Control Data Corp., the Minneapolis-based computer company, announced yesterday that it would spin off a new company to design and build "supercomputers." The move intensifies the race between the United States and Japan to be the world leader in information technology.

Supercomputers are designed to process information thousands of times faster than ordinary computers. Moreover, several supercomputer projects--most notably the one sponsored by Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI)--are exploring different designs and software to make the supercomputers more "intelligent."

In a speech prepared for delivery at Los Alamos National Laboratory last night, Control Data Chairman William Norris asserted that "small entrepreneurial companies" were in the best position to develop supercomputer architectures and technologies and that Control Data would set up ETA Systems as its "example."

ETA Systems, which will be run by two of Control Data's top supercomputer scientists and engineers, will be partly owned by Control Data. A company spokesman did not disclose ETA's initial capitalization.

Along with Cray Research, another Minnesota company, Control Data is one of the world's leading manufacturers of super-fast computers. Its Cyber 205 computer can perform over 800 million calculations per second--roughly eight times faster than most top-of-the-line computers today.

By 1986, ETA Systems expects to produce a supercomputer that can perform over 10 billion calculations per second by exploiting a new generation of operating systems software and super-cooled integrated circuit technology, a Control Data spokesman said.

In addition to MITI's so-called "Fifth Generation" supercomputer project, Japan's Fujitsu, Hitachi and Nippon Electric companies are also exploring supercomputer technology. Concern that the Japanese might leapfrog the existing U.S. lead in computer technology prompted the Defense Department to announce earlier this year that it was sponsoring supercomputing projects of its own. Details of the Defense proposal, which is called Strategic Computing and Survivability, are expected within the next few weeks.

Control Data's Norris is also responsible for initiating another response to what is perceived as "the Japanese challenge" with the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp. Run by former CIA deputy director Bobby R. Inman, MCC is a Texas-based research and development consortium that includes Control Data, RCA, Digital Equipment Corp., Honeywell and several other high-technology companies that is expected to produce technologies relevant to supercomputer development.

Recently, White House Science Adviser George Keyworth issued a statement directing several government agencies to coordinate their efforts to create a federal market for companies making supercomputers. Currently, the federal government, particularly the Pentagon, is the main purchaser of supercomputer capabilities.