Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What a mess

Bill Roggio captures a sense of the tangled web that is Pakistan in four pithy paragraphs. (Emphasis mine)



Pakistani security forces have captured the leader of an al Qaeda suicide cell which was behind the attack on the Sargodha military base last fall. Ahsan al Haq and five cell members have been detained by Pakistani security forces in the city of Lahore, Reuters reported.

"We recovered explosives and jackets used for suicide bombings at his house next to a madrassa (Islamic school)," and anonymous intelligence official told Reuters. "All of them admitted they were behind the Sargodha attack and were planning to carry out similar attacks, even against politicians."

Al Haq is a retired Pakistani Army major "was said have been close to Afghan Muslim guerrilla commander Younis Khalis, who battled Soviet forces in the 1980s and later had links with the Taliban," Reuters reported. "Haq ran a militant training camp in Afghanistan during Taliban rule." ...

The Sargodha Air Force Base is a nuclear weapons and missile storage facility in central Punjab province. The Taliban and al Qaeda have conducted multiple strikes on or near Pakistani nuclear facilities, as well as against military and police facilities situated near nuclear facilities. There have been two suicide attacks at Sargodha since the summer of 2007.

A fanatical suicide ideology (al-Qaeda) propagated through the school system (madrassa) endowed with sympathizers in the local Army (as represented by the retired Major) ready to carry out their program to seize nuclear weapons and rule the world! Not since the days of the Republic Serials have the villains and situations been so outlandish.

14 Comments:

Blogger LifeoftheMind said...

Can't we give it back to the British? They need a sense of purpose.

1/09/2008 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

It's hard to be optimistic about this mess, but it sounds like the Pakistani govt is starting to do something at last.

1/09/2008 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

What are the chances that if a suicide bomber managed to blow himself up at a nuclear storage facility, he'd set off something a hell of a lot more explosive than a dynamite belt?

Couldn't happen to a nicer blood-sucking ally, if something like that were to occur.

Go, Jihadist Martyrs, Go!

1/09/2008 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

nahncee: What are the chances that if a suicide bomber managed to blow himself up at a nuclear storage facility, he'd set off something a hell of a lot more explosive than a dynamite belt?

Essentially nil. While Pakistani nuclear weapons probably do not enjoy anywhere near the sophistication and reliability of American versions, it is a generally recognized design feature of atomic bombs that they must be extremely difficult to set off other than by explicit intention. This eliminates detonations due to being accidentally dropped, engulfed in flames and other such everyday calamities.

Most modern non-gun-type bombs utilize explosive lenses. Imagine something like the surface of a soccer ball where each of the panels is a precisely machined piece of HE (High Explosive) material. The intent is that all of these separate and identically shaped panels detonate exactly at once, literally simultaneously. The timing must be coordinated down to less than a millisecond. Special high speed electronic capacitor switches known as krytons help achieve this difficult feat. They probably use solid gold wires of equal length extending from the trigger to each kryton so as to ensure precisely matched arrival times of the triggering impulses.

As all of the lenses explode they drive individual non-critical subassemblies of fissile material together such that they are compressed into a now-critical mass. This, in turn, starts the runaway avalanche of neutron emission required to cause a nuclear explosion.

Damaging even a single one of the lenses can sufficiently interfere with the explosive assembly process to the point where fission will not occur. Setting off a dynamite belt near a nuclear device is one of the surest ways of guaranteeing that it will never be able to explode at any time in the future.

For reference, American nuclear weapons are "one point safe". The following is a government definition of this concept:

One-Point Safe - A nuclear weapon is one-point safe if, when the HE [High Explosive] is initiated and detonated at any single point, the probability of producing a nuclear yield exceeding 4 pounds TNT equivalent is less than 1 in one million.

As I mentioned, it is unlikely that Pakistan's weapons are one point safe but they still must employ sophisticated fusing mechanisms to prevent unauthorized detonation of them if they are stolen.

1/09/2008 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger Triton'sPolarTiger said...

Zenster,

As a nuclear engineer by education, I say, nicely done.

Triton

1/09/2008 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger Hunt Johnsen said...

Does "one point safe" apply to gun type weapons? Seems like they could cook off or detonate.

1/10/2008 06:04:00 AM  
Blogger Hunt Johnsen said...

Does this apply to "Gun" type nukes?
Seems like they could possibly "cook off".

1/10/2008 06:04:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Are you saying that because Muslim scientists like Khan have stolen all their ideas from American bomb-making processes, there is only one way to build one of them?

Just because Americans would build them for safety and so they wouldn't explode on their own, is it necessarily a law of nature like gravity that a Pakistani scientist would HAVE to design his the same way?

Maybe Khan would have an "inshallah" button instead which means it would go off "if Allah wills it".

1/10/2008 06:07:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

I used to safeguard tactical nukes when I was in the Navy.

It is so difficult to initiate an atomic explosian that the miracle is that it can ever be done on purpose. Having it occur by accident would be the equivalent of sinking all the pool balls on the bank shot while shooting blindfolded nine times in a row.

Look at the North Korean fizzle, and they had stolen plans AND devoted millions of dollars and years of effort to the task.

1/10/2008 06:39:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

In reality, their goal would be to either steal an undamaged nuclear weapon for use later or steal nuclear material for a "dirty bomb." Acquiring a weapon would create enough of a stir to revive their status.

1/10/2008 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Zenster said...

hunt johnsen: Does "one point safe" apply to gun type weapons? Seems like they could cook off or detonate.

One point safe specifically refers to the high explosive lens assembly. Gun-type weapons do not employ lensing techniques. They rely upon a single well-aligned explosive charge to mate and compress two sub-critical masses. In comparison to a lensed system they are nowhere near as "safe" and must depend upon reliable fusing lockouts.

Still, even gun-type weapons are sensitive to shock induced damage. Any misalignment of the gun corridor's aiming will interfere with proper mating of the subassemblies and potentially stop the fissile material from going critical. It is pretty safe to assume that North Korea's attempt involved a gun-type bomb as fabricating HE lenses is almost as challenging as purifying and enriching the uranium. Even going with the simplest of designs their efforts failed.

nahncee: Are you saying that because Muslim scientists like Khan have stolen all their ideas from American bomb-making processes, there is only one way to build one of them?

Just because Americans would build them for safety and so they wouldn't explode on their own, is it necessarily a law of nature like gravity that a Pakistani scientist would HAVE to design his the same way?


Pretty much so. Aside from gun-type weapons, all modern fission and fusion bombs rely upon lensing systems to obtain critical mass. As peter grynch notes, lighting off one of these puppies requires an incredible combination of skill and precision. As an example, the lenses must be matched—not just in exact weight and chemical consistency—but also in shape. They must be machined to tolerances of less than one thousandth of an inch in order to guarantee that they will propel their individual sub-critical components with the same speed and trajectory so that they coalesce into a single critical mass. The sub-assemblies' arrival times and mutual point of impact have to be coordinated spatially and temporally down to three or more decimal places.

Needless to say (then why say it?), developing an entirely new method of compactly and reliably initiating a nuclear event would be worthy of a Nobel Prize. The difficulty of doing so is so great that we have all enjoyed a degree of relative safety from backwater and unindustrialized pissholes building their own nuclear weapons. Thanks to AQ Khan all of that has changed and as Wretchard has noted:

The greatest threat to Muslims is radical Islam; and the greatest threat of all is a radical Islam armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Islam is in the early stages of its death throes. Its own hidebound intransigence and obsession with Islamic "purity" almost assures that it will immolate itself through internecine quarrels over who is holier than whom.

Have no doubt that once they had purged our world of the kuffar they would set about the arduous task of killing themselves in great numbers as they have thoughout all history. It is up to the West to expedite Islam's inevitable destruction so that we can avoid our own demise. You can rest assured of one thing:

ISLAM WILL NOT HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY.

1/10/2008 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Would the proverbial portable suitcase bomb have the same complicated detonation mechanism?

1/10/2008 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

nahncee: Would the proverbial portable suitcase bomb have the same complicated detonation mechanism?

Good question. From the image in this article about SADMs (Special Atomic Demolition Munitions) or "suitcase nukes", it appears to be a miniature gun-type rig. This would make sense as the spherical form factor of a lensing assembly would not lend itself to compact packaging.

As to any concerns about these little suckers wandering about, most of them were constructed decades ago. They are very high maintenance and subject to fairly swift degradation in performance. Their relatively marginal shielding results in the entire mechanism being noticably warm and this elevated thermal profile causes all sorts of component failures in the associated electronics.

If terrorists were to get their hands on one of these aging devices, its only probable use would be as the source of radiological material for a so-called "dirty bomb".

PS: triton, as someone with only a high school diploma, thank you for the generous appraisal.

1/10/2008 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger jdimarco said...

NahnCee asked an excellent question about whether these "less sophisticated" nuclear powers would employ the same degree of safety features as we do. It seems to me that much, if not all, of this safety robustness is necessary to even have these damn things around. In the words of Forrest Gump, "It Happens", in which case a dropped wrench or curious fanatic causes huge invenstments in materials, facilities and trained staff to vanish in a blinding "oops" flash. Which is quite hard to hide/deny, and is hell on budgets, recruiting and most importantly, military credibility. If wielding a weapon appears to threaten the wielder with more danger than their opponent, it makes for a poor military tool.

1/14/2008 09:31:00 AM  

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