A drugs bust conducted by undercover agents in the US has uncovered a plot to export sensitive military technology to China.

Taiwanese nationals Hui Sheng Shen and Huan Ling Chang were both suspected of attempting to smuggle drugs and counterfeit goods through a port in New Jersey, US, but have since been accused of conspiring to export technology relating to F-22 fighter jets and several US-built UAVs.

US Attorney Paul Fishman said: "Initial investigations into counterfeit goods importation led federal law enforcement to a meth trafficking operation and an alleged plot to export some of America’s most sensitive weapons and related technology to China."

The pair were recorded in taped conversations claiming to be working with an adviser to a high-ranking Chinese government official looking for technology relating to Global Hawk, Reaper and Raven drones, as well as stealth technology relating to the F-22 fighter jet.

Shen and Chang later revealed that their contacts were connected to a Chinese version of the Central Intelligence Agency and that Chinese government money would be used to make acquisitions of the sought-after technology.

The US has long suspected China of attempting to copy sensitive information relating to technological advances, particularly in the field of stealth technology. The development of China’s Chengdu J-20 fighter jet has been met with claims of stolen stealth designs from the B-2 Spirit programme, while China has also been accused of cyber espionage after a number of hacking attempts on Lockheed Martin computers.

China’s J-20 programme is seen as a direct rival to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fifth generation fighter jets, but has been troubled by reported problems in its development. Stealth technology has been hard to develop and several sources have cited that catastrophic failures in potential engines for the aircraft have seriously affected the development of the fighters.