Testimony: Cooperation in Space and Missiles

Testimony of Gary Milhollin

Professor, University of Wisconsin Law School and
Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control

Before the House Committee on Science

June 25, 1998

I am pleased to appear today before this distinguished Committee. In accordance with the Committee’s request, I will discuss the U.S. policy of cooperation with foreign space programs and the risk that this cooperation could contribute to the spread of missile technology.

Helping India and Pakistan

I would like to begin with a bit of history. There is an important lesson to be learned about the origin of India’s largest nuclear-capable missile, the “Agni.”

In November 1963, NASA began the Indian space program by launching a U.S. rocket from Indian soil. Between 1963 and 1975, more than 350 U.S., French, Soviet and British rockets were launched from India’s new Thumba Range, which the United States helped design. Thumba’s first group of Indian engineers learned rocket launching and range operation from the United States.

Among these engineers was A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the Agni missile’s chief designer. After the Indian nuclear tests last month, he was also hailed as the “father” of the Indian atomic bomb. In 1963-64, he spent four months in training in the United States. He visited NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, where the U.S. Scout rocket was conceived, and the Wallops Island Flight Center in Virginia, where the Scout was being flown. The Scout was a four-stage, solid-fueled launcher used to orbit small payloads. It was also used to test the performance of reentry vehicles–a technology necessary to deliver nuclear warheads. According to NASA officials, the Indian engineers saw the blueprints of the Scout during their visit.

In 1965, the Indian government asked NASA for design information about the Scout. The request should have raised some eyebrows. It came from the head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission. Nevertheless, NASA obligingly supplied the information. Kalam then proceeded to build India’s first big rocket, the SLV-3, which was an exact copy of the Scout. The first stage of the SLV-3 is now the first stage of the Agni missile.

The second stage of the Agni is based on a surface-to-air missile known as the SA-2 that India bought from Russia. But in order to build the second stage, India also had to learn about liquid propulsion. For this, India turned to France. The French willingly transferred the technology needed to build a powerful liquid-fueled rocket motor called the “Viking,” which powers the European Space Agency’s Ariane satellite launcher. Thus, India learned how to build the first stage of the Agni from the United States, and how to build the second stage from France and Russia. The U.S. and French help was supposed to be for peaceful space exploration, but it wound up helping India’s missile program.

The Agni also needed a guidance system. For this, India turned to the German Space Agency. In the 1970s and 1980s, Germany conducted an intensive tutorial for India in rocket guidance. The assistance–once again–was supposed to be for peaceful space exploration. But each step in the process for building a guidance system for India’s space launcher moved India further down the road to building a guidance system for the Agni missile. In fact, India seems to have invented a new term to describe its progress. Again and again, India’s Department of Space, in its annual reports, announced that it was able to “indigenize” another piece of essential equipment.

Germany also provided other help. The German Space Agency tested a model of the first stage of the SLV-3 (identical to the Scout) in its wind tunnel at Cologne-Portz. That first stage is now the first stage of the Agni missile. The German Space Agency also helped India build rocket test facilities, and trained Indians in the use of the special composite materials needed to make rocket nozzles and nosecones. I have included a graphic and a table in my testimony that summarizes the extensive foreign help that India received.

Thus, India’s biggest nuclear missile is an international product. Under the guise of peaceful space cooperation, the United States, France and Germany helped create the most advanced nuclear missile in South Asia. The Agni’s first stage, second stage and guidance system all come from Western technology, which proves beyond any doubt that you cannot help a country build space launchers without helping it build missiles.

The story in Pakistan is similar. In 1962, NASA launched Pakistan’s first rocket, a U.S. made Nike-Cajun, in a project led by Tariq Mustafa, the senior scientific officer of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. NASA also trained Pakistani rocket scientists at Wallops Island. Other NASA-sponsored launches followed until 1970. Thus, the first rockets in both India and Pakistan were launched by NASA under a policy of peaceful space cooperation. The result of that cooperation, however, has been long-range missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.

Cooperation with China

This past March, the Administration invited China to join the Missile Technology Control Regime. In a memorandum dated March 12, White House staff member Gary Samore stated the reasons for making the offer. If China joined, the memo stated, China could expect “substantial protection from future U.S. missile sanctions.”

Mr. Samore could have said “complete protection.” Under Section 73 of the Arms Export Control Act, sanctions would not apply to a Chinese company if China joined the MTCR even if the company transferred complete missiles to Pakistan. Sanctions would be avoided if the sale were legal under Chinese law, or if China took action against the company, or if China found the company to be innocent. In effect, the Administration offered China a complete shield against U.S. sanctions law. The result would be to allow China to continue its sales of missile components and technology to Pakistan with no fear of punishment by the United States.

In addition, China’s own missile and space effort would probably get a boost from American imports. The United States now requires an export license for a missile-related item shipped to any country except Canada. It is likely that China would enjoy a presumption of approval for such licenses if China were admitted to the MTCR. Earlier this year, the pro-export Commerce Department announced that applications for dual-use nuclear exports to China would begin to benefit from a presumption of approval instead of a presumption of denial because of the new China-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement.

China’s missile firms would also find it easier to import American goods that are not on the control list. An example would be a powerful computer operating at a speed just under the present control level, or a machine tool with an accuracy just under the control level. As things stand now, if a U.S. exporter gets an order from a known missile maker in China, the exporter cannot make the sale without notifying the U.S. government and getting an export license. This is required by Section 744.3 of the Export Administration Regulations. If China were to join the MTCR, however, no license would be required for such a sale. U.S. firms could deliberately outfit Chinese missile manufacturing sites without telling anyone.

There is also a risk that China could undermine the MTCR by making use of the knowledge it would gain by membership. The countries that participate in the MTCR notify each other of sales that they deny. If the United States decides, for example, not to sell a vacuum furnace to India, the United States notifies the other members of the MTCR of the denial so that the other members will not let their firms step in behind the American company and make the sale. In light of China’s past behavior on missile exports, there is a concern that China would pass the denial information along to Chinese firms that would make the sale.

It is important to remember that the firms with which we are cooperating in satellite launches are the same Chinese firms that are proliferating missile technology to Iran and Pakistan. Who are these companies? China Great Wall Industries, China Aerospace International Holdings Ltd. (CASIL, of Hong Kong) and their parent, China Aerospace Industry Corporation. These companies launch U.S.-made satellites on China’s Long March rockets. The United States has sanctioned both China Great Wall and China Aerospace Corporation in the past for supplying missile technology to Pakistan, and the intelligence community reports that the exports are still going on.

It is also important to realize that a satellite launch contract is one of the most lucrative things a Chinese aerospace company can get from the United States. It is a major source of revenue. By continuing our space cooperation with companies that sell missile technology to Iran and Pakistan, the United States is putting money into the pockets of companies that are directly undermining our nonproliferation policies. This is one of the clearest instances in which space cooperation contributes to missile proliferation.

Although I have not had time to research fully the question of American missile help to China, there are at least a few facts that the Committee might like to know. They concern the educational backgrounds of China’s leading rocket scientists. One of China’s most celebrated rocket scientists is Qian Xuesen, who studied at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology, where he received his doctorate in 1938. He later taught at both MIT and Cal Tech before returning to China to lead its missile programs. Another leading rocket expert, Tu Shoue, received a master’s from MIT in aviation engineering before going home to design China’s launch vehicles as well as several intermediate-range missiles. A third is Liang Shoupan, who after getting the same master’s degree from MIT, taught at the military engineering academy of the People’s Liberation Army and served as China’s chief systems designer for ballistic missiles. And one might also mention Huang Weilu, a missile guidance specialist who studied at the University of London, and Ren Xinmin, a liquid propellant specialist who got a Ph.D. in engineering mechanics from the University of Michigan.

These scientists were no doubt welcomed to the United States under the assumption that they would use their learning for peaceful space exploration. We now realize, however, that American universities taught many of China’s leading scientists how to make better long-range missiles.

It is difficult to see how it would be prudent to allow China to join the MTCR at this time. China has repeatedly failed to comply with MTCR guidelines since promising to do so in 1992 and 1994. There is no real evidence that China has changed its ways. Thus, the main effect of the offer may be to insulate Chinese aerospace companies from U.S. sanctions laws so that satellite launches can continue.

The lesson from what I have said above is clear. The United States and its allies should only cooperate with countries that share our commitment to nuclear and missile non-proliferation. U.S. space cooperation should be a reward for countries that are part of the solution to proliferation, not a bribe to those that are part of the problem. That principle excludes, at a minimum, China, India, Israel and Pakistan. The latter three have rejected the Nonproliferation Treaty and China, while nominally a member, continues to spread missile technology through its exports. If we look back on our space cooperation with India and Pakistan, we can see that it was a mistake. Those countries are now poised to mount nuclear warheads on rockets, and those rockets were built from programs we have nurtured.

Missile Helpers

India did not build its missiles alone. The world’s leading rocket producers gave essential help in research, development, and manufacture.


  • Licensed production of sounding rockets in India
  • Supplied the liquid-fuel Viking rocket engine, now the “Vikas” engine of the PSLV second stage
  • Tested Indian-produced Vikas engine in France


  • Delivered measurement and calibration equipment to ISRO laboratories
  • Trained Indians in high-altitude tests of rocket motors and in glass and carbon fiber composites for rocket engine housings, nozzles and nose cones
  • Designed high-altitude rocket test facilities
  • Conducted wind tunnel tests for SLV-3 rocket
  • Developed radio frequency interferometer for rocket guidance
  • Developed computers for rocket payload guidance based on U.S. microprocessor
  • Supplied documentation for a filament-winding machine to make rocket engine nozzles and housings
  • Helped build Vikas rocket engine test facilities
  • Designed hypersonic wind tunnel and heat transfer facilities
  • Supplied rocket motor segment rings for PSLV


  • Supplied surface-to-air missiles which became the models for the Prithvi missile and the second stage of the Agni medium-range missile
  • Sold seven cryogenic rocket engines

United Kingdom

  • Supplied components for Imarat Research Center, home to the Agni missile
  • Supplied magnetrons for radar guidance and detonation systems to Defense Research and Development Laboratory

United States

  • Launched U.S.-built rockets from Thumba test range
  • Trained Dr. Abdul Kalam, designer of the Agni
  • Introduced India to the Scout rocket, the model for the SLV-3 rocket and the Agni first stage
  • Sent technical reports on the Scout rocket to Homi Bhabha, the head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission
  • Sold equipment that can simulate vibrations on a warhead