December 12, 2003

DIY Cruise Missile

I'm kind of surprised that this hasn't generated more buzz than it has. Surprised and relieved, actually.

A New Zealand man who built a cruise missile in his garage claims the New Zealand government forced him to shut down his project after coming under pressure from the United States.

Bruce Simpson says he built the missile using parts bought off the internet to show how easily it could be done.

There was some concern from the hobby rocketry community that this would reflect badly on us, especially because common sense isn’t particularly common right now within the Department of Homeland Security or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE).

So let’s set it straight right up front. A cruise missile isn’t a rocket, it’s not even really a missile, it’s an unmanned airplane. It flies like an airplane using a jet engine, and the onboard guidance system steers it to its target exactly like you steer an airplane. A cruise missile is nothing more than a faster one-shot version of the Predator or Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) now in use. The primary purpose is attack, unlike UAV’s where the first job is surveillance.

In WWII, Germany developed a ‘glide bomb’ that was forerunner to modern cruise missiles. It lacked only its own propulsion, being dropped from a carrier aircraft at high altitude and gliding to the target.

Bruce Simpson (the developer in question) has since posted to the Rec.Models.Rockets newsgroup to discuss his work. He makes this claim:

You'll note that tthe project deliberately avoided any use of rocket engines -- even for the launch process. This was done deliberately because I didn't want any fallout on the model rocket community. I was fully aware that even if I'd used a sold rocket booster for launching, there was a very real risk that the knee-jerk reaction of politicians would have been to simply ban the sale and unlicensed production of all rocket engines.

Likewise, although I could have gone out and purchased three or four turbojet engines designed for model airplane use, i deliberately avoided the same reasons.

I didn't want any fallout from this project to affect legitimate users of similar technology.

Googling his name as author on all newsgroups, I found that he’s also been actively debating his project on UK.Current-Events.Terrorism, Alt.Religion.Islam, Rec.Crafts.Metalworking, NZ.Politics, NZ.General, and Sci.Space.Tech, among others.

So what exactly did he build? There are more details here, some fairly troubling. The government of New Zealand admitted that he broke no laws, and even told him that it was ok to license his jet engine design to an Iranian aerospace company when he was approached with an offer. In his words:

However, out of curiosity I contacted relevent arm of the NZ government to ask what would be involved if someone wished to accept such a deal. I fully expected to be told that technology exports to Iran were prohibited -- particularly since the USA has classified that country as a sponsor of terrorism and has very strict bans on such technology transfers.

I was gobsmacked when the government came back to me and said there would be no problem with selling jet engine technology to Iran. I even asked again -- empahsizing that this technology had military application. They went away and came back with the same answer - it doesn't matter if it does have military application.

Once I'd picked my jaw up off the floor, I immediately contacted the NZ Secret Service (the SIS) and told them what had happened, handed over copies of the correspondence and queried that surely the government had gotten it wrong.

To my surprise, they didn't say it would be illegal either -- but they did suggest that such a transaction would not be recommended.

He goes on to say:

Even more incredible -- to this day, the advice given me in respect to such exports has not been rescinded. As far as I know, I could still sell military technology to Iran and not be in breach of the law.

It wasn’t until the United States publicly stated that his project was ‘unhelpful’ that the New Zealand government put the screws to Mr. Simpson. It appears that since NZ had already stated that no laws had been broken, they needed to find some other way to end his work. They then used the tried-and-true method of tax prosecution.

After reviewing his site and reading his various posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the man is what he claims to be, an ordinary guy with an extraordinary plan to demonstrate the difficulties that we face trying to protect ourselves from modern weapons in the hands of terrorists. Obviously not dumb, I think he may have surprised some officials by actually succeeding where they saw no chance at all. ‘Too smart for his own good’ is a phrase that comes to mind.

He leaves this website as the means of contacting him.

Posted by Ted at December 12, 2003 09:25 AM
Category: SciTech
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