James ActonJane's on Iranian Weaponization

A potentially interesting development in the whole Iran thing…

The next issue of Jane’s International Defence Review (available from here for subscribers) contains an article by Mark Harrington in which he says:

Documents shown exclusively to Jane’s indicate that Iran is continuing its pursuit of the advanced technologies necessary to develop a nuclear weapon, regardless of Tehran’s claims that its nuclear programme is purely peaceful. Jane’s was shown the information by a source connected to a Western intelligence service, and the documents were verified by a number of reliable independent sources in Vienna.

These documents purport to show that:

…an organisation within the Iranian MoD has actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years, in parallel with developments within the Atomic Energy Authority of Iran.

The article further states that since 2000 Iran has tested these detonators and found them “good enough” for a nuclear weapon (it also discusses the organization of Iran’s nuclear programme but that’s for a different post).

If it bothers to respond to the article, Iran will doubtless claim that these are “fabricated and baseless accusations” (we even can guess the exact words by now). And, indeed, we do need to treat unnamed sources critically. But, not withstanding this important caveat, how big a deal is this?

Well, the development of multipoint detonation systems isn’t by itself proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons (let’s skip over the question of whether it really is sensible for the international community to demand proof as opposed to good evidence of wrong doing). As this patent from the US government shows, there are legitimate (largely military) reasons for developing explosive devices which involve multiple initiators.

My guess—and I am not certain—is that a multipoint detonation system can be unambiguously associated with nuclear weapons if its “jitter time” (that is, the time spread of the detonations) is particularly small. My knowledge of the pre-1991 Iraqi programme gives us some idea how simultaneous the detonations in a nuclear weapon need to be—Iraq aimed for a jitter time of less than 1 microsecond and ended up measuring it in nanoseconds. However, I don’t know for certain whether there is a legitimate application that requires the same degree of simultaneity. Sounds like an interesting problem to tackle properly when I get some time.

In other Jane’s news: MIT’s Geoffery Forden has a fascinating article in the April addition of Jane’s Intelligence Review where he reveals the location of Iran’s missile launch site. It’s available from here but, again, it’s subscribers only I’m afraid.

Comments

  1. ataune (History)

    You again forget the essential fact of any civilization: It is up to the accuser to make all the efforts to prove its point. otherwise why bother and have intelligent discussion, just nuk’em.

  2. FSB

    I cannot blame them for developing nuclear weapons, if indeed this is ever proven to be the case. (BTW, Do we have proof Brazil programme is purely peaceful?)

    It would be irresponsible for Iran not to develop nuclear arms since it is living in a dangerous part of the world.

    A trigger-happy nuclear-tipped neigbouring country has attacked two of its neighbours in the past two years (Lebanon and Syria).

    If Iran is developing nuclear weapons it means it is a rational actor in search of a deterrence against the much more real Israeli/US/NATO threat to its very existence.

  3. Gridlock (History)

    “Want to know where Iran launched their missile from? Now, with just one low, low monthly payment of $39.95 you can!

    Also includes free plushy-El Baradei”

  4. Cernig (History)

    Is this the same Mark Harrington who wrote of exclusive knowldege Jane’s had that Belarus was going to sell S-300 missiles to Iran? The story the Belarus MoD promptly debunked (http://www.data.minsk.by/belarusnews/042006/200.html) pointing out that ““The anti-aircraft systems are sent to Belarus within the framework of the Joint Air Defense Group of the Union State, and, in accordance with the agreements, cannot be transferred to third states.”

    Hmmm…I smell agitprop. Is Jane’s following the Daily Telegraph in referring to the MeK’s political wing as a “Western intelligence service” nowadays? Or is it Mossad? Anonymous “reliable independent sources” aren’t reliable either.

    Regards, C

  5. James Roberts (History)

    Almost everything said about Iran in the media is propaganda. 16 US intelligence agencies wrote NIE and the main message of IAEA report on Iran has been that there is no smoking gun. There are major efforts by strong lobbies to bury NIE’s report and to twist IAEA’s report. However people should not forget the lies of Iraq even if the world is so tragically funny that Blair is sent to the Middle East as a peacemaker and is planning to become EU president while teaching religion too! It is not then difficult to understand why the problems of our world are multiplying. We have no leaders but charlatans.

  6. Andy (History)

    Cernig,

    There’s actually a more recent Iran-Belarus proposal than the one you’re talking about – it’s from this January. So far there are no denials that I’m aware of. The full subscription version of the article also indicates that Belarus will refurbish a few defunct s-300 systems Iran acquired in the 1990’s. If both are accurate, then Iran stands to receive 4 battalions in total, though acquisition would violate the spirit, if not the letter, of UNSC 1747.

    James,

    Propaganda indeed. There’s an inherent incompatibility between the NIE and IAEA reports that many somehow miss. Let’s assume for a minute the NIE is correct and that Iran had a weapons program which it halted in 2003. The IAEA has found little to no evidence of such a program. So either the Iranian’s have fooled or otherwise deceived the IAEA or the NIE is wrong about pre-2003 Iranian weaponization. Which is it? One might consider that picking and choosing individual conclusions out of more complex reporting and analysis is just as much propaganda as anything.

  7. hass

    AH, well, if an intelligence agency says it to Janes, then it obviously must be true…and never mind 5 years of IAEA inspections that found squat.

    Sheesh.

  8. mehran (History)

    the credibilty of abovementioned documents is questionable. the accuser most probably the U.S. inteligence service-CIA has cooked up this information. They have to prove the information they are talking about is accurate and reliable.
    this is a dangerous trend reminisent of Iraq’s plan for mass destruction weapons. This pure propaganda.

  9. Gridlock (History)

    S-300PT, Belarus and Iran:

    http://geimint.blogspot.com/2008/03/iran-and-s-300pt.html

    “The S-300PT represents the most advanced SAM system in the Iranian inventory. When the Belarussian systems are delivered, the four S-300PT batteries will represent a serious roadblock towards a limited incursion by an aggressor such as Israel seeking to destabilize the region by striking Iranian nuclear weapons production facilities. The S-300PT will not, however, close Iranian airspace to a large-scale aerial offensive. To achieve that goal, Iran must continue to pursue acquisition of more modern S-300PM-1/2 or S-400 SAM systems from Russia, and the EW systems to integrate them on a national level.”

    I know if I were Iran I’d be looking at sourcing the most advanced SAMs I could too.

  10. Mark Gubrud

    The patent you linked, in which a “shaped charge” effect is tuned by timed multipoint detonation, would have jitter time requirements comparable to a nuclear warhead, since the need is to precisely shape the detonation wavefront; for the same explosive velocities the same timing requirements would result. (Note also that any time under a microsecond is likely to be “measured in nanoseconds.”)

    However, it strains plausibility to suggest that a nation like Iran would make a heroic effort to develop high-precision electronic and explosive components for time-shaped detonations just in order to produce such advanced and flexible shaped-charge weapons, when conventional shaped-charge weapons work just fine (and are a whole lot cheaper). It would be about as believable as the claim that the Arak reactor is for producing medical isotopes.

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