High-performance computing has historically played an important role in the ability of the United States to develop and deploy a wide range of national security capabilities, such as stealth aircraft, sonar arrays, and high-energy rocket fuels. Therefore, it is critical that the U.S. stay ahead technically in this important area.
Export controls on computer hardware are one of several strategies used to ensure U.S. superiority in high-performance computing. However, rapid advances in computer technology have limited the government's ability to prevent the export of high-performance computing hardware to potential adversaries. Furthermore, controls that once restricted the export of high-end supercomputers now restrict the export of low- and mid-range servers. Denial of access to growing third-world markets, burgeoning foreign computer manufacturing capability, and increasing foreign demand for computers give rise to industry concerns over the potential loss of American dominance in the world computer market. These issues are seen as a threat to both U.S. economic security and national defense.
In light of these concerns, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Science and Technology) was asked to conduct a study to develop alternative export control strategies for high-performance computing. The goal of this study was to develop strategies that protect national security interests in high-performance computing while not endangering U.S. dominance of the computer industry. This report summarizes the findings of this work, completed in November 2000.
The current hardware control strategy is based on a measure of computer performance known as MTOPS (millions of theoretical operations per second). This metric, implemented in 1991, served as an effective basis for export controls until the late 1990s.