According to chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, Iraq has promised to destroy its arsenal of Al-Samoud 2 missiles. What's the procedure for deep-sixing a warhead-less missile?
It's a good deal more complicated than just loosening some bolts. Missiles like the Al-Samoud 2 are powered by systems not too terribly different from the space shuttle's internal engines. They're filled with highly compressed, flammable liquid propellants, which must be encased in ultra-strong steel-and-aluminum casings, sans screws, for safety reasons. Though it's technically feasible to drill holes in the weapon and drain out the fuel, it's too hazardous to be practical in most cases—one errant maneuver and the defuser will be vaporized.
Instead, explosive demolition experts are usually called in. Components that can be safely removed, such as gyroscopes, are first stripped away. Then the specialists give the design a thorough once-over, seeking out critical pressure points that will hopefully buckle when blasted. Shaped cutting charges are placed on these points and remotely detonated from a safe distance. The remains are then crushed with a steamroller, to guarantee that they cannot be salvaged from a scrap heap. It's particularly important to purée the most hard-to-find engine parts, such as thrust regulators and gas generators. Smaller components may also be melted in furnaces, just to make sure.
As Blix noted in his Feb. 21 letter to Iraqi Gen. Amer al-Saadi, "the necessary destruction is to be carried out by Iraq under UNMOVIC guidance and supervision." Given the delicate nature of the task, however, it's a safe bet that U.N. personnel will take the lead in disposing of the Al-Samoud 2s.
Explainer thanks Jon Wolfsthal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace