National Security Issues and Foreign Availability for High Performance Computer Exports
NSIAD-98-200: Published: Sep 16, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1998.
Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the efforts by the executive branch to determine national security risks associated with exports of high performance computers (HPC).
GAO noted that: (1) the executive branch has identified high performance computing as having applications in such national defense areas as nuclear weapons programs, cryptology, conventional weapons, and military operations; (2) however, except for nuclear weapons, the executive branch has not identified how and at what performance levels specific countries of concern may use HPCs for national defense applications--an important factor in assessing risks of HPC sales; (3) a Department of Energy study on nuclear weapons was completed in June 1998; (4) the study shows that nuclear weapons programs in tier 3 countries (which pose some national security and nuclear proliferation risks to the United States), especially those of China, India, and Pakistan, could benefit from the acquisition of HPC capabilities; (5) the executive branch has only recently begun to identify how specific countries of concern would use HPCs for nonnuclear national defense applications; (6) to date, a Department of Defense study on this matter begun in early 1998 is not completed; (7) with regard to foreign availability of HPCs, GAO found that subsidiaries of U.S. computer manufacturers dominate the overseas HPC market and they must comply with U.S. controls; (8) three Japanese companies are global competitors of U.S. manufacturers, two of which told GAO that they had no sales to tier 3 countries; (9) the third company did not provide data on such sales in a format that was usable for GAO's analysis; (10) two of the Japanese companies primarily compete with U.S. manufacturers for sales of high-end HPCs at about 20,000 millions of theoretical operations per second (MTOPS) and above; (11) two other manufacturers, one in Germany and one in the United Kingdom, also compete with U.S. HPC suppliers, but primarily within Europe; (12) only the German company has sold HPCs to tier 3 countries; (13) Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom each have export controls on HPCs similar to those of the United States, according to foreign government officials; (14) because there is limited competition from foreign HPC manufacturers and U.S. manufacturers reported no lost sales to foreign competition in tier 3 countries, GAO concluded that foreign suppliers of HPCs had no impact on sales by U.S. exporters; (15) in addition, Russia, China, and India have developed HPCs, but the capabilities of their HPCs are believed to be limited; (16) thus, GAO's analysis suggests that HPCs over 2,000 MTOPS are not available to tier 3 countries without restriction from foreign sources.