued by these groups, and also speaking to six Chinese scientists working in military and university laboratories, who described almost unlimited access to American technologies applicable to missile design and testing. The scientists spoke with the Post on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive research.

With Beijing, the fight is less visible and does not involve an exchange of fire, but it will have an impact as big as, or even greater than, the conflict with Moscow.

The steady stream of next-generation technologies flowing into a critical field of research, in which the Chinese military threatens to overtake the US, underlines Washington’s challenge to try to stop the Chinese military from exploiting American innovations.

The hypersonic sector refers to a wide range of recent technologies capable of propelling missiles at speeds more than five times the speed of sound, potentially capable of evading current air defenses. Pentagon officials say the US and China are waging an arms race to develop the most powerful hypersonic weapons.

To build a hypersonic missile, scientists must solve advanced physics problems related to the missile’s flight. Wind tunnel tests and launches, like the one China conducted in 2021, are expensive. Using commercial American software, the result of years — sometimes decades — of research and development, minimizes the time and resources needed for such tests, the Chinese scientists told the Post. American products also have applications in civil aviation, as well as other fields in which China and the US compete, including aircraft engine design.

The technology being purchased includes various forms of computer-aided engineering software, such as aeroelasticity software, which can be used to simulate and analyze the extreme physical conditions experienced by air vehicles. The software allows scientists to test projects virtually, without relying solely on expensive wind tunnel tests and launches. Other sales include hardware such as interferometers, which can be used by scientists to capture highly accurate data during wind tunnel tests.

US scientists say computer simulations are a critical step before moving on to wind tunnel tests and launches of weapons like hypersonic missiles.

“If the idea is to design (a hypersonic missile) with these software tools,” said an American researcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, “the flight is simulated on a computer, analyzing the result with these tools”. “And when we get the model to perform the required mission, I can test it in a wind tunnel.”