A former Rolls-Royce engineer has reportedly been arrested on suspicion of breaching the Official Secrets Act by allegedly handing British F-35 engine secrets to China.
Rolls-Royce's one-time chief combustion technologist Bryn Jones, 73, was arrested at his Derbyshire, UK, home by the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command on Tuesday.
MI5 is said to have received intelligence that "classified defence information" may have been passed to China as part of a plot involving Jones. Jones was apprehended during an "ultra discreet" police operation that included a search of a nearby office.
The Sun reported that the engineer, who left Rolls-Royce in 2003 for academic and consultancy roles, had 40 years' experience "in the development of new combustion technology for aero gas turbines and aero derivative engines".
Jones is reportedly a visiting professor in gas turbine combustion at China's Aeronautical University of Xian.
The F-35B, which is the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the supersonic stealth fighter, has a lift fan that rotates its jet engine's thrust through 90 degrees for takeoffs and landings. The lift fan mechanism was mostly designed by Rolls-Royce, building on the original design work for the Pegasus engine that powered the Harrier jump-jet. It makes up a significant chunk of the 15 per cent of each F-35B that is built in Britain.
Exact details of the lift fan's design and construction are highly classified, not least because such details could not only give an adversary key information about radar and infrared signatures but also let them copy the design. China has already put together a visual replica of the F-35A, variously named in Western media as the J-31 or FC-31, and a STOVL version of that aircraft could cause headaches for Western militaries in years to come.
A Met Police spokesman said: "At approximately 1425 hours on Tuesday officers arrested a man in Derbyshire as part of an investigation under the Official Secrets Act. The man, who is in his 70s and worked within private industry, has been taken to a police station in Derbyshire where he remains in custody."
The Daily Telegraph later reported that Jones had been released from police custody.
In other news, Rolls-Royce announced this morning it is shedding 4,600 jobs. The company has been struggling with faults in its Trent 1000 engines, which power certain models of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. ®