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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

High Performance Computers

page 1


High Performance Computers



High Performance Computers (HPCs) are important for many military applications and essential for some. Although there is limited information on how the PRC is using HPCs for military applications, HPCs could facilitate many of the PRCís military modernization objectives.

PRC organizations involved in the research and development of missiles, spacecraft, submarines, aircraft, military system components, command and control, communications, and microwave and laser sensors have obtained HPCs from the United States. Given the lack of a proven and effective verification regime, it is possible that these HPCs have been diverted for unauthorized uses, which could include the following:

    • Upgrading and maintaining nuclear and chemical weapons
    • Equipping mobile forces with high-technology weapons
    • Building a modern fleet of combat and combat-support aircraft and submarines
    • Conducting anti-submarine warfare
    • Developing a reliable, accurate ballistic and cruise missile force
    • Equalizing a battlefield with electronic or information warfare
    • Improving command, control, communications, and intelligence capabilities

To realize the full potential of the acquired HPCs, the PRC must be able to perform system integration, develop or procure application software, obtain weapon systems test data, and institute quality-controlled production processes. The contribution of HPCs to military modernization is also dependent on related technologies such as telecommunications and microelectronics.

The Select Committee judges that the PRC has been using high performance computers for nuclear weapons applications. The computer workstations recently acquired from the U.S. represent a major increase in the PRCís computing power. Although not necessary to design nuclear warheads, HPCs of 2,000 million theoretical operations per second (MTOPS) or more can be used for such applications. In addition to nuclear weapons design, another major concern is how the PRC can use U.S. HPCs to improve and maintain its nuclear weapons.

If the PRC complies with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, then its need for HPCs to design, weaponize, deploy, and maintain nuclear weapons will be greater than that of any other nation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The exact extent to which HPCs can assist the PRC depends in part on the goals of the PRC nuclear weapons program and the degree of uncertainty it is willing to accept in warhead performance.

HPCs are useful to the two- and critical to the three-dimensional computer modeling that is necessary for the PRC to develop, modify, and maintain its nuclear weapons in the absence of testing. The utility of such modeling depends on the amount of data available from tests, the computing capacity that is available, and programmer expertise. Complete three-dimensional models, critical to stockpile maintenance and assessment of the effect of major warhead modifications in the absence of testing, require HPCs of one million MTOPS or more. Assessing the effects of a new warhead without testing would require three-dimensional modeling. In the absence of physical testing, two dimensional models are important for estimating the effects of less substantial changes to warhead designs, although the utility of such modeling decreases as the designs become more sophisticated. However, the fidelity of any two-dimensional model is inherently limited, and some level of uncertainty will always remain. Should the PRC resume physical (rather than virtual) nuclear testing, the resulting data would permit more accurate two-dimensional modeling of subsequent design changes. Although HPCs in the 2,000 to 10,000 MTOPS range are useful for such modeling, their precise utility for such applications is unclear. These HPCs may be powerful enough to help the PRC make use of design information that it stole from the United States, including design information for the W-70 neutron bomb and the W-88 Trident D-5 thermonuclear warhead ó without further physical testing.

The U.S. Government, citing rapid advances in computer technology, has steadily relaxed export controls on HPCs. A Stanford University study commissioned by the U.S. Government was a key element in the relaxation of export controls on HPCs in 1996. The study concluded that U.S.-manufactured computer technology between 4,000 to 5,000 MTOPS was uncontrollable worldwide and would become available worldwide at 7,000 MTOPS by 1997. The study also concluded that many HPC applications used in U.S. national security programs occur at about 7,000 MTOPS and at or above 10,000 MTOPS. Criticisms of this and other studies that were used to justify the 1996 HPC export control policy changes focus on flaws in the methodology of the studies and the lack of empirical evidence and analysis to support their conclusions. These critics also claim that the U.S. Government revised the export controls on HPCs without having adequate information on how countries of concern would use HPCs for military and proliferation activities.

Until June 1998, the U.S. Governmentís ability to verify the location and use of HPCs in the PRC was blocked by the PRCís resistance to post-shipment, on-site verification visits. A new agreement affords the U.S. Government the right to request access to some American HPCs, but includes substantial limitations on such requests and any visits. Moreover, the post-shipment visits that are allowed can verify the location of an HPC, but not how it is used.

Rapid advances in computer technology have altered traditional concepts of what constitutes an HPC. Observers in the computer industry and academia state that HPC-level performance can be obtained by linking together inexpensive commodity processors. For some applications the efficiency and effectiveness of the linked commodity processors depends on the application, skill of the programmer, and interconnection software. The resources and time needed to effectively modify and operate significant defense applications for such linked systems have not yet been demonstrated. Nonetheless, the U.S. is pursuing research and development on the use of linked systems for three-dimensional modeling for nuclear stockpile maintenance.

While it is difficult to ascertain the full measure of HPC resources that have been made available to the PRC from all sources, available data indicates that U.S. HPCs dominate the market in the PRC and there really is no domestic PRC HPC industry. While the PRC has a large market for workstations and high-end servers, there is a smaller market for parallel computers that is entirely dominated by non-PRC companies such as IBM, Silicon Graphics/Cray, and the Japanese NEC. However, there continues to be significant market resistance to Japanese HPC products in Asia, especially as U.S. products are beginning to have significant market penetration. The PRC has assembled several HPCs in recent years, using U.S.-origin microprocessing chips. The latest such HPC may perform at 10,000 MTOPS. However, the PRCís HPC application software lags farther behind world levels than its HPC systems.

Since the 1996 relaxation of U.S. export controls on HPCs, U.S. sales of HPCs between 2,000 and 7,000 MTOPS to the PRC have burgeoned. Of computers not requiring licenses under the 1996 regulations, 23 HPCs in this performance range were exported in 1996 and 123 in 1997. An additional 434 HPCs were to be exported in the first three quarters of 1998. Between 1994 and 1998, the U.S. Government approved licenses for 23 HPCs greater than 2,000 MTOPS.

Thus, the PRC may have received a total of 603 U.S. HPCs since 1996. In 1998, the United States approved licenses for two HPCs in excess of 10,000 MTOPS. Approximately 77 percent of the U.S. HPCs that have been exported to the PRC were under 4,000 MTOPS.

The aggregate of these computational resources is complemented by millions of non-export controlled low-end machines ñ about 4.5 million desktops, portable personal computers, personal computer servers, and workstations in 1998 alone. 90 percent of these machines are being used by the PRC Government, industry, and educational institutions. About 60 percent of these machines are being produced by PRC companies.



High Performance Computers


High Performance Computers (HPCs) are useful in a broad range of applications. These include pharmaceutical development, automobile crash modeling, aerospace engineering, petrochemical research, financial market and credit analysis, weather prediction, academic research, and national security applications.

A recent report by the Defense Department defines high performance computers as:

the mid-range of the speed scale. These computers are used for internet servers, Local Area Network (LAN) servers, affordable number crunchers, Computer Aided Design (CAD)/Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), publishing, billing, databases, data mining, banking, and much more. Presently these computers are in the speed range of 1500 ó 40,000 Millions of Theoretical Operations Per Second (MTOPS).1

Current U.S. export controls define HPCs by establishing the threshold for license consideration at 2,000 or more MTOPS.

In the realm of national security, HPCs are valuable in the design, development, manufacturing, performance, and testing of weapons and weapons platforms. These systems include:

    • Nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons
    • Tactical aircraft
    • Cruise and ballistic missiles
    • Submarines
    • Anti-submarine warfare
    • Command, control, and communications
    • Information warfare

HPCs are also useful in the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence and in the encryption or decryption of communications.2

In addition, military applications such as target tracking and recognition, radar mapping, armor and anti-armor design, protective structures, aerodynamics, real-time modeling, and tactical weather prediction are substantially facilitated by the use of HPCs.3

While a broad array of potential applications for HPCs is known, the specific ways in which potential adversaries of the United States are using them is much harder to determine. For example, a 1998 study of the viability of U.S. export controls on HPCs stated:

It is difficult to acquire good information on the use of HPC[s] for national security-related applications by countries of national security concern. This is true whether one assumes foreign practice is the same as U.S. practice, or foreign practice involves different or more clever ways that might not have the same computing requirements.4

In short, there is limited information about how specific countries of national security concern, including the PRC, use HPCs.5

Another complicating factor in determining whether and how HPCs are being used by the PRC and others for national security applications is ambiguity as to the HPC performance minimally required for specific applications. Researchers are usually interested in improving their applications if they have access to more computing power. Therefore, the "bigger and faster" computers are, the better. Speed helps make optimum use of a researcherís time.6 Many computer programs can be executed on less capable computer hardware, although there may be penalties in level of detail and turnaround time.7

The requirement to use the most powerful computers available may also be closely related to program economics.8 The use of less powerful computers leads to longer processing runs. This situation leaves expensive people and facilities idle, making the purchase of an expensive HPC necessary to employ all the resources available efficiently.9

There are many potential national security applications for which the PRC could use HPCs. The following figure10 shows that the U.S. defense community uses HPCs for national security applications over a full range of MTOPS performance levels. Although nearly 44 percent of the applications currently being run in the U.S. defense community are being run at performance levels below 7,000 MTOPS, many critical applications require processing power in excess of that threshold. The relative importance of the national security applications cannot be ascertained based on the MTOPS requirement.11 As newer computer systems with increased performance become available to the market, an increasing number of applications will appear in the higher MTOPS range (that is, above 30,000 MTOPS).12 These applications will be similar to current applications, but will require greater resolution or ability to address larger-sized problems than is possible on current systems.13


Millions of Theoretical Operations Number of Current U.S. Department of Defense

per Second (MTOPS) Range HPC Applications

Less than 2,000 61

2,000 to 7,000 24

7,000 to 10,000 8

10,000 to 20,000 30

20,000 to 30,000 47

Above 30,000 22

U.S. HPCs recently sold to PRC organizations are useful for a number of military purposes, including:

    • Nuclear weapons development
    • Information warfare
    • Cryptography
    • Military command and control
    • Intelligence collection
    • Intelligence instrument research and development
    • Development of high technology
    • Ballistic and cruise missiles
    • Ballistic missile defense
    • Mobile force development
    • Designing submarine nuclear reactors
    • Combat simulation

These PRC organizations are engaged in governmental, military, academic, and commercial work. In the absence of an end-use verification regime, the United States has no means of determining to what use a particular HPC is applied by such PRC entities.

Back  |  Forward


pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

PRC Acquisition of U.S. Technology
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

PRC Theft of U.S. Nuclear Warhead Design Information
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

High Performance Computers
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

PRC Missile and Space Forces
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Satellite Launches in the PRC: Hughes
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Satellite Launches in the PRC: Loral
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Launch Site Security in the PRC
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 5 | 6

Commercial Space Insurance
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

U.S. Export Policy Toward the PRC
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Manufacturing Processes
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

pages 1 | 2 | 3

pages introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F

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