|English: Diagram of an idealized Lithium atom, primarily useful to illustrate the nucleus of an atom. This sort of design is scientifically inaccurate in many important respects, but serves as a powerful mandala of the nuclear age. Inspired by drawing at http://imagine.inel.gov/, redrawn by User:Fastfission in Macromedia Freehand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
The Khan Research Laboratories, previously known at various times as Project-706, and Engineering Research Laboratories, is a Pakistan Government's multi-program national research institute, managed and operated under the scrutiny of Pakistan Armed Forces, located in Kahuta, Punjab Province. The laboratories are one of the largest science and technology institutions in Pakistan, and conducts multidisciplinary research and development in fields such as national security, space exploration, and supercomputing.
While the laboratories remain highly classified, the KRL is most famous for its research, development, and production of Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU), using gas-centrifuge (Zippe-type) technological methods roughly based on the model of the Urenco Group—the technology brought by Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who worked there as a senior scientist. Since its inception, this institutes employed large number of technical staff members with majority being physicists and mathematicians, assisted by engineers (both army and civilians), chemists, and material scientists. Professional scientists and engineers are also delegated to visit this institute after going under close and strict screening and background check, to participates as visitors in scientific projects.
During the midst of 1970s, the laboratories were the cornerstone of the first stage of Pakistan' atomic bomb project, being one of the various sites where the classified scientific research on atomic bombs were undertaken.
During the early stage of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) put its primary effort into developing the plutonium-based nuclear weapons. Following India's surprise nuclear test in 1974 — codename Smiling Buddha, the PAEC launched a secret uranium enrichment project, with Sultan Mahmood as its project-director. Work at the Kahuta site was initiated by Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as part of Project-706. In spring of 1976, Abdul Qadeer Khan joined the programme and worked for a short period under the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. However, Khan developed serious disagreement with the officials of the PAEC who were focused on developing the centrifuge technologies and methods ingeniously. After a meeting with Bhutto, Khan gained autonomous control of the project and established the research site that later became to known as the "Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL)". Khan did not want to have PAEC involved in the ERL's work, and instead favored the Corps of Engineers to lead the programme. Wanting a capable administrator, Bhutto asked the Chief of Army Staff for the selection, and the Engineer-in-Chief chose Brigadier Zahid Ali Akbar to lead the program.
Because the experiments were deemed too dangerous to conduct in a major city, the operations were moved in a remote mountainous northern areas of Pakistan. Both the facility and its related laboratories, and the nearby city of Kahuta, were built by the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers under command of Lieutenant-General Zahid Ali Akbar. The Military Engineering Service of Pakistan Army also contributed in the construction of the uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta. Conducting a classified research, the facility was heavy secured by both the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). All employees needed badges to pass a checkpoint, and the laboratories are electronically fenced and guarded.
Originally known as Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL), the facility was renamed Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in May 1981 by the Military President and Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq in the honor of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. KRL began producing HEU in 1986, and Pakistan's fabrication of weapons may have begun soon thereafter, with highly enriched 6UF being reduced to uranium metal and machined into weapon pits. By the late 1980s, Pakistan was advertising its nuclear capabilities; publishing technical articles on centrifuge design, including a 1987 article co-authored by Qadeer Khan on techniques for balancing sophisticated ultracentrifuge rotors.
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Chinese technicians were present at Kahuta in the early 1980s, an unconfirmed indicator of Chinese assistance in the development of equipment at Kahuta. The U.S. intelligence community concluded that 5,000 ring magnets supplied by China in 1996 were meant for special suspension bearings mounted at the top of rotating centrifuge cylinders. During his debriefings in 2005-7, Qadeer Khan alleged that in 1980s the military government of President General Zia-ul-Haq had him and the KRL to led the establishment of HEU programme in the Chinese nuclear program, and provided technical support to China's centrifuge and other classified programs. Abdul Qadeer Khan also alleged that "KRL has built a centrifuge facility for China in Hanzhong province".
Apart from operating the uranium enrichment facilities, the KRL includes a ballistic missile-space research laboratories that competes with the PAEC to produce advanced ballistic missiles ranging for targeting enemy combatant targets and the space exploration. Its space-missile exploration projects based on producing the liquid fuel rockets in comparison to solid fuel rockets projects of the National Development Laboratories (NDL). The KRL's missile projects are widely believed to be based on North Korean technology; exchanges took place in the late 1990s. The following missiles have been produced by KRL:
The continuing efforts to make the laboratories more science efficient led the Ministry of Science (MoSci) to grant a three research and fellowship programmes with the Government College University with the support of Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF). Since 1980 at present, the KRL continues to develop the research work on computational mathematics, supercomputing and advanced mathematics to the extended applications to natural sciences.
The KRL performs variety of weapons science and engineering projects for Pakistan Defence Forces. Since 1980s, the KRL is involved in numerous military equipment and conventional weaponry development projects. The resulting systems have been put into service by the Pakistan's military and exported to other friendly nations. The following is a list of known equipment produced under these projects:
- Guided missiles:
- Modules for the BGM-71 TOW ATGM.
- Electrical and electronic equipment:
- Equipment for clearance of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, including remote control mine exploders (RCME) and mine-sweeping line charges.
- Laser equipment:
- Digital goniometers.
KRL is said to have entered into an agreement with Malaysian businessman Shah Hakim Zain to export weapons to Malaysia.