Khan Research Laboratories
|Established||31 July 1976|
Field of research
|Location||Kahuta, Kahuta District, Pakistan|
The Khan Research Laboratories, previously known at various times as Project-706, Engineering Research Laboratories, and Kahuta 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 conduct 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, there has been a large number of employed 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 participate as visitors in scientific projects.
During the midst of the 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.
As early as the 1970s, the early stage of the Pakistan's atomic bomb program focused on its primary efforts on producing and developing a weapons-grade plutonium device under the research led by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). In 1974, India conducted a surprise nuclear test (Smiling Buddha), the PAEC launched a clandestine uranium enrichment project with nuclear engineer Sultan Mahmood becoming its director; Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan joined the program in 1974. Work at the Kahuta site was initiated by Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
After disagreeing with Sultan Mahmood's calculation and feasibility report submitted to the government, Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto detached the work from the PAEC and made Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan the director of the uranium enrichment project in 1976. The uranium project was moved to Kahuta where the project was established as Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL). According to Dr. A.Q. Khan, materials were imported from Europe with the help of two procurement officers; one of them was Engineer Ikramul Haq Khan, deputed to KRL via Gen Ali Nawab, Chairman POF (1976–1981). The other was Mr. Jamil who worked out of the office of PATLO in the Pakistan High Commission in London.
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. The entire site and the Kahuta was rebuilt by the Corps of Engineers under Lieutenant-General Zahid Ali Akbar, with logistics provided by Military Engineering Service. 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.
The ERL was intended to spur innovation and provide competition to the nuclear weapon-design at the PAEC. Some renowned scientists preferably Dr. G.D. Alam (Theoretical physicist) from PAEC had joined the ERL and enriched the uranium at Kahuta. Dr. Anwar Ali and some other scientists also support him. The site quickly installed thousands of gas centrifuges, using the Zippe method, to run at about 65,000rpm for an average of 10 years. The U235 containing only ~0.7% enriched material is brought to more than 90.0% through three stages of enrichment, leaving the original material depleted from 0.7% to 0.2%, which then now at both civilian and military-grade. In the 1970s, the ERL heavily depended on URENCO's method but lessened the dependence in 1979 after local methods were developed. Unverified claims were made by KRL in 1983–84 of conducting weapon-design tests. After visiting the site in May 1981, President Zia-ul-Haq renamed the ERL as Khan Research Laboratory (KRL) in the honor of its founder and senior scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. The KRL established a system of numerical control to control the centrifuges in 1983. By 1986, the KRL began producing the HEUs as well as developing the Krytron while classified work on the uranium weapon-design took place with 6UF being reduced to uranium metal and machined into weapon pits. The KRL began publishing series of academic articles on numerics and computational methods on centrifuge design, including a 1987 article co-authored by Qadeer Khan on techniques for balancing sophisticated ultracentrifuge rotors.
In the 1990s, KRL became a home of a number of the most high-performance supercomputer and parallel computing systems that were installed at the facility. A parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) division was established which specialized in conducting high performance computations on shock waves in weapons effect from the outer surface to the inner core by using the difficult differential equations of the state of the materials used in the bomb under high pressure.
In an investigative reports published by NTI, the Chinese scientists were reportedly present at Kahuta in early 1980s— an unconfirmed indicator of Chinese assistance in the development of equipment at Kahuta. In 1996, the U.S. intelligence maintained that China provided magnetic rings for special suspension bearings mounted at the top of rotating centrifuge cylinders. In 2005, it was revealed that President Zia's military government had the KRL to run a project of HEU programme in the Chinese nuclear program. Abdul Qadeer Khan also alleged that "KRL has built a centrifuge facility for China in Hanzhong province".
The KRL supports and provides research opportunities program at the Government College University (GCU) in Lahore; it supports its physics program through funding and providing scholarship to physics and engineering students at the Government College University.
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. In 1999, the KRL established a research institute on computer science at Kahuta, which was later integrated to University of Engineering and Technology in Taxila.
The civilian research on biotechnology, biology and Genetic Engineering is supported by the KRL at the University of Karachi, with the support from Pakistan Science Foundation. The KRL organized a conference on Computational biology in Islamabad to present overview of the scope of computational sciences.
National security program
Apart from researching on uranium and developing 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 Complex (NDC). 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 KRL performs variety of weapons science and engineering projects for Pakistan Armed Forces. Since the 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:
- 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:
- Reactive armour kits for armoured vehicles and APFS-DS anti-tank ammunition for main battle tanks.
- Digital goniometers.
- Originally, the concept was conceived during the post-1971 war, and the programme was launched in 1974 under the codename "Project-706". In 1976, the laboratories was founded in 1976 as a highly sensitive, centralized, and secretive facility to coordinate the scientific research for the clandestine atomic bomb project. The laboratories were founded by Abdul Qadeer Khan who served its senior scientist at first, and was built under the engineering management of the Corps of Engineers. Since 1976, the laboratories has been multiply referred as to "Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL)"; the "Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL)"; Dr. A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories (also KRL)" or alternatively denoted as "Khan Labs"
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