A Chinese citizen convicted oftrying to smuggle American-made radiation-hardened microchipsfrom California to China was sentenced Wednesday to three yearsin U.S. prison.

Philip Chaohui He, the target of a U.S. Homeland Securitysting, was arrested in late 2011 at a port near Los Angeles ashe approached a Chinese freighter. In his car trunk, agentsfound 200 radiation-hardened microchips hidden inside a tub ofbaby formula.

U.S. officials report a recent spike in efforts by theChinese government to obtain the specialized, American-mademicrochips, which are critical for operating satellites andballistic missiles, as well as protecting military hardware fromsolar and nuclear radiation. The He case was the subject of aReuters special report on Tuesday.

“I love my adopted country with all my heart,” He said incourt Wednesday. “The last thing I would do would be to harmthis country. I’m sorry beyond words.”

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel issued asentence that was about a year less than prosecutors sought anda year more than He’s lawyer requested. The judge said thatalthough He “bent over backwards to avoid getting caught,” hehad otherwise led a productive life and had been a “modelprisoner.”

He was charged in Denver because he ordered the microchipsfrom a nearby manufacturer, Aeroflex of Colorado Springs,Colorado. In custody since December 2011, He pleaded guilty inSeptember to smuggling and conspiracy to violate the Arms ExportControl Act.

U.S. officials have said they believe the microchips werepurchased on behalf of the state-run Chinese space program. Hehas said he believed they were for commercial, not governmentuse. His motive was monetary, not political, he said.

Born in China, He moved to the United States in themid-1990s. In April 2011, while working as an engineer for theCalifornia state transportation agency, He used his sidebusiness to order 312 radiation-hardened microchips fromAeroflex.

It is legal to buy such sensitive technology for domesticuse, but illegal to export it without U.S. government approval.Aeroflex employees found He’s large order suspicious and alertedHomeland Security agents, who initiated a sting.

After He sent Aeroflex a check for the full cost of the 312microchips - $549,654 - undercover agents delivered them to He’ssmall company in Oakland. Although He was arrested carrying 200microchips, 112 remain missing. U.S. authorities believe thosewere successfully smuggled to China.