F-35C, U.S. Air Force photo via ermaleksandr on Flickr

Last week the Department of Justice announced the conviction of Wenxia Man by a federal jury. The crime? Conspiring to export military jet engines and drones to China. Not plans. Not components. Entire jet engines and drones.

Wenxia Man, also known as Wency Man, was found guilty of “conspiring to export and cause the export of fighter jet engines, an unmanned aerial vehicle – commonly known as a drone – and related technical data to the People’s Republic of China, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act,” according to the release from the Department of Justice.

Man was convicted at trial of conspiring to export and cause the export of defense articles without the required license.

According to evidence presented at trial, between approximately March 2011 and June 2013, Man conspired with Xinsheng Zhang, who was located in China, to illegally acquire and export to China defense [equipment.]

During the course of the investigation, when talking to an HSI undercover agent, Man referred to Zhang, as a “technology spy” who worked on behalf of the Chinese military to copy items obtained from other countries and stated that he was particularly interested in stealth technology.

The defense equipment mentioned in the report included:

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  • Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 engines used in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
  • Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines used in the F-22 Raptor fighter jet
  • General Electric F110-GE-132 engines designed for the F-16 fighter jet
  • the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper/Predator B Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

The conspiracy also included the technical data relating to the equipment involved.

According to the report, sentencing will take place in August with Wenxia Man facing a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Considering the importance of the equipment involved and the consequences of it falling into the hands of U.S. adversaries, 20 years maximum seems a little light.

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Foxtrot Alpha contributor Kelsey Artherton spells out the importance of the F-35 and F-22 fighters, as well as the Reaper drone involved in the conspiracy in his coverage on Popular Science:

The F-35 is America’s newest jet fighter, versions of which will serve with the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. In total, American plans to purchase more than 2,400 F-35s, and they’ll serve for at least 30 years, likely longer. The F-22 is America’s premier and exclusive air-to-air superiority fighter, built to outfight any other plane in the sky. While there are only about 187 F-22s in service, the Air Force has recently talked about restarting their production line. F-16s serve with many Air Forces across the globe, and the United States still employs over 1,200 of these versatile fighters.

One can’t help but to be curious about how exactly the conspirators planned to get multiple copies of U.S. military hardware shipped to China under the nose of the Government. The good news is they failed and have been caught.

The bad news is, while the Cold War is often written off as a by-gone period of extreme espionage, there are still those among us with dangerous intentions.