It is believed that work on the creation of the atomic bomb in Pakistan began after another defeat in the armed conflict with India in 1971. This war is known as the Bangladesh War of Independence. It became the largest in a series of Indo-Pakistani conflicts and cost Pakistan dearly. In addition to the separation of the eastern province, Islamabad suffered very serious losses in manpower, equipment and weapons. In Bangladesh, more than 90 Pakistani troops surrendered. All this has caused serious damage not only to the defense capability and economy, but also to the state prestige of Pakistan. In this situation, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, after a meeting with leading physicists, officially authorized the armory nuclear program.
Pakistan began its nuclear research back in the 1954 year, relying, like many other countries, on training assistance and the research reactor offered by the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program. The crushing defeat in the war only boosted them and gave a pronounced weapon orientation. But Pakistani specialists for the transition to the practical implementation of work on the creation of the atomic bomb did not have enough knowledge and experience, and most importantly, they had a very modest laboratory and financial base at their disposal.
The founder of the Pakistani nuclear program was Abdul Kadir Khan. In 1961, Khan went to Germany to continue his studies, and after receiving a degree in metallurgical engineering in 1972, he became a doctor of science. After completing his education, Abdul Kadir Khan got a job in a physical laboratory, where secret research was conducted in the interests of the British company URENCO. URENCO Company was one of the leading world leaders in the field of uranium enrichment technologies and production of gas centrifuges. In the 1975 year, after conducting nuclear tests in India, Abdul Kadir Khan, who at that time held a responsible post at URENCO and had access to many nuclear secrets, returned to Pakistan. He convinced the Pakistani government to abandon the original decision on the development of a plutonium nuclear charge, since the “uranium” direction of the nuclear program required less financial expenditures and simpler technological equipment. To create a “uranium bomb”, it is enough to have uranium enrichment technology in centrifuges.
Uranium was discovered by the Geological Survey of Pakistan at 1959 in Bagalchora, in the southern part of Punjab province. The quality of the ore at Bangalchor ranged from 0,03 to 0,1 per cent of the uranium content. A nearby processing plant began operations in 1977-1978. As of 1980, the reserves of this deposit were estimated at 150 000 tons of ore. The mine at Bagalchora was almost completely depleted in 1988.
It is paradoxical, but at the same time, it would seem, irreconcilable opponents provided assistance in creating the Pakistani atomic bomb. Financial support came from Libya and Saudi Arabia. Technological assistance with the tacit consent of the United States in the extraction and processing of ore and enrichment of uranium provided: Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland. The practical result of this assistance was about 1000 operating centrifuges, in which there was a separation of uranium isotopes. The first research reactor from Canada was launched in 1970.
Despite the priority in the development of the uranium bomb, the development of a more promising and technological plutonium direction was also carried out. The launch of the Khushab reactor, built in Joharabad, Punjab, in March 1996, allowed production of weapons-grade plutonium to begin. The Pakistani Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology in Rawalpindi launched tritium production facilities. This substance can be used for boosting (amplifying) the primary node of a nuclear warhead and then at the expense of the created reaction temperature — fusion of tritium nuclei with release of even more energy, which can “burn” the charge of the third stage of even greater power. That is, Pakistan already has a scientific and production base for the creation of thermonuclear charges.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Khushab Pakistani Nuclear Reactor
But the main contribution to the creation of Pakistani nuclear weapons was made by China. It was from there that the key weapons-grade nuclear technologies were obtained, and possibly even uranium hexafluoride and highly enriched uranium. A number of sources mention the supply of uranium from Libya, which was purchased from the Niger, and from 1978 of the year secretly transferred to Pakistan.
Pakistan not only created and tested nuclear weapons, but also generously shared information and nuclear technologies for money with almost everyone. In 2004, Abdul Kadir Khan made a penitential statement on television, where he acknowledged personal responsibility for the transfer of nuclear technology and special equipment to a number of Islamic countries and the DPRK. Although the “father of the Pakistani atomic bomb” was appointed the formal culprit of the incident, however, he got home arrest, there is no doubt that the Pakistani special services and the country's leadership were aware of the “nuclear leaks”. Moreover, as many researchers believe, the creation and testing of the Pakistani atomic bomb would be very difficult without financial support from abroad. So, only Iran in the 90-ies paid several tens of millions of dollars for gas centrifuges and technological documentation for the separation of uranium isotopes.
After obtaining a sufficient amount of highly enriched uranium, employees of the research laboratory in Kahuta in the north of Pakistan started to create a relatively compact uranium charge suitable for practical use. According to a number of experts, thanks to Chinese help, Pakistani specialists were able to create nuclear implosive-type explosive devices using the core of highly enriched uranium, spending approximately 15-20 kilograms on a charge. At the end of 1991, a US official said that Pakistan has enough weapons-grade uranium to make at least six munitions. Most likely, the first Pakistani nuclear warheads were ready as early as the beginning of the 90s of the last century. But for foreign policy reasons, the leadership of Pakistan hid for the time being the presence of nuclear-explosive devices ready for testing, although information about the ongoing developments still leaked to the media. This is confirmed by the fact that the Chagai test site in the mountains of Baluchistan for nuclear tests was prepared ahead of time. The satellite images of the area show that, in addition to the test tunnels, capital structures and helicopter platforms were erected at the test site.
Google Earth snapshot: buildings and helipads in the area of the “Chagai” test site
As soon as information was received on Indian test explosions in May 1998, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered Pakistani nuclear tests. The Pakistani leadership has not stopped even the threat of international sanctions. In the first half of May, the nuclear charges were delivered by the C-130 military transport plane to the Quetta military airfield. In flight, the C-130 with “atomic cargo” in case of “unforeseen situations” was accompanied by a link of Pakistani F-16 fighter jets.
From the airfield, a convoy of trucks under the protection of Pakistani special forces delivered the nuclear explosive devices to be tested at the Chagai test site.
A total of 28 to 30 in May passed 5 plutonium and uranium nuclear charges with a capacity of 1-25 kt. As stated later, one charge placed in the test chamber decided not to blow up. Whether this is so, it is not known, it is possible that the test ended in failure.
Pakistani nuclear tests have caused a great resonance in the world and the condemnation of the governments of most states. On this occasion, an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was convened, and subsequently international sanctions were imposed against Pakistan. However, not all countries supported these sanctions. For example, Saudi Arabia, by contrast, supplied several thousand barrels of oil per day to Pakistan as a sign of support for nuclear testing. Thanks to the help of the Saudis, Pakistan suffered less damage to its economy than expected from the sanctions.
The mass of the first Pakistani uranium atomic bombs was within 1000 kg and the Mirage-3, Mirage-5 and F-16 aircraft were considered as their carriers. At the moment, most of the "mirages" has developed its resource, and F-16 require repair and modernization. It is likely that the JF-17 retrofit fighters, which are a joint Chinese-Pakistani project, will be used to mount free-fall atomic bombs. In the future, the Pakistan Air Force plans to purchase 250 JF-17. According to US intelligence published in the media, Pakistani nuclear bombs in disassembled form are stored in underground shelters at Sargodha airbase.
Fighter JF-17 Pakistan Air Force
After the nuclear test cycle conducted in 1998, the political leadership of Pakistan, wishing to limit the military’s ability to dispose of nuclear weapons as much as possible, created the Strategic Army Command (ASFC) in 2000.
The development of ballistic missiles in Pakistan began simultaneously with the launch of a nuclear program. The most advanced models capable of carrying nuclear warheads were created with the help of the PRC and the DPRK. Perhaps the price paid for North Korean missiles was the transfer of nuclear secrets and uranium enrichment technologies. One way or another, Pakistan and North Korea helped each other: Pakistan had a bomb, but there were no missiles, while North Korea had missiles, but there was no bomb.
Based on the Chinese operational tactical missile system DF-11 in Pakistan, the OATK “Hatf-3” with a firing range of about 300 km was developed. However, it can be assumed that under the Pakistani name used delivered from the PRC missiles and thus, China bypasses the restrictions associated with the export of rocket technology and technology.
As of the end of 2014, the number of Hatf-3 missiles in service was estimated at 30 units. When KVO 250 meters rocket can carry a warhead weighing 500-700 kg. It is believed that nuclear missiles with a capacity of 15-20 kt can be installed on these missiles.
In 2005, the missile units of the ASFC entered into service the Shahin-1 OTRK with a launch range of up to 750 km. The rocket for this complex was created with the help of the PRC. In 2014, a successful test launch of an improved version of “Shaheen-2” took place, this missile is capable of hitting a target at a distance of up to 1500 km.
"Shahin-2" before the test launch
On the basis of the North Korean MRDS "Nodon-1" created liquid MRSD "Gauri" (maximum firing range - 1300 km). It was tested and put into service in the 2008 year. Since then, test-launches of these missiles are carried out regularly. The last time a successful launch of the Gauri missile was announced on 15 on April 2015 of the year.
According to expert estimates, the Pakistani Command of Army Strategic Forces may be located up to 50 ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Most of these mobile-launched missiles are on a wheeled or railroad chassis, but some of the missiles are installed in camouflaged mine launchers in the vicinity of air bases.
By the year 2010, Pakistan could have accumulated approximately 115 kg of weapons-grade plutonium, which is enough to create more than 20 nuclear warheads (approximately 5 kg per ammunition). Currently, at least three Khushab-type reactors are operating in Pakistan and two more are under construction. The upgraded Khushab-II and Khushab-III reactors are capable of producing kilogram of plutonium per year using 11-15.
Google Earth snapshot: Khushab-II and Khushab-III Pakistani nuclear reactors
Given that plutonium from the new reactors was supposed to be available in 2011 and 2012, respectively, Pakistan could accumulate plutonium enough to create plutonium ammunition around 2020 by 90. Taking into account the reserves of highly enriched uranium, this will allow Pakistan to have about 2020-250 nuclear charges by 300 year.
According to data published in the American media, all Pakistani nuclear warheads are disassembled into separate components and are located on carefully guarded military bases separately from the carriers. And the components of nuclear warheads are stored in different places. Thus, even in the case of a hypothetical seizure of components of a nuclear weapon, the rebels or Islamist militants will not be able to use it. It’s hard to say whether this is the case, it’s just to hope that the Pakistani atomic bomb will never fall into the “wrong hands”. According to the US Congressional Research Service, the Pakistani armed forces currently have 90 — 110 nuclear warheads. The development, creation and presence of nuclear weapons by the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan justifies the need to deter possible aggression from India. At the same time, the policy of double standards on the part of the United States with respect to the Pakistani nuclear program attracts attention. Americans vehemently oppose nuclear research conducted in Iran, which allegedly threaten the whole world. At the same time, the American leadership is fairly calm about Pakistani nuclear weapons and the means of delivery being developed there. But it was precisely the Pakistani special services that created the Taliban movement, and Osama Bin Laden lived quietly in Pakistan for a long time.
The author is grateful for the help in preparing the publication for Anton (opus).