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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq Survey Group Final Report


Huwaysh’s Accounting of the L-29 RPV Program

Huwaysh asked for a review of the L-29 RPV program shortly after taking over as MIC director in 1997; presumably as part of a broader review of all MIC programs. Huwaysh said that he was briefed that the roles of the L-29 RPV were first as a battlefield reconnaissance system and second as a lure for US aircraft. As a mechanical engineer, Huwaysh believed the program was foolish for a number of reasons.

  • First, turning a manned aircraft with a 500-km range into an RPV with a UN-mandated maximum range of 150 km was an inefficient use of the aircraft.
  • Furthermore, at the time of the briefing, Ibn-Firnas had not been able to extend the range of the aircraft beyond 70 km due to line-of-sight limitations with the ground control station. This short range would limit the RPV’s utility as a reconnaissance system.
  • Finally, Huwaysh felt that there were too few L-29 aircraft available for conversion and that they were too expensive to operate for the stated mission, believing that smaller, cheaper UAVs were a better option.

Even with these concerns, Huwaysh was unable to immediately cancel the L-29 RPV because of Saddam’s personal interest in the program. However, after several crashes, combined with the Air Force’s refusal to provide more L-29s for conversion, Huwaysh convened a critical review of the program in late 2000 with the Ministry of Defense. At this review, the Ibn-Firnas DG Dr. Ibrahim Hasan Isma’il Smain provided a negative evaluation; following a crash in the spring of 2001, Huwaysh terminated funding for the program.

During custodial interviews, Huwaysh expressed skepticism of the stated mission (reconnaissance/decoy) of the L-29 RPV. He reported that he inherited both the program and its program manager when he became MIC Director in 1997. In his engineer’s judgment, Huwaysh considered the L-29 RPV unsuited to the battlefield reconnaissance role.

  • According to Huwaysh, Iraqi officials never tested reconnaissance cameras on the L-29. Further, while the Air Force was the most likely customer for such an aircraft, it was not involved in the RPV development and did not appear to be interested in the program.
  • In November 2003, Huwaysh stated that the L-29 was a “100 percent replacement for the MiG-21” RPV and was intended to fulfill the same mission as the MiG-21. When told that Iraq had declared the MiG-21 RPV was intended to be a CBW delivery platform, Huwaysh responded, “Whatever knowledge you have of the MiG-21 is directly related to the L-29.”
  • Huwaysh also stated that Iraq developed the MiG-21 RPV as a CBW delivery platform for use against Iran and that a sprayer for the aircraft had been developed. In his opinion, the L-29 was more suitable for CBW dissemination than the MiG-21.
  • Repeated attempts (November 2003, December 2003, and April 2004) to get Huwaysh to be more explicit on this point have been unsuccessful. In more recent interviews, Huwaysh asserted that he had no direct knowledge of a CBW delivery role for the L-29 RPP; he only suspected that that might be the intent because of its unsuitability for its stated reconnaissance mission and the publicity about the West’s suspicions about Iraq’s WMD programs.

When confronted by the interviewer that the Minister of Military Industrialization must know such details, Huwaysh was adamant that, in Saddam’s Iraq, compartmentalization between organizations prevented full knowledge by anyone but the closest members of Saddam’s inner circle (“black circle,” in Huwaysh’s words). Huwaysh denied being a member of that inner circle and denied being a political or strategic decisionmaker.


ISG cannot confirm or deny an intended WMD delivery role for the L-29 RPV. The target drone mission for the L-29 RPV, as described by a former Iraqi Air Force officer who worked on the program from 1997-2002, is consistent with Western practice for AAM and SAM live fire training. Further, Huwaysh reported that the number-one lesson Iraq learned from Desert Storm was the need to significantly improve air defenses; a target drone of this type could be used to test new air defense systems and to train crews. However, Huwaysh did not associate the L-29 RPV with this mission. Finally, the size, operating cost, and complexity of the L-29 exceed the requirements for a battlefield reconnaissance platform.

  • If the L-29 RPV mission was truly innocuous, ISG judges that Iraqis from the shop floor up to the MIC director would know that. Also, the small number of L-29s available for conversion would minimize its utility for missile live fire testing and training.

The inconsistency in reporting on intended roles for the L-29 RPV, from individuals who should be in a position to know, is troubling. Huwaysh’s CBW delivery “suspicions” may be hints of actual knowledge that he is unwilling or afraid to share with interviewers. This, combined with indirect reporting of a WMD delivery role from another source, prevents us from eliminating an intended WMD delivery role for the L-29 RPV.

  • The aircraft’s payload capability and flight performance are sufficient for use as either a chemical or biological weapons platform.
  • Iraq had previously experimented with modifying Mirage F1 external fuel tanks into biological weapons dispensers and had used L-29 drop tanks to produce an agricultural spray system for the Hughes 500 helicopter.
  • Iraq had the capability to develop chemical or biological weapon spray systems for the L-29, but there is no evidence of any work along these lines.

ISG judges that, even though this program did not come to fruition, a foundation of knowledge and a technical basis was obtained from which Iraq could resurrect chemical or biological weapon dispensing system programs.

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