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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq Survey Group Final Report


Rail Gun Summary

Iraq’s efforts to develop rail guns appear to have been for air defense, but ISG found that laboratories established to partly support an IAEC project led by Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Sa’id—the head of Iraq’s pre-1991 nuclear weapons design and development program—also could build skills needed for a renewed nuclear weapons effort.

  • ISG has not uncovered information that shows that Iraq’s work on rail guns in the late 1990s was part of a renewed nuclear weapons effort—although some of the reporting acknowledges this potential.
  • Rail gun equipment and materials uncovered by ISG similarly do not appear to have been part of a nuclear weapons design and development effort, even though a few items—with further development—had the potential of supporting such work.
  • Theoretically, the rail gun could provide the range and altitude capability to shoot down aircraft in the no-fly zone, a reported goal of Saddam’s (see inset).

Rail Gun Efforts

Multiple sources and captured documents indicate that, in early 1999, Sa’id initiated a project under the IAEC to develop a rail gun, an experimental device that, if further developed, could, in theory, have applications including nuclear weapons research and antiaircraft weapons. The IAEC rail gun project—named Al Muharek al Khati or “The Linear Engine”—occupied two primary locations, a laboratory at the Roland Missile Facility near the Rashid Air Base and a small facility within former residential compound outside the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center. The Roland site was destroyed by Coalition bombing in March 2003, while the facility outside of Tuwaitha—called the “Technical Research Branch”—was the subject of an ISG site visit in August, 2003.

  • We know from postwar debriefings that Sa’id used the Technical Research Branch as headquarters of the IAEC rail gun project. Documents found at the site and former scientists involved in the work indicate that Dr. Karim Kalif Mohamid was the head of the photography unit of the Technical Research Branch.

Numerous Iraqi scientists interviewed by ISG stated that the IAEC rail gun was an effort to develop an antiaircraft weapon—a point that we believe is supported by documents captured at the Technical Research Branch and at IAEC’s headquarters at Tuwaitha. A set of papers found at the site—which we have determined were written by Sa’id—connect the rail gun to antiaircraft work for the Ministry of Defense. Former scientists involved in the effort indicate at least two progress reports were submitted to the Air Defense Commander, Lieutenant General Shaheen. These same sources, as well as documentary information found by ISG, indicate Shaheen visited the IAEC rail gun project (see inset on Saddam’s Interest in Antiaircraft Weapons).

  • Other indications the rail gun project was intended for antiaircraft applications include the need for a technical cadre specialized in air defense, a plan to locate the work at the air defense site at the al Rashid Military Camp, and the intent to use a visual device to target the projectile—according to notations in Sa’id’s papers. The document also notes plans in early September 1999 to test the rail gun on what appears to be salvaged military aircraft from an airplane repair company.
  • An Iraqi scientist told ISG that the IAEC rail gun project was one of many projects at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center that were supported by the Ministry of Defense. The same source indicates any scientist could suggest an air defense project—purportedly a means to obtain extra funding and recognition.

Despite indications that the IAEC rail gun was intended for antiaircraft use, the project preserved skills that could support a renewed nuclear weapons design effort. Given his past leadership in the nuclear weapons program, ISG believes that Sa’id clearly understood that his rail gun project also dealt with technical subject areas applicable to nuclear weapons research. In one section of text that we suspect was part of his proposal to build the IAEC rail gun, Sa’id refers to work on gas guns—technically simpler devices that also can accelerate projectiles to high speeds.

  • Sa’id’s notes describe that gas gun work had been planned for al Atheer—a site where he and his staff had planned to design, develop, and assemble nuclear weapons as part of the pre-1991 weapons program. Iraq planned to use gas guns as a research tool for its pre-1991 nuclear weapons program.

According to a scientist involved with the rail gun program, Sa’id also indicated one of the objectives of the project was to train a new generation of IAEC scientists in applied physics. One source indicated that working on the rail gun project was like attending a seminar where staff could learn new subjects such as plasma physics, electrical engineering, motion physics, high-speed photography, and flash radiography.

  • Documentation found at the Technical Research Branch also describes work in each of these areas but noted in the context of an air defense project (see inset on Technical Research Branch).
  • A proposal for a 10-year effort to recruit and train university students was also found at the Technical Research Branch site.

Saddam’s Interest in Antiaircraft Weapons

The antiaircraft application is consistent with Saddam’s reported intense interest in air defense technologies.One scientist told ISG that Saddam became obsessed with achieving a capability to shoot down an enemy aircraft in the no-fly zone and had challenged the scientific community to rally around that goal. Saddam reportedly believed that achieving such a capability would render the no-fly zone ineffective and foster a change in political climate that would hasten the lifting of sanctions.

  • Fadil al-Janabi, head of the IAEC since 1996, indicates that Saddam would often attend monthly meetings with his son Qusay to discuss air defense projects—meetings Janabi also claims to have last attended in February 2003.

Fadil al-Janabi indicates that Saddam tasked him to develop knowledge in atomic energy areas and support air defense projects. Air defense was the IAEC’s number-one priority.

The IAEC Technical Research Branch

According to a document captured by ISG, the IAEC Technical Research Branch consisted of various laboratory units, which include:

  • Photography Unit: The aim of this unit was to strengthen the scientific tests on various physics phenomena for the purpose of treating the photographic montage and also to study the specifications of standard and digital cameras.
  • Pressure Measuring Unit: Aimed at counting the pressure of various materials and their mechanical specifications.
  • X-ray Unit: Aimed at studying matter specifications, counting the speed of moving bodies, and the natural behavior of movement of these bodies through x-ray photography.
  • Electronic Unit: Aimed at testing and measuring electrical specifications (resistance, induction, voltage, and current) and also repair of electronic instruments and computers.
  • Programming: This unit dealt with the physical problems and factors that affect scientific programming.

One Iraqi scientist told ISG that Sa’id’s rail gun pursuits were more personally motivated because he was nearing the end of his professional career and he wanted to increase his stature with Saddam. This source indicates Sa’id may have wanted to leave his mark with a high-profile project—like shooting down a Coalition aircraft. Another Iraqi scientist noted that, even though Sa’id had been removed from the IAEC after reaching the compulsory retirement age in mid-2002, he continued to run the rail gun project and eventually Saddam reinstated him at the IAEC.

  • Postwar document exploitation efforts reveal Sa’id applied–probably in late 2002—for a position as the Director General of the Industrial Committee. His application details work experience from 1989 to 2001, noting his work on the IAEC rail gun project as well as work on Iraq’s “complete, final, and inclusive document for the canceled project/Group 4.” ISG doubts that Sa’id would have needed to pursue the new job or need reinstatement if he had been part of a concerted Iraq effort to restart Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.

Sa’id managed, nonetheless, to initiate his IAEC project despite a more experienced rail gun effort having been reinitiated under the MIC at Al Tahadi in 2000. Reporting from former scientists in the rail gun program suggests that the IAEC project seems to have been the favored effort as the leaders of the MIC project reportedly were asked to join the IAEC rail gun program. At least one scientist from the Al Tahadi rail gun project reportedly also was tasked to assist the IAEC, participating in three meetings between late 2001 and June, 2002. The same source indicates the Al Tahadi effort also provided equipment to the IAEC rail gun (see inset on MIC’s Rail Gun Projects and Figure 29).

Documentation found at the Technical Research Branch also indicates an agreement was being discussed to have Al Tahadi repair and examine the IAEC rail gun.

ISG has found only tenuous indicators that would suggest the rail gun was part of an effort to renew a nuclear weapons program. One Iraqi scientist recalled Sa’id’s role in gas gun work for the pre-1991 nuclear weapons program and thought it possible that the rail gun would be applied to a similar research effort. Documents found by ISG also indicate the IAEC rail gun effort was associated with a number of scientists from the former nuclear weapons design and development program including other former members of Iraq’s pre-1991 nuclear weapons program (see inset on Tapping PC-3 Expertise).

MIC Rail Gun Projects

Iraq’s interest in rail guns for air defense, according to a senior official involved in the program, traces to around 1993, when an Iraqi scientist recently returned from his Ph.D. studies in Russia, wrote to the MIC to advocate the development of rail guns. This letter reportedly generated research and development efforts at the High Voltage Establishment—an outgrowth of the electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) portion of the pre-1991 nuclear weapons program at Tarmiya. The High Voltage Establishment was renamed Al Tahadi in 1995. Rail gun efforts fell under the direction of Dr. Khaluq Rauf Hamdi, who arrived at the establishment in 1994.

  • The MIC program at the High Voltage Establishment succeeded in producing a rail gun with a barrel 1 meter long, capable of shooting a 1-gram, quadrilateral-shaped polycarbonate projectile to a speed of 400 to 450 meters per second, according to an official involved in that program.
  • ISG found other evidence that the rail gun at Al Tahadi had reached a speed of 1 km/sec in March 2000. The so-called Iraqi Electromagnetic Rail Gun used a capacity of 55 kJ to accelerate a 1.5-gm projectile to the 1-km/sec speed.

Although well under the limits of Annex 3 (2,000 meters per second), the MIC rail gun project was routinely hidden from inspectors. According to a former senior official involved with the work, before UN/IAEA inspectors would visit the site, Iraqi personnel took efforts to conceal equipment associated with the project. The project was killed in 1995 when MIC Official Amir Rashid Al ‘Ubaydi became concerned that the research and development effort would be discovered.

  • Based on information gathered through debriefings and documents, ISG has determined that the IAEC rail gun effort was a classified program, and at least part of it was code-named Project 505—actions reminiscent of how Iraq classified its pre-1991 nuclear weapons programs. A scientist associated with the rail gun project claims the rail gun project was classified not because of the sensitivity of its application or technology—which appears to have been drawn from open literature—but to create an aura of importance.
  • Another source associated with the rail gun effort recalled an emergency meeting called by Sa’id in 1995—under the authority of Husayn Kamil, the former head of Iraq’s WMD programs–to ask about the feasibility of manufacturing man-made diamonds. When told the project was impractical, Sa’id reportedly indicated this was why the rail gun project was needed. Some types of artificial diamond production technology utilize skills similar to those needed in developing nuclear weapons.

An ISG inspection of the Technical Research Branch facility in August 2003 found evidence of new dual-use laboratories and equipment. When further developed, these dual-use technologies could possibly have been used in a nuclear weapons development program, especially in the area of hydrodynamic testing. Other activities discovered at the laboratory were clearly devoted to the IAEC rail gun project.

Rather than using official IAEC channels, Sa’id privately contacted outside contractors to acquire several key pieces of equipment for the Technical Research Branch laboratory—a suspicious approach but one that we cannot link to a renewed nuclear weapons effort. To acquire a 300-kV flash X-ray machine, for example, Sa’id contracted with a trusted colleague, a former PC-3 Group 4 scientist who was working at the University of Technology in Baghdad. This colleague contracted with former coworkers at the Ibn Firnas Company for work done under contract to the university. The project reportedly was kept secret from the director of the Ibn Firnas Company as a means to provide Sa’id with financial cover.

  • A colleague of Said also contracted with the Al Qaswar Company to provide a timing device using laser diodes to measure the speed of the rail gun projectile. The Al Qaswar Company is registered in the name of the wife of one of the Ibn Firnas employees that had worked on the flash X-ray system.
  • One colleague of Sa’id—an expert in materials analysis—received a contract from Sa’id to outfit a laboratory for impact behavior studies. Part of this contract included a gun device to measure the impact of projectiles on various materials. This became the pressure measuring unit of the Technical Research Branch. Information from a senior official in the rail gun program indicates this unit was limited in its ability to gather material property data—the kind of data of interest in a renewed nuclear weapons effort—because of the lack of diagnostic equipment (see Figures 30 and 31).

According to a former senior official involved with the effort, the IAEC antiaircraft project was focused on improving the efficiency of the rail gun and making it more transportable in the years before the war, rather than conducting materials experiments like those used in nuclear weapons research. Overall efficiency for converting electrical energy into projectile speed was poor, estimated at only one to three percent, according to a former senior official involved with the program.

  • In an effort to reduce the size of the rail gun so it could be weaponized for use on the back of a vehicle-mounted 100-mm antiaircraft gun frame, the Iraqis considered the use of homopolar generators to replace the bulky capacitors—390 of them—that made up the research device. Iraq planned a steady progression of building homopolar generators in sizes from 0.15 mega joules, to 1.5 mega joules, to 15 mega joules, but none of these items reportedly were completed because of the lack of precision machinery.
  • The same official indicates that materials work was limited at the Technical Research Branch and that, because of limitations in the availability of diagnostic equipment, these tests primarily consisted of studying the impacts caused by projectiles on steel plates. Crude approaches to the study of materials using piezoelectric materials were reported.

Sa’id’s documents refer to the need to conduct experiments above the 2,000-meter-per-second limit posed by the Annex 3 nuclear controls, specifically calling for speeds as high as 10,000 meters per second. ISG believes that this velocity range was used for calculations to estimate the electrical equipment needed to power a laboratory research tool for exploring the relationships between projectile mass and barrel length as found in references made later in the document.

  • The IAEC project reportedly used three different barrels—two square annulus barrels measuring 15 mm and 30 mm, as well as a circular barrel measuring 32.5 mm in diameter. According to a senior official involved in the project, Iraq attained its best results with the circular barrel, which was able to accelerate a 28 gram polycarbonate projectile to a speed of 885 meters per second (see Figure 32 summarizing the Iraqi Rail Gun progress).

Tapping PC-3 Expertise for the IAEC Rail Gun

Sa’id may have turned to former members of the pre-1991 nuclear weapons program, codenamed PC-3, for a variety of reasonsranging from established competence, personal and professional relations, or even some hidden intent to tap this expertise to train a new cadre of nuclear scientists. Debriefings of Iraqis associated with the rail gun project and captured documents reveal the following former PC-3 personnel were connected to the effort:

  • Dr. Khalluq Ra’uf Hamdi—Former head of PC-3 Group 2B, responsible for Electromagnetic Isotope Separation (EMIS). Hamdi served as Sa’id’s deputy on the rail gun project and the head of the IAEC Technical Research Branch.
  • Dr. Sabah al-Noor—A trusted colleague of Sa’id and another former PC-3 Group 4 powder metallurgy specialist. Sabah reportedly contracted with Sa’id for the production of projectiles for the IAEC rail gun, a flash X-ray machine, and shock physics laboratory.
  • Dr. Abdullah Kandush—Former head of PC-3 Group 4B (Applied Physics)andweaponization theoretician. Kandush had responsibilities for heat transfer issues.
  • Basil al-Qaisi—Former Director at the Saad Center, al-Qaisi was associated with the funding of the rail gun project. 
  • Dr. Faris Aziz al Samarra—A former official in the pre-1991 centrifuge program–an effort administratively outside of PC-3 and the nuclear weapons design effort. Dr. Faris was the director general of Al-Shahid Company that produced copper and brass products. According to a captured document, he was to provide oxygen- free copper for the rail gun project.
  • Jamal Ja’far—A former pre-1991 centrifuge design engineer who, according to a captured document, reviewed designs for the rail gun project in August, 1999. A senior scientist associated with the rail gun project indicates that Jamal Ja’far was one of two highly regarded engineers in Iraq who could be brought into a variety of projects for consultation.

Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Sa’id

Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Sa’id was a senior Ba’ath Party leader with ties to the Presidency. Prior to the first Gulf war, he had served as head of PC-3 Group 4, the nuclear weapon design and development group, and, after spending most of the 1990s as Director of Research in MIC, became Secretary to the Industrial Committee, which coordinated projects between the production ministries. Sa’id was reportedly killed running a Coalition roadblock on 8 April 2003.

Alternate View Of Science Projects and The Rail Gun

It should be noted that some senior scientists believed the Rail Gun project had neither scientific merit nor utility as an air defense weapon. In September 2003, Dr. ‘Amir Hammudi Hasan al-Sa’di, former Presidential Scientific Advisor, commented on science projects and the Rail Gun in particular. ‘Amir said that the state of scientific research in Iraq had declined after the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq following the 1991 Gulf war—the new generation of scientists could not distinguish between validating an idea and being able to mass-produce and deliver systems. He further said that Saddam had decreed that any scientist with an idea could make that idea a present to the presidency. Special-interest groups—those who stood to benefit from the project—would then press for its adoption.

If a knowledgeable person did not step in to put a halt to a scientifically invalid project, the project would proceed. Specifically, ‘Amir mentioned the rail gun and certain decoys as examples of poorly developed concepts crafted to win Saddam’s support and garner funds. ‘Amir lamented that such programs wasted resources and efforts. In an earlier interview ‘Amir assessment was more direct; he stated that the rail gun was “obviously not” for use against aircraft and viewed the idea as ridiculous. ‘Amir said he did not know what the purpose of the rail gun was but suggested that it was probably a worthless project that someone thought up just to get more funding.


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