Jeffrey LewisSecretive Chinese Hide Technology in Museum

Yesterday, I visited the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) museum. CALT designs, develops and manufactures Chinese space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles.

The highlight, for me, was a “Smart Dispenser” (SD), which is a CZ-2C upper rocket stage that could be modified for use on a ballistic missile as a multiple-reentry vehicle post-boost vehicle.

The SD had the right-wing enraged for several years, as demonstrated by a statement from Ken Timmerman before the U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission :

Sometimes, seemingly innocuous contracts can lead to extraordinary losses to U.S. security. For example, on April 28, 1993, Motorola signed a contract with China Great Wall Industries Corp., to launch twelve of its Iridium global communication satellites. As part of the contract the Chinese agreed to develop a “smart dispenser;” allowing them to launch several satellites from a single rocket. Earlier Chinese attempts to develop such a dispenser had failed.

According to a Chinese defector I interviewed, help from U.S. engineers changed all that by providing the specifications and technical assistance needed to produce the dispenser. Ultimately it was Lockheed which produced the dispenser, which now sits squarely atop the DF-31 carrying multiple nuclear warheads. [Emphasis Added]

Timmerman has lots of facts dead-wrong: the DF-31 is not deployed and it cannot carry multiple warheads. The Cox Commission “determined that Motorola did not provide the PRC with information on how to design the Smart Dispenser.”

Indigenous SD technology might, however, be used to place multiple DF-31-type RVs on the DF-5A. So imagine my surprise, upon strolling in to the CALT museum, to see the thing sitting right there.

The point here is that the Chinese are not nearly so secretive and that military motives are not nearly so ubiquitous as people like Ken Timmerman imply. The SD is a commercial technology, first and foremost, with a military implication – something that can be said for most every important technology from computers to passenger aircraft.

A secret 1996 Air Force National Air Intelligence Center report, which was leaked to the press, has a sober, restrained view of the Smart Dispenser.

Off for some Beijing Duck.