If illegal exports of high-tech goods foiled by the United States last year had gone through, the Soviet military might have saved as much as $12 billion over the next decade, claims a just-released Pentagon report on US technology security efforts. Soviet antisubmarine-warfare capability would have been particularly improved.
The Soviet Union tried clandestinely to acquire a wide variety of Western technologies in 1985, but it seemed most interested in the advanced sensors and computers needed to detect quiet-running subs, the Pentagon report says.
The Reagan administration has long claimed that the Soviet Union's systematic efforts to steal the know-how of Western nations is a major threat to US security.
Pentagon officials say that almost every Soviet military-research project benefits in some way from documents or hardware obtained in the West.
``In 1985, as in previous years, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies made major attempts to acquire militarily critical technology from the US and the West,'' concludes the report, an annual accounting to Congress of Defense Department efforts to stop the flow.
Moscow continued to be interested in acquiring the equipment needed for computer-aided machine design and manufacturing.
Most requests for such equipment were made through legal channels and were ostensibly for such civilian applications as the Volga automobile plant. Believing that automated production machines are a militarily useful technology, the Pentagon moved to block the requests.
The East bloc also zeroed in on two other types of computer technology: personal computers and devices used for storing large amounts of electronic information, such as disk drives. Most attempts to purchase these technologies came from Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, not the Soviet Union.
``It appears that [communist] bloc nations have just entered the phase of computer use achieved some five to seven years ago in the US,'' the Pentagon study concludes.
A more shadowy effort to attain Western know-how was an attempted diversion from Britain of a carbon-related manufacturing machine, which makes a lightweight material used in nuclear missile production, the Pentagon claims. As a Soviet ship sailed in to pick the machine up, the US and Britain passed emergency regulations that halted its export.
But the most intensive Soviet activity was in attempts to get technology that the Pentagon claims would be used to develop advanced sensors capable of tracking US submarines.
The Soviet Union wanted to buy earthquake monitors and other seismic listening equipment that the US says could be useful in designing better listening devices to pick up underwater noises.
Warsaw Pact nations also tried to obtain medical and scientific instruments useful in sifting out the sound of subs from background noise clutter, according to the Pentagon.
If the Soviet Union had obtained all that it was after in 1985, its military capability would have been greatly improved.
Maintaining the current US-Soviet military balance would then have necessitated additional US defense expenditures of between $5 billion and $13 billion over the next 10 years, the Defense Department says.
China, on the other hand, began receiving shipments of major defense equipment in 1985 with a US blessing. The technology security report says that exports to China of both small arms and torpedoes were approved last year by the US government.