February 13, 2003
Gerry Bull and the Iraq Supergun
by William K. Fawcett
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
Biography of Bill Fawcett
Born New Albany, Indiana, 1923
Graduated from New Albany High School
War II service in Europe
War service in the Pentagon
wife Marty and three daughters along the way
Retired from Lockheed Corporation
GERRY BULL AND THE IRAQI SUPERGUN
I have chosen this topic for three reasons. The first is because it is very timely; the
UN inspectors are making their second, and perhaps final, report tomorrow to the Security
Council. The second: I hope to show the shady side of international arms deals in case
anyone is in doubt. The third reason is parochial: Lockheed Propulsion Company, and
therefore Redlands, had a significant business relationship with Gerry Bull in the 1950s
and 1960s; our guest today, Doug Melzer, was Lockheed's project engineer.
Gerald Vincent Bull was born in 1928 the ninth of ten children in North Bay, Ontario,
into a dysfunctional family. His mother died when he was three; his father was a feckless
attorney who couldn't cope with the children, his profession or the Depression. Gerry's
uncle, his mother's brother, and his wife offered to take Gerry in 1935. The wife had won
$175,000 in the Irish Sweepstakes, so they were able to care for Gerry much better than
his father or older sisters. Although the aunt was not a good substitute for his mother
because she was very domineering, she did influence him in two areas that stuck with him
the rest of his life: anti-communism and the payoff for hard work.
Uncle Phil had talked a Jesuit boarding high school in Kingston, Ontario, into accepting
Gerry even though he was two years under the admission age of 12. And he was still two
years too young at 16 for admission to the University of Toronto, but Uncle Phil again
interceded and got him admitted. This is where young Gerry acquired his life-long
fascination with aeronautics and space.
After graduation in the spring of 1948 at the age of 20 Bull took a job with an
aircraft company near Toronto but lasted only a few months. It was drudgery and dull, not
challenging to someone wanting to create. He lucked out. His mentor at the University
convinced the Canadian government to fund research in supersonic aerodynamics. He reasoned
that unless Canada were willing to let the Americans and the British, in particular, pass
Canada in the race for aerospace technology, it would lose not only the race but the
scientists as well, a drain on scientific brainpower hard for a government to contemplate.
The government made a grant of $350,000 to establish the Institute of Aerophysics at the
University of Toronto. Bull's mentor, Dr. Gordon Patterson, was put in charge of the
program to investigate supersonic aerodynamics.
Dr. Patterson selected four new engineering graduates each year to conduct the program.
They were paid $40 per week to plan and execute their research. Bull applied, but the
Defence Research Board which oversaw the grant judged him too young and immature at 20 (he
looked 16, and was still quiet and shy). But Patterson insisted that while he was an above
average although not outstanding student, Bull had shown a persistence in getting tough
jobs done. He was accepted.
Gerry embarked on his graduate program in September of 1948, assigned to investigate
the aerodynamics of supersonic wind tunnels. Supersonic flight was a mystery and a fear at
that time. Among operational vehicles, only the German V2 rocket had broken the sound
barrier. Answers had to be gotten on the ground, and the only way was to mount an aircraft
specimen in a tunnel and force very high velocity air by it. Supersonic wind tunnels were
in their infancy, and Canada didn't have one.
Bull was assigned to build one. By December Bull and his partner had completed the
math, designed the parts and ordered the hardware, much of which had to be especially
built. When they finished assembling, they discovered it was about a foot too long. No
problem. Bull cut a ten-inch hole through the wall into Dr. Patterson's adjoining office.
The tunnel worked OK, so they were on the right track, but it was too small to be of
practical use. So they designed a larger version, and sure enough when it was assembled,
it didn't fit either. Eventually Dr. Patterson's wall was removed entirely.
In the summer of 1949 Bull presented his Master's thesis and was awarded the Master of
Science degree. In August his father died, and his younger brother asked him to attend the
funeral. He hadn't seen his father in years, nor any other of the Bull family. This turned
into a terrible row which brought out all the ill feelings between the Bulls and Gerry's
adopted family on his mother's side. Gerry was so hurt that he never again saw or talked
to his brothers and sisters.
Bull started work on his PhD at the Institute of Aerophysics about the time the Defense
Research Board awarded the Institute a $200,000 contract to design, build and test a
supersonic wind tunnel capable of Mach 7. Bull was assigned to design the test section,
where the highest air velocity is produced. The purpose of the wind tunnel was not
disclosed, but it was apparent that the testing of a weapon system was involved. It turned
out that Canada was working on an air-to-air missile, code named Velvet Glove, to shoot
down Soviet bombers if they attacked Canada. The Cold War was heating up.
The missile development work was being done at CARDE, the Canadian Armament and
Research Development Establishment, located about 30 miles north of Quebec City. The
Velvet Glove project needed an aerodynamicist to design the missile body, the wings and
the fins. Gerry Bull was selected. He spent weeks at CARDE. In the meantime he was still a
student working on his thesis. He completed it in March of 1951 and transferred to the
CARDE staff on April 1st. He received his PhD in May, the youngest ever at the University.
The price of such frantic activity was the severe loss of weight and a near-nervous
At CARDE Bull was no longer in an academic environment where the goal was knowledge;
for the first time he was in an organization dedicated to producing war materiel. Velvet
Glove was an air-to-air missile 6 feet long, 8 inches in diameter, weighing about 350
pounds, and guided by radar. Bull directed a small technical staff that worked the
details, leaving him to work on the bigger problems and ideas. He would never become a
The question of confirming Velvet Glove's aerodynamic characteristics by testing
appeared to be insurmountable. The normal method, wind tunnel testing, was out of the
question because CARDE had no wind tunnel, and the one being finished in Toronto was too
small. Bull came up with the solution: it was the idea that would become the central theme
of his life. For years CARDE had conducted tests of artillery shells by firing shells
through a 350-foot long vacuum chamber while instruments and cameras were recording their
flights. This allowed a determination of how the shock waves created by supersonic speeds
affected the stability of the shells.
Bull reasoned that the vacuum chamber would allow the wind tunnel procedure to be
reversed. Instead of a stationary test specimen and high speed airflow, the model would be
tested by being fired from a gun at supersonic speed through the static atmosphere. Bull
built a scale model of Velvet Glove and tested it. The tests were successful, and provided
the Velvet Glove project team the data essential to proceed with a full-scale launch.
Bull and his team were very unpopular with other sections of CARDE. He had been
promoted several times, much more quickly than normal, and aroused jealousy. He had
occasionally embarrassed his superiors by end-running them and by grandstanding with the
press. The final straw came when he was the subject of a cover story in Maclean's, a major
monthly Canadian magazine. His boss talked him into an interview. When the magazine came
out in March 1953, Gerry's portrait was on the cover under the heading"Gerry Bull:
Boy Rocket Scientist". It cinched his reputation within the Canadian civil service as
a self-serving publicity seeker.
Up to this point in August 1953 Bull had never even had a date. He was too busy. He was
talked into double-dating, and fell madly in love with his date. She was the daughter of a
wealthy French-Canadian doctor living across the river from Quebec City. She was a beauty,
cultured, Catholic and a talented painter. Dr. Gilbert wanted her to marry a
French-Canadien, but it didn't work. They were married in July 1954. Eventually the doctor
and Gerry became very close.
Velvet Glove had grown to the point where 600 technical personnel were working on it.
300 missiles had been made and fired at a new site in Alberta. Then suddenly in mid-1954
it was canceled. After Sputnik, the Soviet threat was no longer bombers; it was the
intercontinental ballistic missile, against which the air-to-air Velvet Glove missile was
Bull's reputation for aerodynamic accomplishments continued to grow. He attracted
international attention by attending technical conferences and presenting papers. He
became a good friend of Dr. Charles Murphy, later head of the Ballistics Research
Laboratory of the U. S. Army Ordnance Corps' Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The
Laboratory was the U.S. counterpoint to the Canadian CARDE. As the relationship between
the two men grew, it resulted in U.S. contracts to CARDE to support Bull's work. This was
the opening of a whole new chapter in Bull's life.
After the cancellation of Velvet Glove, Bull turned his attention to investigating an
anti-ICBM vehicle. He reasoned that an ultra-high velocity gun firing shrapnel at the
signature created by the shock wave of an incoming warhead as it re-entered the atmosphere
would destroy the warhead. He was already achieving ultra-high velocities of 20,000 feet
per second from guns.
In April 1958 Bull made a horrendous blunder that would further alienate him from his
CARDE superiors and the Canadian government. He told the Montreal Star that he was working
on a gun-launched satellite that would be part of the Canadian program to develop an
anti-ICBM missile. He also said that the U.S. would provide him a Redstone rocket for
launching a 15-foot long missile that would achieve orbital velocity when fired at
altitude. He not only spilled the beans on his pet project, which was not approved, but he
gave away some CARDE secret information and exposed his relationship with the U.S., which
was also not known. The head of CARDE and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker were furious.
For the next three years he would operate in an increasingly abrasive environment at
CARDE, but his relationship with Dr. Murphy and the U.S. military would become closer and
closer. Finally, in February 1961 Bull resigned from CARDE.
Bull had caught the eye of the dean of engineering of McGill University in Montreal.
The dean was a well-respected researcher in gas dynamics who believed in Bull's work. One
month after he left CARDE, Bull was appointed a full professor of engineering science in
the Department of Mechanical Engineering. At 34 he was the youngest ever appointed. He was
assigned to work on the aerodynamics of aircraft and space vehicles at extreme speeds and
altitudes. He also continued his consulting work with U.S. military and corporations.
This was the time when testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles was beginning in
the West. It was discovered early that re-entry into earth's atmosphere at near 20,000
miles per hour resulted in such friction that enormous heat was generated, enough to
destroy the re-entry body. This was among the most serious problems to be overcome. Bull's
high velocity gun tests at CARDE provided data that could be extrapolated to address the
re-entry heat problem.
Bull and his boss worked on a plan for firing a gun to pursue the nose cone study and
ultimately to launch a satellite. He needed a remote spot where firing the guns would not
Bull found the spot he was looking for: a remote thousand-acre hilly and wooded site at
Highwater, Quebec, 60 miles south of Montreal on the U.S. border with Vermont. His
father-in-law bought the property, which McGill rented for $180,000 a year, a hefty price.
Dr. Gilbert and Bull each built homes at the site, which also had a swimming pool and
McGill code-named the project HARP, for High Altitude Research Program. Their immediate
goal was to fire instrumented shells into the stratosphere to gather weather and
meteorlogical data. Their ultimate goal was to launch shells containing solid rockets,
which would then be ignited at altitude to achieve orbital velocity of 17,000 miles per
hour. This is the definition of a satellite.
Experimental work and sub-scale testing could be done at Highwater, but HARP required
an ocean range away from populated areas, so McGill selected Barbados, where it was
conducting other programs.
Funding was the problem. McGill provided a little, but the main hope was the Canadian
government. This is where Bull's rocky relations with CARDE and Ottawa came back to haunt
them. The results of requests for funding resulted in at best long delays in approval and
at worst flat disapproval. Bull turned to his friend Dr. Murphy at Aberdeen for help. The
U.S. Army was wrestling with the Air Force over jurisdiction in space, and was about to
lose. Murphy and his bosses saw the HARP project as a way to keep the Army's foot in the
door. The Army issued a $2000 contract to McGill, a ridiculously low amount to avoid
drawing attention. The covert part of the contract was for the U.S. to supply hardware to
make Barbados operational.
Murphy quickly fulfilled his commitment. He found two 16-inch spare, unused battleship
gun barrels, about 60 feet long and weighing 125 metric tons; he also provided a 4-in gun
barrel for preliminary experiments, a $750,000 radar tracking system, a giant traveling
crane and a truck. Bull had the rifling grooves removed from the gun barrels so the
projectiles would not spin. Murphy arranged for an Army landing craft to deliver the
equipment to the Barbados beach, where it was moved over temporary rail tracks 3 miles to
the launch site. McGill engineers had built the concrete gun emplacement, so everything
was ready to go. Barbados was a well-equipped, well-instrumented launch site.
A 16-inch naval gun was also installed at Highwater. It was fired about 450 yards into
a tunnel in a hillside to experiment with propulsion charges and methods of increasing
muzzle velocity; the performance of sabots was also evaluated.
Starting in the mid-1950s Lockheed Propulsion Company's predecessor company, the Grand
Central Aircraft Company's Rocket Division, conducted extensive tests of gun-boosted
rocket motors. One of the ideas for achieving the ultra-high performance required of a
satellite was advanced by Wilbur Hartzell, whom some of you may remember, and Doug Melzer.
This was to seal the nose and aft ends of a thin-walled rocket motor and fill the annulus
with a liquid whose specific gravity approximated that of the rocket motor to prevent the
case from collapsing. The tests in 1963, done under the cognizance of the Ballistic
Research Laboratory at Aberdeen, Maryland were successful in demonstrating that solid
propellant could withstand the high acceleration of a gun without igniting or detonating.
16-inch Gun at Barbados >>
Dr. Bull learned of the Lockheed successes and as part of the overall HARP program,
awarded a $50,000 contract to continue the program, the objective of which was to place
payloads, especially communications satellites, in earth orbit. Doug Melzer was the
Lockheed project engineer who oversaw the delivery and testing of many rocket motors at
both Highwater and Barbados during numerous visits to those sites. He became well
acquainted with Dr. Bull as a result.
HARP continued to be funded off-and-on by the Canadian government, always late, in
spite of the prevailing ill will towards Bull. The U.S. continued its funding, which only
increased the skepticism in Ottawa, which began to think of HARP as a U.S. program. A
high-level Canadian report neatly summed up the advantages and disadvantages of a
gun-launched system: guns could launch payloads to great heights more efficiently than
rockets; it was cheaper than rockets, and more accurate; the disadvantages were that the
diameter was restricted to the bore of the gun, and the payload and its contents had to be
able to withstand extremely high acceleration forces, up to 10,000 times the force of
In the meantime the U.S. Army had hedged its bet by opening a 16-inch HARP range at its
Yuma Proving Grounds. In November 1966 it fired one of Bull's missiles to a height of 112
miles, a record that stood for over 25 years. But in June of 1967 the Army closed the Yuma
program because of the increasing costs of the Vietnam war. Just before that, however, the
Army transferred $3.5 million worth of equipment to enhance the ballistics capability of
Highwater. Coupled with the Canadian refusal to continue funding, the U.S. decision meant
the end of HARP. In its brief life it had provided a wealth of meteorological data, so it
had provided some benefit. Bull resigned from Space Research Institute, the name which had
been given to the McGill project.
A year later an unexpected thing happened: at a meeting in Montreal between McGill and
representatives of the Canadian and American governments to decide how to dispose of the
HARP assets, Bull served notice on McGill that it would have to meet all provisions of the
Highwater lease, which was expiring in a few weeks. One provision required that Highwater
be restored to its original condition within thirty days, an impossibility considering the
tremendous changes which had been made through building and deforestation. Over the years
Highwater had become a very well equipped laboratory for ballistic design and evaluation.
Bull offered to waive the clause if McGill, with concurrence from Canada and the U.S.,
transferred all HARP facilities and equipment at Highwater and Barbados to the Space
Research Institute, which he had incorporated in the meantime. He held the trump card.
McGill was anxious to get out, so it agreed.
Bull then approached the Bronfman brothers of Montreal and Seagrams fame who then
bought the business, which they operated for about a year. It was renamed Space Research
Corporation, and Bull was appointed the Technical Director. NASA and then the U.S. Army
offered contracts, but were restricted to contracting classified work within the U.S..
Problem solved: with Bronfman money Bull bought land in Vermont on the other side of the
border from Highwater. That satisfied the security requirement. Then the International
Boundary Commission granted permission to build a private road across the border to
connect both sides of the company.
The Bronfmans changed their plans and sold at great profit the subsidiary to which they
had attached Space Research Corporation. Bull's shares enabled him to pay off the
Bronfmans' investment. The Bronfmans introduced Bull to one of their bankers, First
Pennsylvania Bank of Philadelphia, which was to be entangled with Bull's finances for
Bull's work with artillery at CARDE and HARP had gained him an international reputation
in ballistics and artillery design. Military establishments around the globe were aware of
the 16-inch gun tests and the altitude records they had produced. So it was no surprise
that visitors came to Highwater to consult with Bull. Kirtland Air Force Base in
Albuquerque needed help with a missile nose cone design. It was 3 feet long and weighed
100 pounds. Bull welded two extra tubes to the 16-inch gun at Highwater, making it over
150 feet long. The nose cone left the barrel at 10,000 feet per second as it traveled a
mile before hitting a hillside. Films of the flight showed that the nose cone performed as
The U.S. Army issued a small contract to continue the studies of guns as ABM
possibilities. To do so, it had to divulge highly classified information, which Bull was
not cleared to receive. That was solved when Senator Barry Goldwater sponsored a private
Act of Congress to grant citizenship to Bull. It passed, so now he controlled development
facilities in Canada and Vermont connected to each other, and he was a citizen of both
countries. How neat!
The main thrust of Bull's effort and international contacts was centered around 155 mm
artillery pieces, which were owned by armies around the world. There were 155 mm guns,
with a range of about 12 miles, and 155 mm howitzers, with shorter range. The guns were of
primary interest, and there were so many everywhere that it was not practical to consider
modifying them. Improvements had to come from the projectiles they fired. It took Bull and
his crew four years to develop a projectile that would reach almost 20 miles and deliver
highly fragmented shrapnel.
This took Bull past the fork in the career road between peaceful altitude and satellite
exploration on one fork and military work on the other.
In 1973 a large Belgian munitions company, PRB, paid $75,000 for firing demonstrations
of the new shell in West Germany. The PRB general director convinced Bull that he needed
an international partner if his technology was ever to escape the laboratory. Government
arsenals and the military-industrial complex, particularly in the United States, to which
most nations looked for technical leadership, dominated the field. As a result, Space
Research Corporation, International was formed in Brussels, with PRB investing and owning
38% of the shares. Bull was also talked into designing a new 155 mm gun with a longer
barrel and greater range and accuracy.
SRC-I began to promote the new gun and projectiles. Interested delegations started
pouring in to Highwater for briefings and demonstrations. Most came via the crossroads
town of North Troy, Vermont. Two roads led into the compound. One approached a chain link
gate and fence, which was controlled by an armed guard. Nearby was a U.S. Customs
inspector who checked all incoming and outgoing vehicles. The road continued past
administration buildings and shops into Canada. The second road crossed the border at an
unattended and unmarked crossing. The International Boundary Commission had given
permission for this road--the first new crossing allowed in 50 years anywhere along the
4000 mile border. This road went through the area on the Canadian side where many of the
guns were installed and where the main industrial complex, including an auditorium for
lectures, was located. To the north were a manned gatehouse and a Canadian Customs
station. The one rule which governed: visitors and Americans entered through the south
gate, and Canadians through the north gate.
Visitor traffic reached the point where North Troy, Vermont, became a small center for
services, including a 30-room lodge and restaurant where in the evening the visitors and
now their imported Montreal ladies were entertained in lavish parties. This is where Bull
made his theatrical appearance to welcome them.
From the mid-70s the company exploited its unique location. "Because it straddled
the border, it could mix and meld the export laws of the two countries to its benefit. For
example, the U.S. allowed the export of arms to allies such as Israel. Canada, on the
other hand, banned all arms sales into the Middle East. So the development work on an
Israeli extended range shell was done on the Canadian side, but Bull had the shells built
in the U.S., and Washington issued an export permit for them to be sold to Israel. At the
same time, although Ottawa had stringent laws governing the export of arms, it did not
require certificates of end use for 'inert' items sent to friendly nations. That meant
Bull could export artillery shell cases to anywhere in Europe, just so long as they were
empty. In that way he could send them to PRB in Belgium., which in turn would load the
shells and sell them anywhere that Belgian law would allow. And Belgian law was a lot less
stringent than Canadian or U.S. law."
In late 1975 Portugal granted independence to Angola, the southwest African country.
Local political groups were unable to settle their internal disputes, and called on
outsiders to help them gain control. Three nations each supported a different faction: the
CIA, which sought to prevent Communist take-over, Russia and South Africa. The CIA quickly
bowed out, leaving Russia (with Cuban help) and South Africa battling to gain control.
Russian rockets were outdistancing South Africa's 155mm guns. South Africa had been unable
to update its weaponry because the United Nations had previously sanctioned it with an
arms embargo to counter apartheid.
Six months earlier an international arms dealer representing Israel had ordered 15,000
extended range 155mm shells from Bull. Bull had been granted a U.S. export permit to ship
the empty shell casings to Belgium, where they were to be loaded with explosives and fuses
for shipment to Israel. Israel had been working closely with South Africa, had ordered the
shells on behalf of South Africa, and ultimately transshipped the shells to South Africa.
The increased range was an immediate hit with the South Africans, who quickly ordered
53,000 more. The contract was between a Bull-owned Barbados subsidiary and a Liechtenstein
Bull wanted to make certain that he was on solid ground, so he went to the U.S. Office
of Munitions Control for oral approval of exporting empty shell casings. He received the
approval, and he followed up with a letter asking for approval in writing, which he got.
Around that time an election in Barbados had resulted in the defeat of the
administration sympathetic to Bull and the seating of one opposed to his activities in
their country. Following the election the pressure on Bull became so great that he moved
the operation to Antigua.
Now shell cases were being exported to Belgium and Antigua; a visit to Spain added that
country to the list. Bull had a crew in South Africa teaching the Afrikaners to load and
test-fire the extended range shells.
And now, surprise! Fidel Castro got into the act. He told a visiting Rhodesian
guerrilla leader that his intelligence had picked up reports of what was going on in
Barbados and Antigua. The visitor was on his way to make a speech in Canada, and he called
a press conference to relate what Castro had told him. Bull's Space Research Corp. was
implicated, and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was infuriated. He ordered the RCMP to
investigate. British intelligence became involved. So did two young investigative
journalists, who spent the next two years unraveling the trail. The BBC and CBC networks
prepared and aired documentaries alleging that all the shipments ended up in South Africa.
The U.S. government got interested, and convened a grand jury in Philadelphia to
investigate. Eventually, in spite of his letter of approval from the Office of Munitions
Control, under threat of imprisonment to many of his employees, Bull agreed to a plea
bargain to save them from trial. He was sentenced to six months in jail at the
minimum-security federal prison at Allenwood Prison Camp in Pennsylvania. While he felt he
had done nothing illegal, he clearly had violated the intent of export restrictions. Bull
was na´ve and on the innocent side, but he was not so na´ve or innocent that he didn't
know how his empty artillery shells would be used---or that shipments ending in South
Africa were illegal, regardless of how circuitous the delivery route.
In the four months between sentencing and commitment to Allenwood, Bull began to drink
heavily. That and the failure of his businesses caused him to have a nervous breakdown,
which resulted in confinement to a psychiatric hospital, where the doctors were concerned
that he might commit suicide. He pulled out of his depression during his jail term, and
emerged in February 1981 charged up ready to resume his career. He would never forgive the
United States or Canada for their treatment..
Prior to his trial Bull had been introduced to an agent for the Chinese government, and
he now pursued that relationship. He was invited to visit Bejing and Chinese weapons
factories. He was requested to submit a proposal to upgrade Chinese artillery
capabilities. The result was a series of contracts over several years which totaled about
$25 million dollars, but which profited Bull very little. The Chinese haggled so during
negotiations that they ended up getting twice the work for one third the price from the
na´ve Bull. It was so bad that the Chinese eventually gave back some of the concessions
they had won from Bull for fear he would give up.
Artillery shells have always experienced base drag, which reduces the velocity and
therefore the range. The drag results from the vacuum which is produced behind the shell
as it travels through the atmosphere. Part of Bull's program to increase the range of
Chinese artillery was the introduction of a very small motor fitted into the base of the
shell which released gas into the vacuum when it was ignited, and reduced base drag. Bull
at his finest!
Even though it was not profitable, the cash flow from the Chinese contracts enabled
Bull to re-establish his company in Brussels. As the contracts phased out, he sought a
contract from Egypt without success, but he did receive small orders from Yugoslavia and
Spain. They were not sufficient to sustain the company, however, so hope appeared when a
call came in late 1987 from a representative of Iraq in Germany. Iraq had been at war with
Iran since 1980, and Bull was determined not to get involved with that, but the
representative assured him that they were looking for long-term help.
The Iraqi-Iranian war had settled down into infantry and artillery duels because
neither had an effective air force. Neither country was looked upon with favor, at least
by the Western nations. They were considered pariahs, each getting what it deserved. The
U.S. generally tilted a little in Iraq's favor because the Ayatollah Khomeini had deposed
the favored Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein's repression of Iraqi dissidents had not yet
become widely known. Western nations had banned the sale of armaments to both sides, but
the U.S., Russia, France, China and Brazil ignored the embargo and sold weapons to Jordan
and Kuwait for delivery to the adversaries. The U.S. sold weapons in what would become
known as the Irangate scandal. South Africa and Austria sold both sides artillery based on
Bull's designs, from which he derived no income. By the mid-1980s Iran had about 350 155mm
guns and Iraq 400. Bull had no hand in this.
In early 1988 Dr. Bull and his two sons flew to Baghdad as guests of the Iraqi
government. Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, who was in charge of rebuilding the nation, was
their host. They toured military bases and factories. Bull was asked about developing
bigger artillery, and he agreed to do so. The Iraqis also wanted his help in their space
program, which consisted of clustering five Soviet Scud missiles as a first stage, and
buying second and third stages. This certainly interested Bull not only from the technical
standpoint but also because he felt he could convince the Chinese to sell rockets for the
second and third stages. And, oh by the way, if it was a satellite they wanted, how about
a gun-launch based on his HARP work in Canada. The Iraqis were not na´ve. They knew, as
well as everyone else, that a gun capable of launching a satellite was also capable of
launching an intercontinental missile. They were very interested in the supergun idea, and
asked Bull to prepare a proposal. They were so eager to get started that they authorized
contract work to begin while the proposal was being prepared. They settled on $25 million,
but insisted that the project had to be completed in five years, a virtual impossibility.
It was code named Babylon. There would be a one-third scale model for sub-scale testing;
this was Baby Babylon.
The specification developed by Bull and his team called for a barrel whose bore was 1
meter, or 39 inches. A telephone booth would just about fit inside. It would be 515 feet
long--almost the height of the Washington Monument. The barrel alone would weigh over 1650
tons; each of four recoil cylinders weighed 60 tons; and the breech weighed 182 tons.
Total weight was a staggering 2100 tons. It would stand 350 Feet tall. The recoil would be
in a 100 foot deep pit.
The barrel was to be made in twenty-six flanged sections that would be bolted together.
It would be twelve inches thick at the breech and tapered to about three inches at the
muzzle. It was designed to withstand a staggering pressure of 70,000 psi.
Iraq's worldwide undercover procurement network was put to work buying the necessary
parts. They were to be delivered to Jordan or Kuwait or another friendly Arab country for
transshipment to Iraq. They were ordered under the guise of ultimate use by the petroleum
industry. Some disruptions occurred when intelligence agencies of various countries picked
up the trail of strange purchases and caused them to be canceled. A few jail sentences
The most important part of the procurement was the gun barrel. It was also the most
difficult to conceal. Its size, its tapering thickness and its exacting specifications
were not plausible for a petroleum pipeline. Two sets were ordered from the British
company Sheffield Forgemasters. Sheffield was so suspicious of the end use that it sought,
and received, export approval from the British Government as part of a petroleum pipeline.
Dr. Bull became intimately acquainted with Iraq's weapons programs and their status,
and this would lead to his undoing. He was taken on tours of their secret facilities. He
was working not only on Project Babylon but also on artillery and missiles. He adapted
some of the Baby Babylon test firings to test nose cone materials, in this most difficult
technical area. He and his sons attempted to buy a bankrupt Northern Ireland carbon fiber
fabricator, Lear Fan Company. Had this been successful, two objectives would have been
met: a supplier of carbon fiber for nose cones, which was an embargoed material; and it
would have been a step toward diversification for the Bull enterprise, which the sons
promoted to get out of the arms business. The British Government saw through the
subterfuge and refused to allow the sale.
In December 1989 Iraq launched its three stage rocket for the first time, which
surprised the West that they were that far along. It was highly publicized. The first
stage, the bundle of 5 Scud missiles, performed OK, but the second and third stages didn't
separate. Bull had not been able to convince his Chinese friends to sell Iraq an upper
stage for the rocket.
For some time Dr. Bull was fairly certain that his phones were being tapped and his
mail opened. He knew that the CIA, the British M16 and the Israeli Mossad agencies were
aware of his activities. He had even briefed the Israelis. But the plot began to thicken.
His Brussels apartment was entered several times. While his office had always been a mess,
he was meticulous at home, so the entries were obvious. On one occasion a set of his
drinking glasses was replaced by another, unfamiliar set. It was clear that someone was
sending a signal, and it was meant to be frightening.
In late summer Sheffield Forgemasters began delivery of the Babylon gun tubes. There
was much apprehension that they would be stopped enroute, but that didn't materialize.
Project Babylon was really underway. The site north of Baghdad was ready. Massive
excavations had been made in a mountainside to accommodate the gigantic structure required
to support the gun and absorb the recoil of 30,000 tons. Recoil speed would be about 8
miles per hour, but the recoil was designed to be stopped within about 8 feet. Imagine
that! Ten tons of propellant would be ignited to propel the projectile through the 515
Project Babylon was a military monstrosity. It could not be targeted because neither
its azimuth nor its elevation could be adjusted, the primary requirement for an artillery
piece. It could not be re-loaded within hours or maybe days. Because of its size and
weight it could not be hidden. Therefore it would be a sitting duck in the event of a
conflict. For this reason Iraq's neighbors, especially Israel, had written it off as a
potential threat. What concerned Israel and the intelligence agencies of other nations was
the Iraqi missile project. Bull had earlier sensed, and later became convinced, that that
was the real reason the Iraqis had been interested in him. They merely tolerated Project
After the Iraq missile launch the pressure on Bull to stop working with the Iraqis
increased. Israel requested a meeting with him in Brussels. Three men met with him for two
hours. Presumably they told him they knew what he was doing, and told him to stop. Other
rumors in the netherworld of arms dealers linked Israel hiring a Palestinian hit-man.
Whatever the situation, it was clear that Bull had better withdraw for his own safety.
He didn't, and on March 22nd 1990 he was assassinated as he got out of the elevator on the
sixth floor of his Brussels apartment.
The Brussels police investigated the murder, but were unable to determine the
responsible party. There were many suspect intelligence agencies, with the Israeli Mossad
the most likely because Israel appeared to be the most likely target of Iraq's weaponry.
Dr. Bull had started as a starry-eyed technical expert with no business instincts, had
crossed over into the murky area of international armament to keep his business afloat,
and had paid the ultimate price for his involvement.
This paper is being presented as a tense situation exists between the United States and
the United Nations, on one hand, and Iraq on the other. Because this paper is about Dr.
Gerald Bull and Iraq, it is timely to speculate about what might have happened if Bull had
not been murdered, which occurred three years after the end of the Iraq-Iran war and six
months before Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Bull did not work for Iraq until after the end of its war with Iran, but he was very
active thereafter until his death. The acceleration of the design, procurement and
production activities of Iraqi armament under Bull's direction inevitably led to the
conclusion that Iraq was intently arming itself even though sanctioned by the UN. Bull
quickly made significant improvements to the range and accuracy of its artillery, although
it is this writer's opinion that this did not significantly affect the Gulf War because
the Iraqi army so quickly vacated the southern part of its country where it might have
But Bull's leadership in the development of Iraq's missile capability was unmistakeable
and was the most troubling to potential target nations, and surely led to his death.
Although Bull did not participate in the development of the content of warheads, and so
had nothing to do with the chemical, biological and nuclear materials which cause the
current tension, he did make it possible to deliver them to potential targets. This is
where Bull's expertise was of such value to Iraq. Without Bull those warheads would be
He showed how five Scud missiles would perform aerodyamically when bundled to create
the first stage of a three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile. The world was
surprised that Iraq was that far along when the first launch occurred. It must be pointed
out that Bull probably had nothing to do with the 39 Scud missiles that were later
launched against Israel during the Gulf War.
More importantly than that, though, was the development and procurement work he did
utilizing his prior experience on missile nose cones. This was probably the area where
Iraq would have lagged the most without Bull's leadership. We have already shown that
surviving the tremendous heat build-up is probably the most difficult problem of reentry
vehicles. The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster ten days ago drove home that point so
In spite of the UN sanctions, sales of Iraqi oil have given the country the financial
ability to sustain its political ambitions. So I believe that one can conclude that had
Bull lived, Iraq's ability to deliver missile warheads capable of mass destruction would
have been even more ominous and the tense political situation we face today would have
been upon us much sooner.
Lother, William: Arms and the Man Ivy Books, New York
Adams, James: Bull's Eye Times Books
Discovery Channel: Super Cannon 1/14/98 9 PM