Tehran University, one of the Iranian universities that has significant research in material sciences including advanced composite materials.

My previous two posts ( part 3 and part 4 of this series on a proliferation case study examining Iran’s possible indigenous production of Safir engine parts) discussed a framework for thinking about how proliferators get WMD and the means to deliver them. It was pointed out that the best way for proliferators to get the technology and industrial infrastructure for producing these new (to them) technologies was to purchase a turnkey production plant. It was also pointed that once that was done, the proliferator could “assimilate” the technology and progress toward more indigenous innovation. How quickly and efficiently this could be done, however, depends on the level of pre-existing knowledge related to the technology. Today’s post is going to examine Iran’s state of knowledge related to advanced composites.

A Wide Range of Contributing Knowledge

First, however, we have to discuss the range of prior knowledge that could assist in the assimilation of a given technology. Unfortunately, it is hard for the an outside observer to be aware of all of these technologies. So before turning to Iran’s infrastructure, I’m going to discuss more about that poster-child of turnkey proliferation and assimilation: India’s rocket/missile acquisition program. Many of these details can be found, at least in an introductory sense, in the wonderful book by Gopal Raj’s Reach for the Stars: The Evolution of India’s Rocket Programme. Raj details how India licensed the solid propellant technology for the Centaure II sounding rocket from France’s Sud Aviation that started them on the road to not only their space launch capabilities (such as the SLV-3) but also to the Agni guided missile.

The Centaure II uses relatively modest propellants (Polyvinyl Chloride—PVC—binder and ammonium perchlorate—AP—oxidizer) but licensing this technology enabled India to gain invaluable experience producing large-grain solid-propellant rockets. India was able to produce part of these chemicals by purchasing a PVC turnkey production plant from B.F. Goodrich but they first had to import AP. Interestingly, India was able to capitalize its preexisting electrolytic industry in the form of the West Indian Match Company (WIMCO) to jump from potassium perchlorate to ammonium perchlorate, which required an additional electrolysis stage. WIMCO was created as a joint venture where India licensed the technology from the Swedish Match Company in 1924 as a turnkey plant, Indian engineers had assimilated the technology by the 1960s so that they were able to modify it enough to produced ammonium perchlorate. (See The 13th Element for an amusing account of the “match wars” in the late 1800s that created the Swedish Match Company and helped motivate it to form joint ventures around the world.) So we are bound to miss some important sectors when we search for clues about a country’s existing infrastructure that can contribute to their technology assimilation ability.

Iran’s Academic Composites Infrastructure

Google Scholar searches for various terms associated with advanced composite materials and “Tehran” results in a great number of academic papers originating from Iranian scientists and engineers. These papers contain both “theoretical” and experimental work; the later is particularly important for engineering subjects since they demonstrate a significant level of “tacit knowledge” so necessary to actually producing things. (Please also see my post on missile development consortiums as well.) I am not qualified to judge these papers’ scientific merit, but note the range of universities and the extensive academic infrastructure devoted to material sciences linked to few papers I’ve seen (this definitely not an exhaustive list; see the Wikipedia listing for Iranian universities):

Amirkabir University of Technology
-Department of Polymer Engineering
-Mechanical Engineering Department
-Department of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering

University of Tehran

-School of Metallurgy and Materials, Faculty of Engineering

Iran University of Science and Technology

-School of Materials

—Ceramic Division

Tarbiat Modarres University

-Department of Materials Engineering

Islamic Azad University

-Department of Chemistry

University of Malek Ashtar

International University of Imam Khomeini

Kashan University

-Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Research Centers:

-Iran Color Research Center

-Iran Polymer and Petrochemical Institute

-Materials and Energy Research Center

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Can it really be doubted that Iran is capable of producing its own advanced composite jet vanes? It has the scientific infrastructure and, by now, a large supply of very well trained scientists and engineers in this subject. If Iran did import the initial production line, it was only to minimize risk of failure much as the US did after World War II with V2 technology. They clearly have the know-how and infrastructure to assimilate this technology at almost any level and improve on it. (As an aside, this advanced composite infrastructure can be easily applied to Iran’s nuclear centrifuge production.) This is an example of the new proliferation environment that we must adapt to instead of stubbornly insisting that the old supply-side nonproliferation regimes are good enough.

Post Series: Proliferation Case Study #1

This series of posts consists of:
0) Do You Know What This Thing Is?

1) Iranian Furnances

2) The Jet Vane Hypothesis

3) The How of Proliferation, Part 1

4) The How of Proliferation, Part 2

5) Iran’s Composites Infrastructure