China and Russia Take the Lead in the Supercomputer Arms Race

March 31, 2017 • Blog Post • BY BILL MANNEL, VP


  • The U.S. is quickly losing ground to other powerful nations as the focus on the development of fast computing systems has shifted to other issues
  • These developments have a significant impact on the economy, national security and military technology functions

HPEs Bill Mannel on why high-performance computing is essential to national security and global leadership

During the Cold War era, U.S. leadership was obsessed with gaps between the U.S. and the USSR. There was the nuclear arms race, in which each country competed for supremacy in nuclear warfare, and the space race, which resulted in the first-ever landing on the moon. (And for fans of Dr. Strangelove, there was the mineshaft gap.)

While we may have gone a bit overboard with such rhetoric back then, these days we have gone too far in the other directionat least when it comes to supercomputers.

For instance, back in June, The Associated Pressreportedthat a Chinese supercomputer was deemed the worlds fastest for the seventh year in a row. In addition, for the first time, China has now officially topped the U.S. with the most supercomputers on TOP500s renowned list of the worlds fastest supercomputers. Even Japan is on track to build an exascale computer before the U.S.

Why have we not heard about this more in the media or during this years presidential campaign?

Its a mistake to ignore this issue, as supercomputers are now the key to establishing military might. Authoritative governments like China and Russia have an advantage over the U.S. since they can boost their spending on such computers without argument. The U.S. cant let those countries assume an advantage and the first step to achieve parity in this space is increasing public awareness.

The high importance of high performance

Today, warfare is increasingly carried out by drones, and the introduction of self-driving vehicles will likely pave the way for self-driving tanks as well. While information has always been at the heart of warfare, these days, Chinese and Russian hackers are on the front line of information wars that are proxies for armed conflicts.

For instance, Russia used a cyber attack to bring down the power grid in Ukraine. In another cyber attack, North Korea exposed the data of 10 million South Koreans.

In addition to cybersecurity, a strong supercomputing program will also have a positive impact on our economy, as it helps to create new jobs and industries. High-performance computing is expanding beyond the walls of academia and research institutions, and is now at the core of many businesses across industries, including financial services, pharmaceuticals, transportation and telecom.

Where are the supercomputing advocates?

Part of the reason we dont hear much about the supercomputer gap is that these high-performance machines are used by below-the-radar functions within the federal government, such as Homeland Security.

Perhaps another reason that supercomputers are missing from the public dialogue is that their public sector usage is not centralized. A number of government agencies rely on high-performance computing for a wide range of tasks, such as security, climate change modeling and space exploration. In other words, theres no supercomputing czar within the government advocating for their use.

Cast your vote for the cause

Often, innovation occurs in the private sector first and then spreads to the government. But we havent seen significant progress in supercomputing in the U.S. because many companies are too focused on quarterly results to sink significant funding into high-performance computing R&D.

The federal government has the power to take back our place at the top of the supercomputing rankings, before we lose any more ground to foreign powers. After all, the Internet was originally part of a federally-funded research program and has prompted a wave of dizzying innovation and growth over the past three decades.

We cant neglect supercomputing any longer. I hope that our next president takes the lead and significantly increases the high-performance computing budget so we can close the gap as quickly as possible.