Export Controls:

National Security Issues and Foreign Availability for High Performance Computer Exports

NSIAD-98-200: Published: Sep 16, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1998.

Additional Materials:


Benjamin F. Nelson
(202) 512-4128


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

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.

Jun 18, 2020

Jun 9, 2020

May 12, 2020

May 6, 2020

May 4, 2020

Apr 30, 2020

Mar 18, 2020

Mar 11, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here