By Angela MessingerAugust 6, 2020

Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) supported removal of 30 M417 fuzes from rocket warheads that had previously been separated as part of ongoing chemical munitions destruction technology testing.

The Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) Analytical and Remediation Activity (CARA) East removed fuzes from M56 warhead assemblies over several days this summer. The fuzes were packaged and shipped to the Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA) field office at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama to test destruction throughput rates for a new warhead container.

“This is a significant step to prepare for destroying the GB and VX rockets stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot,” said Mark C. Ernst, BGCA chief of operations. “PEO ACWA needed these fuzes to support the destruction of rockets using the static detonation chamber. This removal project will also assist our partners at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in determining destruction rates with the new containers.”

The fuzes were removed from M56 rockets previously separated into two major components for rocket motor destruction testing. In the 2014 operation, rocket motor components in their shipping and firing tubes were sent to Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. The propellant from the rockets was tested there to ensure continued safety in storage and handling activities.

“The success of the rocket motor operation set the stage for fuze removal,” said Marc R. Schmidt, BGCA chief of surveillance. “The lack of propellant in these munitions provided a safer environment for the CARA East team to remove and package the fuzes for delivery to Anniston Army Depot.”

BGCA worked closely with the CARA East team, Blue Grass Army Depot and U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity personnel to ensure successful training and execution of the fuze removal mission.

The team conducted multiple operational demonstrations and training sessions as part of the pre-operational survey, using rounds with no chemical agent or explosives. The demonstrations were conducted as if chemical munitions were being handled, so all safety and standard operating procedures were followed to prepare the team for live operations.

The demonstrations included monitoring the storage igloo for chemical agent detection, delivering training munitions for the operation, removing and repackaging the M417 fuzes, completing accountability and transfer of custody paperwork and preparing the munitions to return to their assigned storage igloo. The team also practiced responding to an unexpected event, such as a mechanical failure or a leaking munition. Crew members rehearsed self-aid and buddy care, medical response and decontamination processes.

“The CARA East team is very experienced in handling chemical weapons. Their professionalism made the integration of their operation seamless,” said Ernst. “However, we wanted to ensure the safest possible operating environment to protect the workers, so we trained on numerous scenarios to capture all types of upset conditions.”

Safety, physical security, chemical weapons accountability, treaty, decontamination and medical experts observed, supported and participated in the pre-operational survey and fuze removal operation.

“The expertise and professionalism from CARA East and supporting personnel resulted in a stellar operation,” said Lt. Col. Edward E. Williams, BGCA commander. “Not only is this a first of its kind mission set, but it also serves as a testament to the level of expertise that resides in the Chemical Corps to assess, protect and mitigate the entire range of CBRN operations. The synergy between the two teams has been phenomenal as we support testing for the new warhead containers. This also brings us another step closer to safely destroying the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile.”