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Electronics Surveillance

U.S.-Made MMICs Not Immune to Illegal Export

Aug. 9, 2021
One can’t be too careful when it comes to safeguarding sensitive RF and microwave technology, especially when it involves potential military applications by adversaries.

This article appeared in Microwaves & RF and has been published here with permission.

Our RF/microwaves industry is a critical technology sector in the overall fabric of daily life. It’s also key to many commercial and military applications, and the latter especially behooves us to safeguard the “secret sauce” in defense-related recipes. So, a news item out of the U.S. Department of Justice caught my eye, especially as the story concerned the illegal export of monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs).

A 66-year-old Chinese-American man, Shih Yi-chi of Hollywood Hills, Calif., has now been convicted and sentenced to more than five years in prison and ordered to pay out over $660,000 in IRS restitution and fines in a scheme to illegally export MMICs with military applications to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Shih, a former president of a Chinese semiconductor company and an adjunct engineering professor at UCLA, certainly knew what he was doing when he put up an associate to pose as a domestic customer of an unnamed U.S.-based MMIC manufacturer. Through that associate, Shih gained access to the company’s web portal, defrauding it out of proprietary information, and concealed his true intent to pass the custom MMICs on to a PRC-owned entity called AVIC 607.

Shih’s old Chinese company, Chengdu GaStone Technology Co. (CGTC), in 2014 was placed on the U.S. Commerce Dept.’s Entity List for its involvement in “illicit procurement of commodities and items for unauthorized military end use” in China. That company was then building a MMIC fab in Chengdu. There was no way Shih could use that operation as a cover, of course, so he used a Hollywood Hills-based company he controlled, Pullman Lane Productions, LLC, to funnel financing from yet another Chinese company that was placed on the Commerce Dept.’s Entity List the same day as CGTC.

Shih was convicted of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Export Administration Regulations. There were also numerous counts of mail and wire fraud and false statements to both the FBI and IRS, among other charges. His associate, convicted of smuggling, received 18 months of probation plus a $5,000 fine.

The custom MMICs Shih tried to move to China had both commercial and military applications. The latter include missiles, missile guidance systems, fighter jets, electronic warfare, and EW countermeasures, and radar. Given the current tension over trade with China, not to mention the country’s potential as a military adversary, it would be a disaster if sensitive technology got into its hands. Even more reason, then, to maintain vigilance when it comes to RF/microwave-related matters.


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