Feds Blast Hughes Over Missile Technology Transfer To China
Associated Press Write


WASHINGTON (AP) _ A U.S. satellite company gave China detailed information on improving rocket reliability with no oversight from U.S. officials guarding against release of sensitive data, according to an internal Pentagon report obtained today. The classified report, which was being reviewed for release today, concludes that Hughes Space and Communications Co., a California-based maker of satellites and other aerospace components, provided China with extensive help following the January 1995 failure of a Chinese rocket launch. The Long March 2E rocket was carrying a Hughes-built APSTAR II telecommunications satellite.

While the help from Hughes did not change the strategic balance between the United States and China, the Pentagon concluded, the Hughes assistance raises concerns about violating export restrictions and ``potentially contributing to China's missile capabilities.'' The extent of China's help from Hughes and other U.S. satellite makers is the subject of several federal and congressional investigations. Stamped ``secret,'' the Pentagon's 13-page ``initial assessment,'' a copy of which was obtained today by The Associated Press, presents the most detailed government findings to date on whether China gained information in responding to commercial satellite launch failures that would apply to its ballistic-missile programs. ``Hughes conducted a broad, in-depth investigation that involved significant technical and detailed interchanges between Hughes and Chinese experts,'' the Pentagon reported. ``The investigation's conclusions that were provided to the Chinese were very specific and identified the need for modifications in the Chinese launch vehicle faring design and launch operations.'' Faring refers to the shroud that covers either military or commercial payloads in rockets.

Much of the Hughes accident investigation, done side by side with Chinese officials, covered such areas as calculating atmospheric effects on rocket guidance systems and properly attaching rocket payloads to the vehicle frame _ information useful in either commercial or military contexts. The Pentagon report is sharply critical of the Commerce Department, which had jurisdiction in 1995 over the crash investigation and Hughes' interactions with the Chinese. It is sure to bolster the position of lawmakers, such as Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who argued successfully last year that jurisdiction over satellite exports to China should be returned to the State Department, which is deemed more security conscious. The report cites ``a lack of government restrictions'' imposed by Commerce over the crash investigators. ``There is no evidence in the documents reviewed by DOD that there were any limits imposed on the APSTAR II investigation by the Commerce Department or any other U.S. government agency,'' the Pentagon report concluded. Because the assistance provided to the Chinese by Hughes constituted a ``defense service'' as defined by U.S. export law, it was ``clearly beyond the scope of Commerce export control jurisdiction,'' the Pentagon reported. That finding could prove highly valuable to Hughes, which has argued repeatedly that it followed Commerce Department guidance in conducting the rocket accident investigation. A Hughes spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A Commerce spokesman referred all questions to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon report makes clear that the Chinese could use the insights gained from Hughes for improving military rocket systems, though it says there is no direct evidence indicating the Chinese did so. Hughes' reports to the Chinese ``were sufficiently specific to inform the Chinese of the kinds of launch vehicle design or operational changes that would make the Long March 2E, and perhaps other launch vehicles as well, more reliable,'' the Pentagon concluded. The knowledge gained by China from Hughes, ``did not likely alter the strategic military balance between the United States and China,'' the report said. ``However, in light of the strict standards of U.S. policy not to assist China in improving its satellite and missile-related capabilities, ... (the Defense Department) believes that the scope and content of the launch failure investigation conducted by Hughes with the Chinese following the January 1995 APSTAR II failure raises national security concerns both with regard to violating those standards and to potentially contributing to China's missile capabilities.''