Pentagon faults Hughes firm for giving data to China Report says information could be used for missiles

December 09, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A secret Pentagon report concludes that Hughes Space and Communications, without proper authorization, gave China several pieces of technological insight that are crucial to successful launches of satellites and ballistic missiles.

Hughes provided a "defense service" to China that violated U.S. standards on helping Beijing make better satellites and missiles, the report said, adding that prior review by the State Department was required in this case.

Hughes' assistance to China "raises national security concerns both with regard to violating those standards and to potentially contributing to China's missile capabilities," the report said.

According to the report, in 1995, Hughes scientists helped Chinese engineers to improve the sophisticated mathematical models necessary to predict the effects of wind, high-atmosphere buffeting and other natural forces on a rocket launch.

These formulas are important to designing nuclear missiles and launching satellites that do not explode or break apart. They help technicians calculate the appropriate angle of launch, the shape of the nose cone of the rocket, the tolerable limits of weather and other factors.

The Chinese, the Pentagon said, had been using an "oversimplified" mathematical analysis that resulted in a series of failed satellite launches. Hughes pointed out the shortcoming to the Chinese in 1995, when its scientists helped investigate the failed launch of a Hughes commercial communication satellite atop a Chinese rocket.

The company and other American aerospace concerns were eager to use Chinese rockets because they are cheaper than American or European competitors, but only if they could be made reliable. The Pentagon report said that contact between Hughes engineers and Chinese scientists allowed the Chinese to gain "specific insight into specific launch vehicle design and operational problems and corrective actions."

The report also says Hughes showed Chinese scientists flaws in the way they were attaching the cargo to the rockets themselves, including the strength of the rivets they used and the shape of the nose cone. In the case of the Chinese launches, the cargo was satellites, but the technology is also applicable to attaching a nuclear warhead to a missile.

An unclassified version of the Pentagon report was made available by a government official who favors tighter controls on satellite technology.

A representative for Hughes, which has denied any wrongdoing in the case, said that the company's actions were approved at the time by the Commerce Department, which she said was the "appropriate licensing authority."

The Pentagon report did not say whether China had used the information for military purposes but it said it was not likely that the transfer had altered the strategic military balance between China and the United States.

"What it taught them how to do, which they evidently didn't know how to do, is analysis on the stresses on a launch vehicle as it goes into the upper atmosphere," said one administration official, who added that what Hughes taught the Chinese "could be directly applicable to military systems, although we have no information that it has been."

The Justice Department has been examining whether Hughes and Loral Space and Communications violated export laws when they helped Chinese rocket scientists understand the causes of another failed launch in 1996. That investigation has now been expanded to include whether Hughes violated export control laws in 1995.

The Pentagon report is the first indication that Hughes gave China valuable information in 1995 about another failed launch and provides the most detailed account to date of what the Chinese might have gained from their contacts with the American aerospace companies.

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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