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CRITICS STILL ATTACKING BIGEYE CHEMICAL BOMB AS SERIOUSLY FLAWED

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The Bigeye binary chemical bomb - which is supposed to replace old, deteriorating U.S. chemical arms - is continuing to come under attack as being seriously flawed.

The U.S. General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog agency, recently released two more reports saying the bomb cannot yet be considered reliable or effective and complained the military has not taken adequate steps to fix it.The Bigeye was tested at Utah's Dugway Proving Ground, and prototype components are stored at Tooele Army Depot. Tooele also stores 43 percent of the nation's older chemical stockpile, which is scheduled to be destroyed by 1997 and replaced by the Bigeye and other new binary weapons - which mix two normally safe gases in flight to produce deadly nerve gas.

The GAO released the two new reports to the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees to follow up on a memo about the Bigeye that it released last spring.

That memo, first publicly reported by the Deseret News, said the Bigeye was so seriously flawed that its designers should go back to the drawing board. Those findings came from an independent panel chosen to determine whether Bigeye's problems were minor - which the military had claimed, or major - as the GAO had claimed.

The new reports said the Bigeye program still has many basic flaws and unresolved developmental issues.

For example, the reports say the military is still unsure whether the nerve gas made by the binary bomb is pure enough to be lethal, how big a target the gas would cover and over how much an area it would be lethal.

The GAO also said the military has not performed adequate tests to ensure that heat built up inside the bomb during mixing would not actually destroy much of the nerve agent, which is flammable.

That problem is made worse because the Air Force reported to the GAO that maximum delivery speed of the F-111 aircraft for Bigeye deliveries (while gas mixture begins) is too slow for effective aircraft operation. "However, increasing delivery speed will likely increase aerothermal heating," the GAO said.

It said adequate tests have also not been performed to ensure the bomb is free from problems with pressure buildup.

The GAO recommended that before more testing of the bombs is performed at Dugway (with simulant chemicals, not actual nerve gas), the military should resolve by lab work such issues as the purity of nerve agent to be expected by the bombs and whether high temperatures during mixing may burn much of it.