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  Cost Pakistan Incurred to Build the Nuclear Bomb  


By: Hari Sud
April 17, 2004

(Published information from Pakistani sources is highly unreliable. The author estimates that Pakistan had spent about $12 Billion by the time Atom Bomb was ready in 1989…)

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Cost of building the Pakistani Nuclear Bomb, since Zulfikaar Ali Bhutto initiated the program in 1974, has been variously estimated. Some experts have put the cost at $10 to $25 Billion dollars. Others estimate it as at low as $5.5 Billion. It is hard to pin down the costs as most of the Bomb making costs from 1974 till the 1989 cold test, have been deliberately disguised.  

In the absence of any data, various peace groups, government agencies, and leaks in the various newspapers have attempted to estimate these costs. These estimates have served their purpose.  American do not wish every country in the world to attempt building nuclear bombs, hence they suggest prohibitive costs. Present day dictators wish to challenge the super powers, hence embark upon this program to give himself or herself, parity with the super powers hence ignore costs at the expense of economic development. 

How did the Pakistani Begin? 

Zulfikaar Ali Bhutto had difficulty finding enough physicists to form a core group to build a bomb in 1974. Initial main focus was to copy India in building Plutonium type implosion device that India had just exploded. The focus immediately shifted to using Uranium-235 with the arrival of stolen plans from Holland. Although work on the former was not completely stopped but the main focus shifted to enriching Uranium to weapon’s grade U-235. The Dutch plans put Pakistan far ahead in technology and costs. The big part of the costs, which is R & D, came for free. The latter part of acquiring the components to build the centrifuge from German, Malaysian and US sources was much more expensive.  Pakistan took three to four years to digest the stolen information and cultivate potential suppliers and middlemen for the supply of parts and components. Placing of orders began in 1982 and continued till in 1987. This activity was not missed by the US, but was ignored, as Pakistan was the base for war in Afghanistan. 

How much did it cost US to build the First Bomb in 1945? 

America started in earnest to build the Bomb in 1942, when a bunch of émigré nuclear scientists wrote to President Roosevelt that Germans have achieved a major breakthrough in splitting the Atom, hence unleashing untold amount of energy. Concerned America immediately embarked upon an effort to outdo the Germans. They attempted various techniques to separate U-235 from naturally occurring U-238. These were not very successful. Reasons – it was all a pioneering effort, never attempted before, hence was taking longer and costing more. Gaseous diffusion, electromagnetic separation and even centrifuging were attempted at various laboratories with varying success. Still, not enough U-235 could be produced to set off a test explosion. The scientists at Los Alamos explored the alternative route of implosion using Plutonium core. This attempt was more successful. The first Bomb test in New Mexico desert in 1945 was an Implosion device. Alternative route of U-235 also made a better progress with the commissioning of Calutron at Oakridge, Tenn. By early 1945, the scientists had managed to separate enough U-235 for one gun barrel type of nuclear bomb in which U-235 will be split to release the energy. 

In this three and half year period the US Congress appropriated amounts $250 million in the first year and $500 million in subsequent years to build the Bomb. In addition, the US Army, which managed the project and provided security, infrastructure etc. spent additional $250 million from its budget. Hence the first three US bombs – the laboratory model tested in New Mexico, the Little Boy dropped over (Hiroshima – Gun Barrel, U-235 type) and Fat Man (Plutonium implosion device) dropped over Nagasaki had cost about $2 Billion.  

In today’s terms (2004), after adjusting for inflation the cost of building first three Bombs of America will be about $15 Billion. This does not include building up of an arsenal later by USA, which has been estimated to cost $5.8 Trillion over 58 years.  

(The above is all published information) 

The Pakistani Bomb Costs 

A.      Information we know from the published sources 

Aslam Effendi, a Pakistani analyst writing in “The News” recently put the cost of building the bomb in last 20 years (1978 –98) at Rs. 20 Billion. This translates into about $5.5 Billion after adjusting for exchange rate. Exclusions and inclusions have not been stated. The latter may be the key to whole exercise. 

M Ziauddin, another Pakistani analyst has estimated the cost of nuclear deterrence against India at $10 to 15 Billion. This amount probably includes missiles and 30 or so nuclear bombs. These costs also include expenditures on command and control devices.  

One cannot be certain about the reliability of the sources, which the above analysts have used to publish their cost estimates. But one goes with the assumption that official leaks made these analysts publish this sensitive data. Hence there is bit of a hidden agenda behind this data.  Analysts are commonly used to inform or misinform public and enemies about the state secrets. 

B.      Peace Groups Estimates 

These groups wildly estimate costs at $10 to 25 Billion. But they are pushing their own agenda by overstating or understating any information. Hence their estimates are a suspect. 

India has maintained a low-key attitude about discussing any Atomic Bomb matters. This is quite the opposite for the exuberant A Q Khan, who started to talk to the world with his interview in 1988 to the Indian journalist Kuldip Nayyar and later to others. He wished to become an immortal in Pakistani people’s eyes. This he could achieve only by discussing his successes.  

C.      Capping of the Program in early nineties 

In 1989 Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister and General Aslam Beg was the all-powerful Chief of the Military. Together they decided (under possible US pressure) to cap the Uranium – 235 productions. It is not known how much production of the U-235 (Weapon’s Grade) had been achieved by that time. But it is certain that sufficient quantities had been produced to set off a few bombs. The idled scientists went around the world selling their technology of centrifuges to Libya, Iran and North Korea and pocketed some of the proceeds. Kahuta Research Lab was kept functioning with monies from the Army and remaining monies of the above mentioned illicit trade. 

The Implosion Device Technology 

Pakistan although went full steam ahead to build the U-235 Centrifuge, but did not abandon the Plutonium route for the Bomb technology. They kept at it concurrent to other technological development, which they were pursuing wholeheartedly. They sent intelligence operatives and middlemen to purchase bomb triggers and other components, which were needed to assemble the Plutonium Bomb. One such intelligence operative was caught in 1986 in US, purchasing components and was expelled. But the Reagan Administration took no further action, as Pakistan was frontline state in US’s fight with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It is believed that Pakistan’s interest in Plutonium Bomb has been revived in last 5 years.  

What Role China Played and How did it get Paid? 

It is common knowledge that the all the Dutch designs could not be translated into practical operating machines. In other areas, components could simply not be procured by clandestine means. Hence, China was asked and they stepped into the void by providing the much-needed technical help. Chinese are known to have helped in perfecting the Centrifuge and with the initial Bomb design. Chinese supplied the much older version of the American Bomb design, which they had stolen in sixties. Pakistani improved the design and perfected it into their-own Bomb. Additional help in perfecting the firing mechanism was also provided by China. 

All this help did not come for free. Chinese and Pakistani are silent about it, but it is fair to assume that China collected details of the Dutch Centrifuge from the Pakistanis in lieu for their help. This helped them to improve their own design. But, helping Pakistan has been of much greater political value to the Chinese. It keeps India busy on the Western Border. 

What can you Estimate from the Published Data?

  1. US Cost breakdown

As stated above, it cost US about $2 Billion to build the first three bombs in 1945. All the three were laboratory versions. Hence all costs can be classified as R & D. But the infrastructure built to produce the prototypes stayed and has been used to mass-produce the weapons.  

The above $2 Billion effort, if it is to be duplicated in 1981 – 89 with current technologies, then it will cost about $8 Billion. Inflation alone will quadruple the cost. From this deduct costs for experimental technologies tried to concentrate U-235 in 1945, which need not be done now and adjust for productivity improvement. To this add infrastructure costs, which were accounted for elsewhere in the War effort. Hence a Cost of $8 Billion is a reasonable figure. The forgoing $8 Billion is cost estimate if built in America, based on competitive bidding for contracts and availability of the trained manpower. Elsewhere the costs will be higher. 

  1. Let us try and Arrive at Comparable Pakistani Costs

The Pakistani bomb builders had no R & D costs (they stole the technology). The untrained manpower added to the delay, hence cost (it took Pakistani engineers four to five years before procurement specs. could be written). The hardware cost was phenomenally high; as all deals were hush-hush deals hence were higher priced. In addition hefty commissions had to be paid to the middlemen, followed by multiple trans-shipments to deceive the ultimate destination of the hardware. All the forgoing added to the cost. 

The above, if all the pluses and minuses are accounted for will roughly double the cost of hardware before it is installed and commissioned. The local installation and commissioning will add significant amounts before any production can begin.   

Adding Up all the Costs Till 1989. 

Summarily, I will place the Pakistani Bomb costs as follows: 

                        - Training and Development (1978 – 82)                        $1.5 Billion

                        - Hardware Procurement, Installation and                     $ 5.0 Billion 
                          Commissioning (1982 – 89) 

                        - Project Management and Others (1978 – 89)              $ 1.0 Billion
                          (About 12% of installed costs) 

 - Direct Labor (12,000 scientists and Engineers           $ 2.0 Billion
   1981 – 89) 

                        - Utilities and Infrastructure costs            (1982 –89)     $ 2.0 Billion 

                        - Others including costs absorbed by the Army             $ 0.5 Billion 

                                                Total                                    $ 12.0 Billion 

The above is still order and magnitude estimate with +/- 20% accuracy. No researcher will ever get to the right figure as it has been cleverly disguised in various government department expenses, hence unavailable.                       

Project Management and Production 

The project management in Kahuta followed exactly the path the America used to acquire its nuclear capability in 1942-45. At Los Alamos, engineers and scientists were given a free hand in their endeavor. The US Army controlled the overall project management, security, procurement and public relations. The Army also set the time schedule. 

The Pakistani program followed the same style of project management as the US. It was the Pakistani Army, which controlled and accounted the program. Procurement was army and intelligence controlled where diplomats posted in foreign countries and intelligence agents acted as procurement agents. The site had the strictest security to prevent any information leaks, all provided by the Army. Trusted civilian administrators kept the accounts and arranged for all the monies needed.  From day one, three men civilian committee consisting of Ghulam Ishaq Khan (then Defense Secretary), A G N Kazi (then Finance Secretary) and Agha Shahai (then Foreign Secretary) provided the civilian face for the effort.  

Tests in 1998 

Test in 1998 was conducted out of materials produced during commissioning and prior to ceasing production at 93% U-235 under US pressure in 1989. Five test explosions were set off. Two were fission devices of 25 Kiloton and 12 Kiloton range. Three others were Sub Kiloton devices. These were exact copies of the Indian tests a month earlier.  

With these tests Pakistan exhausted quite a bit of its supplies of fissionable materials and wished to restart the Centrifuge to produce 93% Weapons Grade U-235 again. Indo-Pak tension was the perfect excuse. The production has been restarted and in last five years and enough weapons grade fission material has been manufactured to make 30 to 40 Bombs. 

Pakistan and Its Quest for the bomb 

Pakistan currently is exhausted with its Jihad, nuclear parity expenses and general economic collapse brought on by diverting monies to needless causes. It has probably lost a bit of its internal sovereignty to US by letting US joint control over its nuclear weapons. Columnist Khursheed Nadeem has asked recently: 

·         Why did Regular Pakistani army with nuclear weapons fail to win over Kashmir

·         Why did Jehad fail in Kashmir

·         Why has diplomacy failed to win Kashmir 

His point – Is it worthwhile to continue with high expenses on army, nuclear weapons and missiles, since there is no possibility of catching up with India and grabbing Kashmir. The technology developed so far can only be gifted away not sold for a price to defray the initial expenses. The driving force for these expenses i.e. the Kashmir issue and parity with India are still insolvable issues. Kashmir will always remain Indian and India is too big for Pakistan to get a meaningful parity, hence quite a bit of waste has happened in a country with poor resources.

Hari Sud

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