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

High Performance Computers

page 2


Military Objectives Contribute to the PRCís

Interest in High Performance Computers

PRC military objectives require superior battlefield management, including:

    • Intelligence
    • Surveillance
    • Reconnaissance
    • Guidance and control
    • Communications

They also require superior weapons and platform design, testing, and maintenance. Satisfying these requirements can be facilitated by HPC capabilities.14

The PRC is seeking HPC software for:

    • Satellite launch and missile guidance simulation
    • Computer assisted design and manufacturing systems
    • System simulators
    • Applications of artificial intelligence15

The PRC is convinced that the United States has the most advanced HPC technology. Thus, it seeks to acquire as much of it as it can without jeopardizing PRC national security interests by, for example, becoming susceptible to computer viruses and information attacks.16

The specific ways the PRC is using HPCs for military applications is difficult to determine.17 During this investigation, reports regarding the PRCís military objectives, information concerning the application of HPCs in support of national security objectives, and data concerning HPC sales to the PRC were analyzed.

The results of this analysis provide a basis for assessing the risk to U.S. national security and regional security interests that accrues from the PRCís acquisition of HPCs. This assessment is summarized in the following paragraphs.

U.S. High Performance Computers Have the Greatest Potential Impact On the PRCís Nuclear Weapons Capabilities

The Department of Energy judges that the PRCís acquisition and application of HPCs to nuclear weapons development have the greatest potential impact on the PRCís nuclear program. This is particularly true since the PRC has agreed to the ban on nuclear testing.18

Existing PRC Nuclear Weapons

The computing power required to simulate the performance of a specific nuclear weapon depends on the sophistication of the design, and the availability of nuclear and non-nuclear test data for the new and aging materials the weapon contains.19

For existing weapons with supporting test data, more powerful computing resources allow simulations that include more physical processes and more fundamental representations.20

One means of enhancing model fidelity ó the extent to which the model accurately represents the real phenomena ó is to represent all dimensions of the process being modeled.

The explosion of a nuclear weapon is a three-dimensional process that cannot be accurately represented in one or two dimensions. Augmenting model fidelity by shifting from two to three dimensions requires an increase in computer performance capacity to one million MTOPS.21

Results from higher-fidelity models allow scientists and decision-makers to develop a better estimation and understanding of the reliability and performance of the weapon.22

Another factor bearing on model fidelity and confidence in model results is the extent to which the model has been validated. Validation consists of running a simulation of a previously conducted test, and verifying that the computed results are close to the test results. The more the simulated situation differs from the actual test, the less confidence can be placed in the computed results.23

The fewer the tests that have been conducted, the more gaps there are in the understanding of nuclear weapons science.24

HPCs may help scientists gain insight and understanding by allowing many simulation runs to be conducted, changing one variable value at a time to create a range of solutions for comparison to test data. HPCs allow those calculations to be completed in an acceptable length of time.25

The following table illustrates HPC performance demand as a function of model complexity, test data, and weapons maturity. Row 1 of the table focuses on a full exploration of the weapons design category with data from tests of pristine and aged weapons. Row 2 of the table assumes the number of tests dedicated to each warhead class is between one and six. Row 3 assumes few proof-of-concept tests or zero nuclear tests conducted of the design after components have aged for ten years.

High Performance Computer Requirements for Various Levels of Testing and Nuclear Weapons Program Maturity26


Rudimentary Nuclear Weapons

Intermediate Nuclear Weapons

Advanced and Aging Nuclear Weapons

With Test Data

200-400 MTOPS

US, UK, France, Russia, PRC

200-400 MTOPS

US, UK, France, Russia

400-10,000 MTOPS

US, UK, France, Russia, PRC*

With Some Test Data

400-1,000 MTOPS

No country

1,000-4,000 MTOPS

PRC, India, Pakistan

4,000- 1,000,000 MTOPS PRCÜ

Without Test Data

400-4,000 MTOPS

North Korea

4,000-10,000 MTOPS


>1,000,000 MTOPS


*If PRC has obtained U.S. or Russian nuclear test codes.

ÜThe PRC is known to possess some test data for certain advanced nuclear weapons, but may be without test data for others.


As the table indicates, the PRCís demand for HPCs covers a broad range of computing capability, and it is unclear where the PRCís requirements fall within that broad range.

To date, the most powerful HPCs exported to the PRC from the U.S. ó two in 1998 ó have been at the 10,000 MTOPS level.

Even HPCs in the 2,000 to 10,000 MTOPS range are useful for nuclear weapons applications, although their precise utility is dependent on the amount of test data the PRC possesses.

New PRC Nuclear Weapons

The PRCís nuclear weapons program has advanced rapidly, largely through the theft of U.S. nuclear weapons design information.

Originally, the PRC built large, heavy nuclear weapons for air or missile delivery. The PRC is now moving to new generation nuclear weapons, and has been significantly assisted by the theft of U.S. design data. These new nuclear weapons are smaller, lighter, and have higher yield-to-weight ratios.27 The Select Committee judges that the PRC has the infrastructure and ability to use the stolen U.S. design information to emulate elements of U.S. thermonuclear warheads for its next generation of thermonuclear warheads.

HPCs could be valuable to the PRC in connection with the production of these next generation nuclear weapons based on elements of U.S. design information, because they would enable scientists to examine many values for many uncertainties quickly.28

Similarly, HPCs could be useful in connection with maintaining the current PRC nuclear weapons stockpile for which test data exist, although the exact MTOPS range needed is uncertain. HPCs would permit analysis of any uncertainty with respect to the performance of these weapons.29

In addition, as military missions evolve and delivery platforms develop, the PRC may be forced to make modifications in tested designs to accommodate new size and weight goals. For example, a PRC focus on small-scale regional conflict would suggest the development of compact, low-yield nuclear devices. Evaluating the effects of these design changes would require sophisticated computer models run on HPCs. If the changes to the PLAís nuclear weapons are significant, the need for modeling accuracy would require three-dimensional testing, possible only with computers that have a performance capability of a million MTOPS or more. For less extensive changes, including any changes required to weaponize new nuclear warhead designs that the PRC has already successfully tested, two-dimensional modeling may be sufficient. HPCs as low as 2,000 to 7,000 MTOPS are helpful in such applications, although the optimal MTOPS level required for such modeling is unclear.

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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