Russian Missile Technology Sold to Iraq as Scrap

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Maria Katsva
Eksport Obychnykh Vooruzheniy no. 8-9
September 1997

The gyroscopes–the main component of a missiles on-board guidance system–that were found in Iraq originated in a closed military institute in Sergiyev Posad. They were designed for use in the SS-N-18 SLBM.

On 9 December 1995, a group of divers appointed by UNSCOM brought up several gyroscopes from the bottom of the Tigris River near Baghdad at the Jordanian border. Reports on the number of gyroscopes varied, with the number given ranging from nine to 115-120.

Immediately after the gyroscopes were found, the Russian ambassador in Washington announced that the gyroscopes were not of Russian origin. At first it was proposed that the gyroscopes were stolen from the gyroscope manufacturer in Ukraine. In early February 1996, UNSCOM Chairman Rolf Ekeus attended a meeting in Moscow at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the nearly four-hour conversation, he inundated them with questions, demonstrating he knew a great deal about the issue. The Russian diplomats were not prepared for the meeting. After the meeting, however, their statements were more cautious–they no longer denied the Russian origin of the “Iraqi gyroscopes,” but insisted that the government was in no way involved in the deal.

In 1993, a Lebanese businessman made contacts at the Scientific-Experimental Institute of Chemical Machine-Building (NIIKhimMash) in Sergiyev Posad, Moscow Oblast. This enterprise is involved in cutting Russian submarine-based ballistic missiles into scrap and dismantles them according to START-1. It was suggested that the Institute sell part of the dismantled arms “at a discount.” However, the Institute itself declined to sign a contract and now one can say [passage cut off in original]. Some middlemen were involved in closing the deal, particularly the private “defense-conversion” firm Tasm, located in Mytishchi, Moscow Oblast and headed by a retired general. Tasm specializes in supplying optical equipment (binoculars, firearm scopes, etc.).

As a result, false documents were created for the gyroscopes, stating that they were electronic instruments, although they are dual use items and, according to Russian legislation, are subject to licensing by the Ministry of Foreign Trade with the participation of the Federal Service for Currency and Export Control (VEK) and other interested agencies, particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this case, granting a license was ruled out because the end user was Iraq.

According to another version, the gyroscopes were labeled as non-ferrous scrap metal. According to this report, most contraband strategic materials are exported from Russia under the label “scrap.”

The exact route by which the gyroscopes were transported to Jordan–an intermediate point before delivery to Iraq–is unknown, but there is reason to presume that this was done by air and, supposedly, through Austria and Germany, or through Ukraine. The small (0.5m x 0.5m x 0.5m), approximately 30-kg container, holding as many as 30 gyroscopes, accelerometers, and equipment for sea-launched missiles, had no problems passing through Russian customs.

The Western press has alleged that the Russian gyroscope exporters received from $23-25 million from the illegal transaction. According to Russian experts, considering that the export transaction was illegal and sensitive in nature, the price of a single gyroscope might be somewhat higher, but not by much. Therefore the real price of the deal, for the gyroscopes and other items in the container, is estimated at $30,000-$100,000.

According to UNSCOM documents, a research center in Karama, not far from Baghdad, expressed interest in the contents of the container. The container arrived at its destination, but, for undetermined reasons, was thrown to the silt-covered bottom of the Tigris by the Iraqis.

A second version states that from the very beginning, Iraq was concerned that the delivery of gyroscopes was a political provocation, and refused to accept the shipment. The container, which had already arrived in Iraq, was escorted to the border and returned to Jordan, where it lay in a customs storage facility for more than a year. In 1995, the gyroscopes, as unclaimed items, were thrown away.

Differences in Western media publications regarding the number of gyroscopes (estimates range from nine to 120) can be explained as follows.

Two different types of gyroscopes were sent to Iraq. The first, smaller, shipment came from Russia. The second, larger, shipment was of West European (most likely German) manufacture and may have consisted of approximately 100 gyroscopes. Most likely, these are the 30 boxes of gyroscopes the Washington Post has written about.

Why Does Iraq Need Gyroscopes?

The question of what Iraq needed Russian gyroscopes for has puzzled experts for a long time. The Iraqis could not use SLBM gyroscopes for their SCUDs or short-range missiles. To use the gyroscopes in a long range missile, they would need a gyroscopic platform (which contains three gyroscopes oriented in three different directions), documentation, and maintenance service.

In the words of Ekeus himself, the Russian gyroscopes were to have been used “for methodological and learning purposes,” i.e., to determine how gyroscopes for long-range missiles are built by taking these examples apart, and possibly to use them for future developments of their own, considering that Iraq has their own missile technology experts.

However, according to competent sources, the gyroscopes arrived in Iraq in “severely damaged” condition and “in no way could have been used for military purposes.”

The report notes that the Iraqis themselves state that they would not refuse to buy gyroscopes for short-range (up to 150 km) missiles, which Iraq is permitted to do, but a gyroscope for a 150-km missile is hard to distinguish from a gyroscope for a 151-km missile, which Iraq is not allowed to buy. The leaders of UNSCOM and the United States have both concluded that Iraq is trying to obtain a guidance system for independent production of long-range missiles. UNSCOM experts are constantly finding confirmation of Iraqs clandestine activities in the area of creating missiles and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. In 1995 Iraq announced that even before the Persian Gulf War, it was working to develop engines for the next generation of missiles with a range of over 3,000 km.

As is often stated in the press, even after the war Iraq continued working on transforming Soviet SA-2 surface to air missiles into intermediate-range surface to surface missiles that could deliver biological weapons; UN inspections uncovered computer equipment used for modeling missile launches and calculating their flight trajectory.

The Most Important Individual in Missile Proliferation: The Warehouse Manager

As a rule, no problems arise when transporting SLBMs from a Defense Ministry enterprise to the place where they are dismantled. And in this case, Russian SLBMs, from which the warheads had been removed, were secretly sent under heavy guard to Sergiyev Posad to be dismantled and scrapped. The missiles are even guarded while they are being cut apart.

However, after the missiles are taken apart (crushed or cut apart) the “scrap” (as well as whole parts of instruments, including gyroscopes) is sent to a storage facility (separated into copper, tin, gyroscopes, etc.). Here the main individual in charge is the warehouse manager. He is now the sole guard. The “top secret” labels are removed from instruments. Essentially, the existence or non-existence of missile proliferation depends on him.

One does not need to talk with an enterprise, but can go directly to the warehouse manager. The warehouse manager cannot be charged with selling “military technology”–to do so, one must at least show that the warehouse manager actually knew that he was in fact selling military technology and not scrap. In other words, the worst case scenario for the warehouse manager is ordinary theft.

“Scrap”–even instruments–is not subject to licensing for export. And if a license was obtained, where was it issued and who can prove anything about the origin after the multiple structural rearrangements in the government and presidential administration? The State Committee on Military-Technological Policy was dissolved in 1996. Some of its functions were taken over by the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Ten enterprises under the Ministry of the Defense Industry (the number has since increased) had the right to trade independently. The regulations for export controls have also changed. If a person wanted to examine the archives, he or she would not be able to make sense of them. In addition, the design facilities are the ones in charge of dismantling missiles. They provide the documentation that determines the objectives and tasks for dismantlement. The primary task is economic efficiency, i.e., the opportunity for rational use after dismantlement and scrapping (for example, missiles are cut into bars, which are then easily melted down). The secondary task is declassification, i.e. the physical parts that are sent to the scrap heap must not be classified. Problems arose here as well. Theoretically, SLBM dismantlement is the responsibility of the Academician Makeyev Design Bureau (the Miass Design Bureau of Machine Building in Miass, Chelyabinsk Oblast, 20 km from Zlatoust). However, it is responsible only for the general coordination of work and has a great number of subordinate component-manufacturing institutes responsible for separate departments, including engines, guidance systems, and so forth. Guidance systems are produced by the Sverdlovsk Construction Bureau. But even they have suppliers for power supply units, gyroscopes, etc. This branching continues ad infinitum, and nobody knows who is responsible for determining the limits for de-classification of technology.

If these “instruments” or “precious and non-ferrous metals” were declared as dual-use goods, then it would be necessary to obtain a guarantee that they would not be sent to Iraq or Libya. If one assumes that the goods were not subject to licensing (which is highly probable, since not all instruments, even if they are used in military technology, are subject to licensing) this means that all guilt lies on the customs official(s) who let the items pass. According to Security Council Resolution 687 dated April, 1991 (on the destruction of nuclear and missile weaponry on the territory of Iraq and on the prohibition of exporting goods related to nuclear and missile technology, and later, Security Council Resolution 715 dated 11 October 1991, regarding chemical and biological weapons), goods related to military technology and dual-use items must receive special permission before being shipped to Iraq. The control procedure is significantly stricter than for normal exports. However, experts–including representatives of customs agencies–complain that the list is too long and confusing, and is too different from analogous international regulatory norms. They feel that the lists they use at customs checkpoints should be coded in accordance with international codes for goods.

In addition, it is the exporter who fills out the declaration in which the item and respective code is listed. If the smuggler improperly (accidentally or on purpose) indicates the code or name of the item, then, according to customs regulations, only he is guilty. Customs checks the declaration against the actual item only in select instances. According to customs officials, their job is mainly to bring in money for the government, and to catch smugglers only if the occasion arises. It is also true that most customs workers are oriented more toward the humanities, and would probably not distinguish a gyroscope from a civilian instrument.

The vague word “scrap” is the secret, golden key for smugglers, which they use to easily open the Russian border.

On 4 April 1996, criminal proceedings were initiated according to Article 78-1 part 2 (the illegal export of goods, scientific and technical information and services that can be used to create military technology and WMD). The investigation is being conducted by the FSB and is expected to end in mid-October [1997].

It is unlikely that the guilty parties were really punished. Most likely, the case will be put on hold or the “little guy” will suffer.

Neither the institute, not the customs agencies, nor the export control agencies are “uninvolved.” One of the reasons that a “blind eye” is being turned on this case is the report that the gyroscopes were partially dismantled when they reached Iraq and thus could not be used for military purposes. It is also suggested that the new head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, will not focus attention on the Russian side of the gyroscope case since the origin of the larger shipment of gyroscopes is unclear. But the ease with which they were exported and the fact that the guilty parties were not apprehended and punished shows that the instance will not be the last, and that if in a year or two a Russian launch vehicle is found in Iraq, it will not be a big surprise.


1. A gyroscope is an instrument, a swiftly turning rotor, widely used in land-based and space technology. A gyroscope maintains an unchanging position relative to the fixed stars, is used in guiding moving objects, and fixes several directions in space when the on-board coordinate system is being plotted. The gyroscopes fixed spin axis serves as the standard for the missiles position in a three-dimensional coordinate system. Differences between the gyroscopes unchanging axis, fixed relative to the coordinate system and the rockets axis of rotation must comply with a preset program. If a difference occurs, this signals the need to alter the steering. Each kind of missile has its own program, depending on the missiles range and features in terms of the longitudinal and lateral axes and rotation. Correcting the position on three axes independently of one another disturbs the functioning of the missile and takes a lot of time. Corrections must be made for all three axes simultaneously. In addition, the missile has its own frequency of oscillation, depending in part on the height of the flight path, which creates a resonance with oscillations of the gyroscope. In addition, gyroscopes from short- and long-range missiles are constructed differently: the former act autonomously, while the latter are part of a gyroscopic platform.

2. According to Security Council Resolution 687 dated April 1991, goods related to military technology and dual use goods must have special permission for export into Iraq. Missiles with a range of greater than 150 km, and their related equipment, may not be exported to Iraq. The original, unmodified SS-1 SCUD Bs from the USSR had a range of 300 km (there are several modifications of the missile: SCUD B–320 km, SCUD A, SCUD C–550 km). Modifications made by Iraq–Al Hussein 600, Al Hijarakh-750, Al Abbas-900. Iraq also has the Tammuz missile, with a range of up to 2,000 km and the Al Abid missile, with a range of 2,500 km.

3. The Russian SS-N-18 Stingray missile (Russian classification RSM-50) has a range of 8,000 km and from three to seven MIRV warheads.

Non-governmental Register of Conventional Weapons

PIR–the Center for Political Studies in Russia–is implementing a new project to study conventional arms exports from Russia and other CIS countries and cooperation between CIS countries in military-technological and military-political areas. The project is being implemented jointly with the International Institute of Political Studies (Minsk). The grant for the project was provided by the US Institute of Peace. The goal of the project is to systematize and formalize open-source information on military-technological cooperation in the CIS.

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