America’s Hidden Role In Chinese Weapons Research: Many Scientists Have Returned To China After Working At Los Alamos And Other Top U.S. Research Laboratories
Stephen Chen had a March 29, 2017 article in the South China Morning Post, about “China’s efforts to lure scientists back [to the mainland] from overseas institutions have been paying off militarily — with more than a little help from the United States”. “Military projects they [these scientists/engineers/researchers] have been involved in [after returning to China]– include the development of hypersonic weapons which can penetrate missile defense systems; and, the design of new submarines able to patrol quietly along the U.S. West coast,” according to researchers familiar with these programs who spoke to the publication.
Mr. Chen notes that Beijing has placed increased emphasis on luring the best and brightest researchers back to China for over a decade; and as placed particular emphasis on recruiting scientists working at [research] laboratories in the U.S. linked to America’s nuclear weapons program. and other [sensitive] military research, as well as those working for NASA, and leading U.S. defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Space Systems, and Boeing Aerospace.
“Many of the scientists returning to China have worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the birthplace of the atom bomb, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which plays a key role in today’s U.S. nuclear weapon’s program, or the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio,” Mr. Chen wrote. “While the number of those [scientists/engineers] who have worked at U.S. national laboratories and returned to China is unknown, so many scientists who worked at Los Alamos have returned to Chinese universities, and research institutes, that people have dubbed them…….’the Los Alamos Club,” Mr. Chen notes.
Research at Los Alamos spans a wide range of critical and sensitive domains, such as super and quantum computing, cyber security and the cyber threat, particle accelerator weapons research, and a host of other leading defense technology initiatives. Los Alamos’s website states that 4 percent of its nearly 10,000 employees [scientists/engineers] are of Asian origin.
“China’s recruitment of scientists and engineers from our leading national laboratories is not new; and, dates as far back as 1949, and the founding of the People’s Republic Mr, Chen notes, “with one early success being Qian Xuesen, who returned to China from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1955, and went on to lead the country’s space and military rocket research,” Mr. Chen wrote. “China has been trying to woo foreign-trained scientists back home since the founding of the People’s Republic,’ he adds, “with one early success being Qian Xuesen, who returned from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1955, to lead the country’s” first strategic push into space and military rocket research. “But it [China] has stepped up [intensified] its efforts in recent years, using financial appeals, as well as patriotism, and the promise of better career prospects to attract scientists with overseas experience in defense research,” Mr. Chen noted.
“One key scientist who returned from the U.S./Los Alamos to China, was Professor Chen Shiyi, who as Director of the State Key Laboratory for Turbulence and Complex Systems at Peking University, played a key role in the development of China’s [new] hypersonic glide vehicle,” according to a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing who spoke to the South China Morning Post. Mr., Chen writes that “China tested a hypersonic glide vehicle capable of traveling at speeds of up to 11,000 km/hr — about 10 times the speed of sound — in April 2016. At those speeds, China could deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere on planet Earth in just over an hour — too fast for any [known] anti-ballistic-missile system to respond to,” he warns. To conduct such complex and sophisticated research, necessarily requires “sophisticated testing facilities, including high-speed wind tunnels. Dr. Shiyis laboratory built the first such wind tunnels in China,’ Mr. Chen wrote. Dr. Shiyi “is an expert on turbulence, one of the most challenging problems in physics. An object passing through air, or a fluid, generates chaotic disturbances; but, modelling them on a computer is extremely difficult — the faster the object, the greater the difficulty of successfully modelling.” Dr. Shiyi was apparently the driving force behind China’s decision to build the sophisticated wind tunnel needed for this very sensitive and strategic research.
“One of the first things,” Dr. Shiyi did when he returned to China, was to “found the Los Alamos Club, which researchers said had already been growing rapidly at other top [defense] research institutes on the Chinese mainland, including: Peking University, Tsinghua University, CAS, the University of Science and Technology of China, Harbin Institute of Technology, and Fudan University,” the South China Morning Post reported. Mr, Chen goes on to highlight other prominent Chinese who have also returned to the mainland and are now conducting sensitive defense-related research and development — and, I refer you to his March 29, 2017 article to read about several other, former U.S. national laboratory scientists who have returned home and are now helping China make a major strategic push in several critical national defense/technology areas. One of those key scientists, Dr. He Guowei, a researcher with CAS’s Institute of Mechanics, left Los Alamos shortly after Dr. Shiyi,” Mr, Chen noted. “Also a turbulence scientist, his team is now developing computer models for submarine development,” according to the institute’s website. “A recent breakthrough allowed them to predict the turbulence generated by a submarine more quickly and accurately. The technology will allow China to build quieter submarines and better detect foreign ones.”
Mr. Chen’s article is informative; but, it fails to help the policymakers understand if we have a problem at our national labs with respect to foreign nationals working there; and, what if anything — could, and should be done about it. My guess is that what Mr. Chen has described is not a new issue; and, is one no doubt that the U.S. national security establishment has wrestled with for many years. At the end of the day, what is the cost benefit analysis? Does having foreign nationals working at our national laboratories provide us with as much beneficial ‘side-effects’ as it does countries such as China? And, what would be the likely consequences — good, and bad — if we stopped, or severely constrained foreign national participation? I’d be shocked if we don’t already know the answers to these questions. It wouldn’t hurt to re-examine the program, if that hasn’t been done in the last five to ten years. A periodic review of where the program stands; and, where we think it needs to go, is a healthy to the overall success of the laboratories themselves. Questions, that were left unasked and unanswered by Mr. Chen’s article. V/R, RCP