Jump-Starting Proliferation: Examples of Purchasing Packaged Weapons Plants

Arms Control Today, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Jump-Starting Proliferation: Examples of Purchasing Packaged Weapons Plants


When it comes to seeking weapons of mass destruction and related delivery systems, developing countries prefer to acquire packaged factories from foreign suppliers. Slower alternatives tend to be used only when that path is closed off.

Libya's Uranium-Enrichment Program

Purchasing a gas centrifuge plant from Abdul Qadeer Khan was not Libya's first attempt to buy a uranium processing plant. In the 1980s, Libya initiated an effort to procure a plant to produce uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for enriched uranium. Uranium, when enriched to high enough levels, can be used as the explosive material in nuclear weapons.1

After two rounds of bids for a complete factory designed and constructed by foreign suppliers, during which time Libya must have examined detailed proposals, including engineering details, the regime of Moammar Gaddafi designed its own plant and then contracted out its production to a country in the Far East. Yet, Libya did not get the training for shop-floor technicians, which is often included in such deals. As a consequence, Tripoli never used the plant to produce the feedstock for its enrichment plants.

India's Ballistic Missile Development Program

India's missile development program was profoundly influenced by its purchases of packaged production technology from foreign sources. It started in the 1960s when India first sent scientists and engineers to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, where they learned the procedures for preparing, assembling, and launching solid-propellant sounding rockets for scientific experiments in the upper atmosphere.2 Next, with substantial assistance from France and the United States, India established its own sounding rocket facility where imported sounding rockets were flown for many years. Soon, India licensed the Centaure 2B sounding rocket production technology from Sud Aviation in France.! As part of this deal, India received the complete designs and specifications for the rocket and the process for its production. At roughly the same time, Indian scientists and engineers worked in a French solid-propellant production facility, learning production details.

India was doing more than just using imported technology. It was assimilating that technology by experimenting with, for instance, new formulations for solid propellents. Nothing makes this assimilation clearer than India's development of thrust vector control-a technology needed to progress from unguided sounding rockets to militarily useful guided missiles. To do this, however, India purchased from foreign suppliers a complete facility for static-testing its motors, including a key piece of equipment: a six-degree-of-freedom test stand. Only with such a test stand could India test its ideas and designs for steering the missile's thrust during powered flight. …

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