By Wade Boese
On April 4, the State Department accused Lockheed Martin of violating arms export control laws by supplying sensitive rocket information to a company partially owned by the Chinese government. Lockheed Martin allegedly provided Asia Satellite Telecommunications Corporation (Asiasat) with a technical assessment of a solid-fueled kick motor that was later used in the launch of the Asiasat-2 communications satellite, which had been purchased from the U.S. aerospace firm.
The satellite was launched in 1995 on a Chinese Long March rocket, a model that had failed twice in 1992 to deliver satellites to their targets. In 1994, at the behest of Asiasat, a Lockheed Martin team visited a test-launch facility in China and conducted an examination of the rocket's kick motor. The State Department contends that the transfer of the technical assessment produced as a result of the visit violated prohibitions on transfers of such information to the Chinese government.
The United States is concerned that the Lockheed report may have identified weaknesses that could help China's ballistic missile development and testing program. "We would be concerned at any…access to technology that we feel could be used against the United States," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral Craig Quigley explained April 6.
Lockheed Martin claims that Commerce and State Department licenses specifically allowed the transfer of its report to the respective parties. "The actions taken in 1994 were consistent with the licenses in place at that time," said James Fetig, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson.
The State Department maintains that additional licenses were required for technical details contained in the assessment and that Lockheed Martin released the report to Asiasat before the Defense Department had edited it to remove sensitive material. (Pentagon officials reportedly blacked out 45 pages of the 50-page document.) Lockheed Martin is also charged with sharing the edited version of the report with the state-owned China Great Wall Industry Corporation, which produces ballistic missiles for the Chinese military.
A China Great Wall Industry Corporation spokesman denied April 12 that the corporation had received any help from Lockheed Martin. "China has developed the satellite perigee kick motor entirely by relying on its own efforts. We have never acquired from Lockheed Martin or any other party technical assistance of whatever form in this regard," he said.
The State Department action was praised by Representatives Christopher Cox (R-CA) and Norman Dicks (D-WA), who headed a bipartisan select committee in 1998 to investigate similar allegations against two other U.S. companies, Hughes Space and International, Inc. and Space Systems/Loral. The committee's January 1999 report, known as the "Cox Report," argued for stronger controls on satellite exports to China. (See ACT, April/May 1999.)
Unlike the allegations involving Hughes and Loral, the State Department is seeking civil penalties, not criminal sanctions, against Lockheed Martin. The company could face fines of up to $15 million and lose the right to export satellite technology for up to three years. Lockheed Martin has 30 days, until May 4, to formally respond to the charges.