So what technology does Iran's Aerospace Research Institute use to help it develop rockets that will presumably be used to give it the capability to launch nuclear weapons? Why, the same exact technology that boffins the world over have chosen to do their sometimes nefarious research, of course.
Last December, according to a report in ComputerWorld, ARI started bragging about the impressiveness of its supercomputing facilities. ARI started out with a 32-core cluster with a stunning 64 gigaflops of computing power, about as much computing power as four American families probably pack on their desktops and laptops these days.
That it has taken more than two years for ARI to get a second generation cluster together, as the ARI site claims, is probably a good thing for political stability in the Middle East. That second generation box, which has 16 dual-core and another 16 quad-core Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices, 98 GB of total memory, and 182 gigaflops of aggregate computing power, runs Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 as well as Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition. (Iran is on the cutting edge of Windows in HPC, or maybe LPC, it seems.) The server nodes, which might be homegrown or which might come from a tier one or tier two vendor (ARI doesn't say), are linked together using 10 Gb/sec InfiniBand switches. Not exactly a blazing supercomputer, but perhaps enough to do what Iran needs to do to make a decent rocket. (The Manhattan Project used banks of human calculators, such as the people working at insurance companies building actuarial tables, after all.)
So much for the enforcement of trade embargoes, which have rarely worked as intended throughout history. Iran is not supposed to be able to get its hands on information technology made in the United States. (Or Germany, where the AMD chips are actually made.)
While ComputerWorld and Iran Watch, a group dedicated to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons technology to Iran, made much of the AMD iron and didn't say anything about the Novell and Microsoft software, the real worry is what application software Iran is able to get its hands on to do finite element analysis and fluid mechanics in the design of the rockets. Hopefully, Iran is having a hard time getting chips and motherboards and this software requires a lot more oomph than it can get its hands on to design a modern rocket in a timely fashion.
ARI, of course, makes no mention of nuclear weapons in reference to its rockets, and according to its projects listing says that it is creating a sounding rocket, which is a sub-orbital rocket designed to carry scientific instruments to high altitudes.
"Sounding rockets are relatively low price test beds for space systems so hundreds of them are launched all over the world every year," ARI says in a calming way on its Web site, adding that it had designed, built, and recently launched such a rocket recently, taking the first Iranian pictures and films from space. You can see pictures of this rocket here and here at Arms Control Wonk. ®