Project Babylon – Saddam’s Supergun
Throughout history, men have always searched for better ways to defeat their enemies. This is the same quest that has led to the creation of weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear bombs and bio-chemical agents. Project Babylon was one such attempt in the recent years to create long-range guns.
Project Babylon was an unsuccessful project by the deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to construct superguns. These guns were to have a range of a several hundred miles. Details of the project are shrouded in mystery, but it can be speculated that these guns were to be built to intimidate Iraq’s enemies and to display Iraq’s industrial and military prowess to them.
Building a supergun involves complex technology. The design for the guns was not completely indigenous and was based on an earlier project by the renowned Canadian gun expert Gerald Bull. Bull was the principal architect behind the design and deployment of the project. It is believed that there were plans for four different guns in the program.
The first gun called “Baby Babylon” was a horizontally mounted prototype, built mainly for test purposes. It had a bore of 350 mm and measured 46 meters in length.
The second part of the project named “Big Babylon” consisted of a pair of guns—one of which was to be mounted horizontally, initially for test purposes. The barrel was to be 156 meters in length and about 1 meter in bore. The complete device would have weighed about 2100 tons. It is believed that the gun was being planned as a space gun to shoot projectiles into the earth’s orbit. Using these guns for military purposes would have been very difficult because of the immense weight and immobility.
In addition to these guns, very large cannons were also planned. These were planned to be made from special alloys discovered during the initial experiments and would have been very much mobile. The first of these guns was to have a bore 350 mm and a 30 meter long barrel. There are also reports that mention about a second gun with a much larger bore of 600 mm and a length of 60 meters.
No one knows for sure what the exact motives behind these guns were. There is a possibility that the main gun might have been for both launching satellites and also as a defence weapon. However, the second option seems doubtful for a number of reasons. First, the gun was very heavy which would have made it difficult to aim and fire. The process would also be time consuming. Secondly, the firing of such a large gun would produce a distinct signature which could be used to identify its location. Since it was immobile, it would have been very easy for Iraq’s enemies to destroy it using fighter aircraft. Thirdly, Iraq already had Scud missiles at that time. Investing in missile technology would have been more profitable for Iraq’s defence forces.
The various components required to build these superguns were designed and forged in various European countries and were shipped to Iraq disguised as petrochemical vessels. Baby Babylon was completed and tested which revealed some flaws in the design of the gun. However, while these were being rectified, Gerald Bull–the main architect—was murdered under mysterious circumstances—allegedly by Mossad agents. The demise of the project’s architect led to the subsequent failure of the project.
Most of the sections for the guns were already delivered and it was at this time that some intelligence agencies in Europe became aware of the plans for the guns. Soon, some sections of the guns were seized at various ports and also directly from the manufacturers in Spain and Switzerland. Many of these sections are at display in various museums in the UK.
During the Gulf War, the Project was completely stalled and following U.N. inspections, the remaining hardware was completely destroyed.