Iraqi long-range missile plan used UK technology

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IRAQ was buying British technology to build a homespun but potent long-range ballistic missile capable of dropping a nuclear warhead on any of Saddam Hussein's enemies within 1,500 miles, according to documents obtained by the Independent.

Space Research Corporation (SRC), a maverick Brussels-based armaments design company, had compiled a detailed shopping list for what was called 'Project Bird'. Western suppliers - including more than 20 in Britain - would supply high-technology components but the heart of the launcher system was to be Scud missiles in innovative clusters of up to eight rockets.

The proposed new weapon, which would have qualified as an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), would have had four times the range of the adapted single Scud missiles that hit Saudi Arabia and Israel during the Gulf war, and would in theory have allowed Iraq to strike targets in southern Europe, north Africa, the Indian sub-continent and deep into Russian territory.

Documents setting technical goals for the programme were sent to Iraq from SRC's Geneva office on 17 February 1990. Western intelligence services intercepted the correspondence two days later; it is believed that GCHQ, the Government's global eavesdropping network, learned about the Project Bird proposals from its Cyprus base.

On 22 March, Gerald Bull, the Canadian head of SRC and personally in charge of the project, was murdered in Brussels by an unknown gunman. One month later, British Customs officers seized components of 'Project Babylon', the high-altitude supergun that Bull had made in Britain for Iraq. Chris Cowley, project director of Babylon between 1988 and 1989, yesterday said he had uncovered details of the clustered Scud missile system during two years of research into SRC and Western involvement in Saddam's rearmament programme. Dr Cowley, a metallurgist and ballistics expert who, since leaving SRC, has researched a book for publication this autumn, has studied the documents obtained by the Independent.

Dr Cowley said that the new missile was being developed personally by Bull, helped by two British scientists. 'Iraq was able to make three types of Scud missile. The documents confirm that Bird would have given Iraq a three-stage rocket system capable either of putting data-gathering satellites in orbit, or delivering a 150 kilogram warhead.

'I have information that contracts were completed for Project Bird, and that the work would have reached an advanced level within one year. There were thermo-chemical problems to overcome in order to obtain optimum performance.' Bull's team also wanted to reduce the weight of the rocket to increase range. Carbon fibres would have been an ideal material, but Bull's attempt to acquire a factory in Northern Ireland manufacturing the low weight/high strength composite was thwarted in late 1989 by the British government, pressed by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

However, the documents add another piece to the SRC-Iraq jigsaw, raising further questions about how much British intelligence knew about Bull's Iraqi contracts and to what extent the British government was content to see Saddam's regime armed.

Project Bird required huge imports of Western goods. SRC prepared a list of potential suppliers. There is no evidence that the orders were made, or delivered. Suppliers would not have known that goods were required for a missile system.

Iraqi coup-maker, page 12

Comments