1998 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile

China: Dual - Use Space Technology

Prepared Testimony of

John Pike
Space Policy Project
Federation of American Scientists

before the

House Science Committee

25 June 1998

The impact on US national security of commercial space activities with the People's Republic of China, and the adequacy of existing export control mechanisms to police the proliferation of this technology, has been a long-standing concern of the US Government. The approach of selective engagement followed by the Clinton Administration lacks the simplicity of our consistently adversarial policies of decades past, as it requires the difficult balancing of diverse interests. But given the choice between the challenges of seeking the proper balance, and the far greater risks of returning to outright confrontation, there should be little doubt as to where American national interests lie. Over time our current engagement initiatives may fail, and despite our best efforts we may in the 21st Century confront security challenges from China that may rival those posed by the Soviet Union. But it is far to soon to conclude that this moment is at hand, and surely premature to abandon efforts to avert this outcome.

However, if we now wish to begin the process of reverting to an largely adversarial stance towards China, surely we may find a better place to start this process than with dual-use space technology. Over the past decade commercial collaboration between American, European and Chinese aircraft companies have produced significant improvements in process and quality control standards in Chinese aircraft manufacturing. These improvements have been implemented at some of the same factories that produce Chinese military aircraft, and surely over time newly acquired commercial competency will be reflected on the military front. The Chinese shipbuilding industry, now the third largest in the world, has benefited from colaborations with Japanese and Korean companies. And over time we could expect a resolution of the sorts of quality control problems the plagued the Type 09-2 ballistic missile submarine program. And surely the People's Liberation Army is better shod, thanks to the growth of American production footwear in China.

Over the past decade American policy with respect to China in these and other fields has been informed by the need to balance both traditional national security interests as well as the economic security interests represented by the American launch vehicle and satellite industries. Until quite recently, our strategy for addressing these economic security interests has enjoyed bi-partisan Congressional support.

Policy is the art of choosing, and any industrial policy that picks winners must also pick losers, or at decide who comes in first place and who is the runner-up. American companies dominate the commercial communications satellite industry globally, and in no small measure this dominance goes hand in hand with American dominance of the rapidly growing global telecommunications industry. The global explosion of the information economy has been good for American companies, for American workers, and for the American way of life.

Against these considerations, the American launch vehicle industry has perhaps a less compelling claim on the attention of decision-makers. Spacecraft continue to be a design-intensive high-technology sector characterized rapid innovation -- precisely the type of economic activity that we can and should retain within the United States, employing American workers. In contrast, the launch vehicle industry has been characterized by far less rapid design innovation, and has more in common with the routine manufacturing activities that tend to migrate to lower wage areas. Though rockets are indeed "rocket science," in a global free-trade environment such routine metal-bashing would tend to migrate towards lower-wage areas such as China just as surely as have other sectors such as textiles and footwear.

With strong Congressional support, the Clinton Administration has balanced these equities through giving preference to initiatives intended to sustain our global dominance of satellites and telecommunications, while restoring the vigor of the American launch vehicle industry through the innovative Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle [EELV] program.

US policies with respect to agency responsibilities for space systems have undergone a profound revolution in recent years, to an extent not widely appreciated outside the space policy community. In recent weeks the military Defense Meteorological Support Program transitioned to civilian control, in the latest of a number of far-reaching initiatives to capitalize on the dual-use nature of space technologies. These initiatives have strengthened the American commercial space sector by converting the national security customer base into a normal customer -- an extremely large customer with an extremely strong "Buy American" preference. This large captive domestic market, augmented by NASA, is in no small measure responsible for the strength of the American satellite and launch vehicle industries. And in turn, the US national security community is able to capitalize on the strengths of the American commercial space industry.

The House has also recently taken steps under the Commercial Space Act [HR 1702] that would shift more licensing responsibility for commercial remote-sensing satellite systems to the Commerce Department, and away from traditional national security managers at State and Defense. On Tuesday we saw the beginnings of this information revolution with the debut of the Microsoft Terraserver website, and the impending launches of the first one-meter commercial systems are eagerly awaited.


Werner von Braun "aimed for the Moon and hit London." Since the dawn of the space age and the missile era, the primary distinction between space launch vehicles and missiles has been attitude, and only secondarily altitude. The first American and Soviet satellites were launched on converted military missiles, and derivatives of missiles have remained the mainstay of our respective space programs. Over time, new space launch vehicles have been developed whose missile pedigree is far more attenuated, and whose applicability as engines of war is rather difficult to envision.

But it remains trivially true that many of the major technical arts applicable to the challenges of missilery are equally applicable to space launch operations. The more challenging question is to unravel the actual military significance of specific technologies.

As with so many other technologies, China was the birthplace of rocketry. With initial assistance from the Soviet Union, China has in recent decades developed a diverse inventory of military missiles and derivative space launch vehicles.

China has between 10 and 20 CSS-3 / DF-4 (Dong Feng or East Wind) IRBMs with a range of 4,750 km. (3,000 miles). While these are capable of placing targets in Russia at risk, the continental United States is beyond their reach, at a distance of over 6,000 miles from China [even Honolulu is nearly 5,000 miles away].

The DF-5A [CSS-4] is a liquid-fueled silo-based ICBM with a range of 13,000 km. (8,125 miles) carrying a single 5 MT nuclear warhead. The missile has also reportedly been tested with multiple warheads [MIRV]. With an initial operational capability in 1981, for many years thereafter the DF-5A was deployed in small numbers, with open source estimates ranging from four to ten operational missiles. Other sources have more recently estimated that currently this number may be as high as 20 missiles. The Long March CZ-2 space launch vehicle derivative of this missile has, with various modifications, been used by China to launch both its own satellites and those of other countries.

The DF-31 is a three-stage solid-fuel missile with a estimated range of 8000 km carrying a single one-megaton warhead. This missile, which may become operational by the end of this century, could be used to strike targets in the northwest corner of the United States from launch sites in Manchuria.

The DF-41 three-stage solid-fuel missile, which will have a range of some 12,000 km, is projected to replace existing CSS-4/DF-5 ICBMs by the year 2010.

Concerns have been raised as to whether interactions with American commercial satellite operators have led to the transfer of technical information that would be useful to the Chinese in improving the reliability or capability of these missiles. Given the ongoing investigations of these matters, and the consequent limited public availability of detailed technical information, it is difficult to form a definitive view on this matter. But several general observations are certainly possible, and necessary, at this juncture.

The nature and volume of the technical data alleged to have been transferred by American companies is surely trivial compared to the extensive Soviet aid that facilitated initial Chinese efforts in this field. But even with that assistance, China faced a steep road into space, and has developed a robust domestic design and manufacturing capability. While technical insights from colleagues in other design communities are always of interest, there is no "secret ingredient" to American rocketry that could produce startling breakthroughs for the Chinese.

I would stipulate that recent exchanges between American and Chinese companies may have resulted in the transfer of technical information of some military significance. Certainly, I am not prepared to dispute published reports that the Defense Department has raised concerns that such transfers have or could have resulted in a harm to US national security interests. Indeed, if one contemplates the mountains of trivial information that the Defense Department classifies as SECRET, it is difficult to imagine how it could be otherwise. It was not until a few years ago that the government finally got around to declassifying military plans dating back to World War I, so I can easily imagine how the Defense Department would be inclined to err on the side of caution in the present matter.

At present, however, there is no indication in the public record of an actual identifiable harm to American security interests. Irresponsible public claims to the contrary, China today has no capabilities to attack to the United States that it did not have a year ago, or a decade ago.

Concerns have been raised about the potential for American technical information to be used by the Chinese to improve the accuracy or reliability of their ICBM force. There is no indication that this has in fact happened, there is little reason to anticipate that it will happen, and even less reason for American concern should it happen.

For nearly three decades the Chinese have maintained a small arsenal of ICBMs capable of targeting American cities. It is the fact of the existence of this force, rather than the fine-grained details of its technical characteristics, that has defined their "existential deterrence" posture, their ability to "tear off an arm and a leg."

The space launch industry is extremely sensitive to questions of launcher reliability, with launchers exhibiting reliability lower than the prevailing 90%-95% rates facing potentially prohibitive insurance premiums. Unlike space launch vehicles, the difference between 75% reliability and 90% reliability of the Chinese missile force would have no material bearing on the quality of the existential deterrent, in either Chinese or American calculations. High confidence in high reliability of missiles has been an abiding concern of the United States, but we face very different operational requirements of achieving prompt hard-target kills against Russian ICBM silos. I am concerned that, in the absence of rapid and significant reductions in American and Russian nuclear arsenals, China may over the coming decades built up to current American force levels, and develop an appetite for high confidence in high reliability. Hopefully we can forestall this development, but should we fail, we will not confront a Chinese arsenal of liquid-fueled DF-5s, but rather a more numerous arsenal of new solid-fueled DF-31s and DF-41s. Any insights into the reliability of the DF-5A gained in the 1990s would surely be of vanishingly little relevance to the reliability of the utterly unrelated DF-31 deployed in the year 2015.

While accuracy is also of interest in both the missile and launch fields, divergent considerations apply. Satellite operators generally set standards for launch vehicles placing their satellites into some proximity of the ultimate destination orbit. But the margin for error in the real world is normally many miles, and since satellites always carry maneuvering propellant, it is left to the satellite rather than the launcher to reach the ultimate destination. The warheads carried on missiles have no such supplementary guidance or propulsion capability, and rely entirely on the missile [and the quality of the reentry vehicle] to reach their terrestrial destination. The accuracy of existing Chinese missiles is not well characterized in the open literature, but is surely denominated in miles rather than the hundreds of yards characteristic of their American counterparts. Such accuracy is consistent with the city-busting role of the existing Chinese missile force. Close does count in horse-shoes, hand-grenades, and global thermonuclear war. It matter little to the China [or America] precisely which part of Los Angeles is the actual ground zero. It should be recalled that the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki actually missed by a wide margin, a fact lost on the citizens of that unfortunate city. Again, over time this may change, and we may a few decades hence confront a Chinese nuclear arsenal that is both as numerous and as accurate as that deployed by the United States today. While this would represent a profound policy failure on the part of the United States, to the extent that it is within our control, the potential transfer of technical data related to current Chinese launch vehicles would not materially contribute to this failure.

A variety of other concerns have also been raised about the national security implications of US commercial space cooperation with China, though these seem to be even less substantial.

The launch of several Motorola Iridium communications satellites on a Chinese launch vehicle did not contribute to Chinese capabilities to launch multiple warheads on its missiles, but rather reflected existing Chinese capabilities, both for launching multiple satellites and multiple warheads. In any event, the technical requirements for deploying satellites and warheads are sufficiently different that proficiency in satellite deployment says little about proficiency in the accurate deployment of warheads [and such deployment accuracy is only one of many factors in overall warhead accuracy].

American software used to analyze structural loads and deformations on launch vehicles might improve the comfort of the ride of relatively fragile commercial satellites. But nuclear warheads must survive not only launch but reentry, and the reentry environment is far more stressful than the launch environment. Any reentry vehicle that can survive reentry would be entirely indifferent to a slightly smoother ride on the way up.
While Americans have engaged in discussions with their Chinese counterparts to evaluate the potential for integrating American built "kick-motors" onto Chinese launch vehicles, there is no indication whatsoever that these discussions included transfers of technology, and little reason to believe that there would be a significant potential for military applications for such systems. As the name implies, a "kick-motor, " which is really just an additional upper stage for the launch vehicle, provides the final kick needed to place a satellite into orbit. The rough kick provided by such motors is a far cry from the precise maneuvers needed for the multiple-warhead post-boost vehicle.
We have heard "statistical" claims that Chinese launch vehicles had poor reliability until quite recently, and that since the time of the Loral accident investigation they have had a perfect record. But the statistics on Chinese launch reliability are consistent with those of any launch vehicle program. New launch vehicles have high infant mortality rates -- there is a learning curve, with more accidents early on followed by progressive improvement. And we are plagued by the tyranny of small numbers when looking at very small samples of ten launches over the last several years. Just as politician would run on the basis of polling data that queried fewer than a dozen voters, there is simply no statistical basis for concluding that Chinese launch vehicles [or Chinese missiles] have become more reliable over the last several years.

Over time the multiplication of such ill-founded allegations concerning the national security risks of commercial space activities with China has increasingly exposed the relatively insubstantial nature of the entire episode. While there are serious and unresolved concerns about Chinese activities, these are not properly numbered among them.


Given the ongoing investigation of allegations of unauthorized transfers of technical information China, it is impossible at this point and in this forum to provide a definitive answer as to the adequacy of current export control regulations and their implementation.

The Bush Administration inaugurated the policy of allowing American content commercial satellites to be launched on Chinese launch vehicles, with the understanding that in the process there must be no contribution to China's capability to design, develop, operate, maintain, modify or repair a launch vehicle. Over time licenses issued under this policy have been modified to eliminate any uncertainty on this point. If in fact these policies have been violated or circumvented, appropriate penalties should be imposed, and consideration given to further measures to reduce the risk of future infractions.

However, as we have seen in other situations ranging from export control administration to domestic law enforcement, no regulatory regime can assuredly preclude inadvertent or unscrupulous infraction. The question is not whether we should or can modify the existing regulatory environment to confidently preclude the possibility of the transfer of any and all technical information with potential military applications to China. Rather the much more challenging question is whether the existing regime strikes the proper balance between overall American national and security interests, and the risks that are inherent in transactions with a state such as China, with which we have both common and divergent interests.

The judgement of the present and previous Administrations is that the current approach strikes this proper balance. If anything, general trends in the nature of the relationship between technology and national security increasingly appear to reinforce this judgement, recent doubts notwithstanding.

Technological innovation and superiority have been at the core of the American way of war since the birth of the American Republic. The production of mass-produced muskets with inter-changeable parts is part of the folklore of the early years of the American army, and the War Between the States was marked by introduction of a variety of new engines of war that came to dominate subsequently conflicts. Throughout the 20th Century American operational culture consistently sought to substitute treasure for blood, seeking means of replacing, or at least augmenting, men with machines on the battlefield. The contest for technological superiority was at the heart of the Cold War arms race, and unchallenged American technological supremacy is the hallmark of the sole remaining superpower.

But the traditional Cold War models and institutions have proven poorly suited to the new security environment and the emerging information economy.

The Defense Department is no longer the central engine of technological innovation. In the Colonial era the War Department was responsible for a wide variety of scientific and technological innovations that subsequently found commercial application. And in the early years of the Cold War the Department of Defense sponsored the development of many of the technologies that form the basis of today's economy, ranging from the jet engine to radar and space systems. By the late 1970s and early 1980s it had become increasingly clear that highly specialized military technologies such as thermonuclear weapons and stealth had little relevance for the commercial sector. And by the early 1990s it was increasingly apparent that the defense sector's relationship to the commercial sector was more appropriately cast in the role of pupil rather than tutor.

The transformation of the relationship between military and commercial technological innovation has been accelerated by the changing face of warfare. For many the 1991 Gulf War was the watershed event in which silicon trumped steel, in which the dominant battlespace awareness afforded by sophisticated information systems over-awed a less sophisticated military preoccupied with the weapons of a bygone era. Even less exuberant observers of the contemporary scene acknowledge the increasingly decisive role played by information systems in the modern military. And the fundamental lessons of the new information economy have not been entirely lost on the Defense acquisition establishment: open systems leverage the power of the marketplace to provide the most powerful capabilities at the lowest cost.

During the Cold War the race for technological superiority was waged by contending military research and development establishments that sought to be the first to develop and field uniquely military weapons systems. In the new information era technological supremacy lies in the art of rapidly mastering and incorporating commercially developed information systems and learning to apply them to military problems. This model requires a radically different mindset and culture than has prevailed in the past and remains too prevalent today.

During the Cold War the Soviet Union sought to impose absolute control over information relating to not only militarily unique technologies, but also information pertaining to virtually every other aspect of their economy. The judgement of history is surely that this simple-minded model was perhaps less successful than its authors might have hoped.

Throughout the Cold War the United States was prepared to take greater risks with technical information. While not blind to the dangers of the promiscuous dissemination of hard-won technical insights, these Cold War policies were also very much alive to the essential contribution of the flow of technical data in building a vibrant economy.

With the fundamental shifts currently underway in both the emerging global information economy, and the ongoing revolution in military affairs, once again prudential risk taking is essential if we are to avoid the pitfalls of the Soviet model, which in seeking to control everything was in the end unable to control anything.


We live in a real world in which the art of decision making lies not in choosing obvious and easy courses which are certainly beneficial and without costs, but rather in the more challenging act of choosing among alternatives which have risks and uncertainties, and costs as well as benefits. On balance the course taken in this decade with respect to the Chinese launch vehicle has had diverse benefits, and manageable risks. This set of policies has strengthened the American satellite industry, enhancing our global dominance of this strategic sector and in the process increasing the diversity and capability of communications available to our military forces world wide. It has engaged the energies of the Chinese aerospace industry, and perhaps moved them towards seeing space development rather than missiles as the central focus of their growing role in the world. It has given us leverage in discouraging their transfer of special weapons technologies to other countries, notably Pakistan. While these efforts have clearly not been as successful as we would have wished, our non-proliferation sticks would have been even less effective in the absence of the carrots of space cooperation.

We should not allow current controversies to obscure the fundamental soundness of this approach, but even more critically, we should not allow this current controversy to distract us from the more pressing and significant challenges to US security interests.

Nor should we allow the present controversy to obscure the opportunities presented by closer cooperation between the American and Chinese space programs. Commercial launch activity has been an important element in securing Chinese compliance with the Missile Technology Control Regime, at least with respect to Category I items -- the export of whole missiles. Further extension of collaboration, both in practical applications such as remote sensing and more visible efforts such as piloted spaceflight, could have equally salutary effects, both in securing Chinese compliance with Category II MTCR provisions, as well as more generally with Chinese views of their place in the emerging world economy.

China has stood up, and it is now up to America to suggest future directions for China's restored role in the world. We are at a critical juncture in this process, an steps we take in the next few years could be critical to whether China regards spaceships or missiles as the chief talisman of its place in the world order. If we fail, we may confront a Chinese missile force that will dwarf their current inventory, and rival that of the Soviet Union. If we succeed, China could become a valued partner in the International Space Station, and a critical player in the effort to extend human presence to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.


The Federation of American Scientist's Space Policy Project is entirely supported by private sources. No public funds were used to support this Program's work.

Other projects at the Federation, not associated with the Space Policy Project, have received funding from the US Institute of Peace [$16,338] and the US Department of Agriculture [$5,000].