China obtained secret stealth technology used on B-2 bomber engines from a Hawaii-based spy ring in a compromise U.S. officials say will allow Beijing to copy or counter a key weapon in the Pentagon’s new strategy against China.
Details of the classified defense technology related to the B-2’s engine exhaust system and its ability to avoid detection by infrared sensors were sold to Chinese officials by former defense contractor Noshir S. Gowadia, an Indian-born citizen charged with spying in a federal indictment released by prosecutors in Hawaii.
Additionally, Mr. Gowadia provided extensive technical assistance to Chinese weapons designers in developing a cruise missile with an engine exhaust system that is hard to detect by radar, according to court papers made public recently.
He also helped the Chinese modify a cruise missile so that it can intercept U.S. air-to-air missiles, and helped Chinese weapons designers improve testing and measurement facilities, the court papers state.
Most of the indictment, handed up Nov. 8, outlines how the engineer helped China develop a radar-evading stealth exhaust nozzle for a cruise missile engine.
Additionally, the court papers indicated that Mr. Gowadia sent e-mails to Israel, Germany, and Switzerland in 2002 and 2004 that contained data labeled “secret” and “top secret” that was related to U.S. stealth technology intended for use in the TH-98 Eurocopter and for foreign commercial aircraft.
One computer file found in Mr. Gowadia’s Maui, Hawaii, home was a file containing the radar cross-sections of U.S. B-1 and F-15 jets and the Air Force’s air-launched cruise missile, information that would be useful to countering those systems by anti-aircraft missiles or other air defense weapons.
The case is the second major military technology espionage case involving China. Earlier this year, two Chinese-born brothers in Los Angeles were arrested as suspects in passing Navy warship and submarine weapons secrets to China.
In all, Mr. Gowadia is charged with making at least six secret visits to China from 2002 through 2005, and being paid at least $110,000 by Chinese officials for highly classified defense technology supplied through January, according to court papers. Investigators think he was paid as much as $2 million, some of which remains in foreign bank accounts.
The first known compromise was Mr. Gowadia’s lecture in a foreign country in 1999 that involved the disclosure of defense secrets. He offered classified defense information to as many as eight foreign nations, the court papers state.
Mr. Gowadia was first indicted in November 2005 in connection with passing information to several countries that were not identified. The new indictment states that Mr. Gowadia continued to be engaged in a conspiracy to sell classified technology through January 2006.
Mr. Gowadia worked for B-2 developer and manufacturer Northrop Aircraft Inc. from 1968 to 1989 as part of an ultrasecret special access program for the B-2, and later as a Northrop contractor involved in classified research on missiles and aircraft. He also worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1990s.
He developed the still-secret method used by military aircraft to suppress infrared signals from the engine that blocks heat-seeking missiles from targeting the jet.
U.S. officials familiar with the case said the compromise of the B-2 technology is extremely damaging because it will give China key secrets on the bomber.
A defense official said the case highlights China’s intelligence efforts to counter key weapons systems that give the United States strategic advantages over Chinese forces. “The B-2 is at the head of the list of their intelligence targets,” said the official.
The Pentagon recently completed a major upgrade of bomber storage facilities on the Pacific island of Guam as part of a new strategy designed to position forces in Asia for a swift defeat of China in a future conflict.
B-2 bombers are regularly deployed for short periods of time on Guam as part of what the Pentagon is calling its “hedge” strategy to be ready to deal with a Chinese threat in the future.
According to the indictment, Mr. Gowadia, who lives on an estate on the island of Maui, conspired with two men, Tommy Wong and Henri Nyo, to sell the technology.
Mr. Wong was identified in court papers as an official of the Chinese Foreign Experts Bureau who met the other men during meetings in Chengdu, China. The bureau is a center that conducts “research and development of Chinese fighter aircraft and cruise missiles.”
During the six visits, Mr. Gowadia was there “for the specific purpose of assisting the [People’s Republic of China] in designing, testing and analyzing a low observable exhaust nozzle … for a PRC cruise missile,” the indictment said.
In the earlier indictment, Mr. Gowadia was quoted as telling investigators that he “disclosed classified information and material both verbally and in papers, computer presentations, letters and other methods to individuals in foreign countries with the knowledge that information was classified.”
“The reason I disclosed this classified information was to establish the technological credibility with the potential customers for future business,” he said. “I wanted to help these countries to further their self aircraft protection systems. My personal gain would be business.”
Mr. Gowadia has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his son, Ashton Gowadia, told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that the charges against his father are false. A trial is scheduled for July.