The British government says it's a gun, but speculation rages about Iraq's purpose in ordering eight massive steel tubes that were seized by British customs officers.
Whatever device the tubes may have been for, it would be extremely large: perhaps a cannon, a rocket launcher, an update of Germany's V-4 gun, an experiment or just something to show off, various experts have suggested.The hypothetical weapon has been described as too long, too flimsy and too vulnerable for a workable gun.
``I wouldn't say a gun, I think a launch system is the right thing to say,' Christopher Foss, editor of Jane's Armor and Artillery, said Friday.
Customs officers seized the tubes, with an overall length of 131 feet, on April 12 in Middlesbrough. The manufacturer, Sheffield Forgemasters, and the Iraqi government insisted the tubes fit into a petrochemical plant.
Iraq claims it is the target of a smear campaign orchestrated by Britain and Israel since this past month's execution of a London-based journalist in Baghdad. Iraq had accused the Iranian-born man of being a spy.
Britain banned weapons shipments to Iran and Iraq when the two countries were at war and the ban remains in effect.
Iraq has been aggressively developing weapons, including the new al-Abbas missile with a reported range of 560 miles, and a 210mm self-propelled gun.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has said his arsenal includes chemical weapons. Iraq is also thought to be attempting to develop atomic weapons.
The tubes seized on the dock in Middlesbrough were unlike any artillery now in use. The barrel was in eight pieces, not one, and had a smooth bore, devoid of the spiral rifling that is standard in artillery.
``There is no question it could be used as a barrel of a large artillery gun to fire a projectile of some considerable size,' said Douglas Tweddle, chief customs investigator.
But the bore, reported by customs officers to be 1000mm, was nearly five times wider than the 203mm self-propelled howitzers that are the largest in the U.S. and Soviet arsenals.