Dugway Proving Ground is where America buckles on its armor against Saddam Hussein's most nightmarish weapons.
The 800,000-acre western Utah base could prove to be one of the most crucial military installations in a war with Iraq — even if it never sends soldiers overseas, directs aircraft operations or ships any ammunition.
Dugway is one of America's premier testing centers for developing protection against chemical and biological attack. The huge base, stretching to within 80 miles west-southwest of Salt Lake City, can perform analysis on everything from material making up soldiers' protective clothing to decontamination solutions to new types of chemical detectors.
It does not test any material or measures for offensive operations, base officials have stressed repeatedly.
Asked about activities during a possible war, spokeswoman Deanna Terry replied, "Dugway Proving Ground will continue our mission of chemical/biological defensive testing. That testing may surge to include short suspense, high consequence tests required to support potential threat to our troops in southwest Asia." The military refers to the Mideast as southwest Asia.
Dugway makes sure defense gear can survive nuclear, biological and chemical attacks and provides support for international weapons conventions, notes a group called GlobalSecurity.org.
Testing of chemical agents, pathogens and toxins is conducted in sealed chambers, the group adds in information posted on the Internet at http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/dugway.htm. The Reginald Kendall Combined Chemical Test Facility "is a state-of-the-art, 48,000-square-foot chemical laboratory," adds GlobalSecurity, which is headquartered in Alexandria, Va.
Most of the country's defenses against chemical and biological arms were developed or tested at Dugway. Just over two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, around 100 soldiers from Fort Carson, Colo., arrived to give Dugway additional security.
The Combined Chemical Test Facility, amounting to 35,000 square feet, is certified to work with toxic and hazardous material. Altogether, 40 laboratories perform tests, with 60 chemical fume hoods so that toxic agents can be handled safely.
The Material Test Facility, which is connected to a decontamination furnace, is so large that it can accommodate cars, aircraft and helicopters to test defenses against toxic agents.
Several years ago, Dugway helped test a new system to detect bacteria, developed by Utah State University in Logan. USU researchers used a simulant and found that the equipment worked well.
Since 1969, says a Dugway environmental impact statement, all outdoor tests used biological and chemical simulants instead of live agent.
Training is carried out at Dugway. One proposal under study would step up counterterrorism training from what is termed a "minimal activity" today to a substantial component, "covering all aspects of response to terrorism incidents involving suspected chemical and biological material."
The draft statement indicates that each year, Dugway hosts 11 biological tests; 30 chemical defense tests; two conventional munitions tests; 10 tests with obscurant, smoke and illuminating materials; and 15 ground training events.
The base's job would be expanded under proposals being studied, including beefing up counterterrorism work.