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Army prefers competing arms-destruction system

A competing system for destroying rogue rounds of chemical warfare did in the "Munitions Management Device, Version One."

MMD-1 was undergoing tests at Dugway Proving Ground in the western Utah desert, in a project designed to show how effective it would be in eliminating "non-stockpile" chemical weapons. These are munitions containing nerve or blister agent that were lost by the military, either ending up in landfills or left on testing ranges.

Chemical weapons in the country's huge caches — such as the tons of deadly material at Deseret Chemical Depot near Stockton, Tooele County — are to be destroyed in plants built at the site of each stockpile. But "non-stockpile" bombs or rounds abandoned at various sites are a different story.

Because officials do not want to transport these stray bombs, they developed the concept of mobile munitions destroying systems that would go to wherever the weapons are found. One prototype tested at Dugway was MMD-1.

Recently, the Army announced it was scrapping plans for the MMD-1.

A system called the Explosive Destructive System "did much better " in destroying munitions, said Jeff Lindblad, spokesman for the Army's Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

EDS was tested successfully in England, he said.

Then, between Oct. 16 and Nov. 20, 2000, six sarin (GB) nerve gas bomblets were discovered in a scrap yard at the old Rocky Mountain Arsenal site, Commerce City, Colo.

Starting in the 1940s, nerve gas weapons were produced at the plant east of Denver. Today the 27-square-mile site is undergoing cleanup to turn it into what the Army terms "the largest urban national wildlife refuge."

The bomblets were made of aluminum and about the size of grapefruits. Officials decided to destroy them in the EDS.

According to the Army, the project first required the construction of a "large area maintenance shelter" over the scrap yard. The shelter, about the length of a football field and half as wide, had built-in air filtration.

Attached to the maintenance shelter was the EDS.

Lindblad described the device as a cylinder about 5 or 6 feet long, made of heavy steel. The munitions were blown up inside the cylinder and then neutralized with chemicals.

The EDS blew up all six nerve-gas bomblets by Feb. 9.

"It safely destroyed them," Lindblad said of the EDS. "It's back here (Aberdeen, Md.) now."

The system worked so well that officials decided they did not need to test MMD-1 any longer. In addition, a third method called the Rapid Response System also looks promising.

One dangling end remains in the saga of the late MMD-1: More than 33 gallons of nerve and blister agent that were to be neutralized inside it at Dugway Proving Ground.

In January, the deadly agents were transferred by helicopter from Deseret Chemical Depot to Dugway. But because of the change in plans, they were not neutralized in MMD-1.

What will happen to the group of storage containers, projectiles and mortars that were taken to Dugway? "We haven't exactly determined what we would do with that yet," Lindblad said.