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Pentagon developing mobile units to neutralize chemical weapons materials

Sep. 4, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Tim Blades, director of operations for the Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction Business Unit, talks at a June 27 demonstration of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Tim Blades, director of operations for the Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction Business Unit, talks at a June 27 demonstration of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. (Army)
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WASHINGTON — Should the Pentagon need to destroy stockpiles of chemical weapons, it can do so with new mobile systems that can neutralize and destroy the materials, according to defense officials.

The Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS) is designed to destroy chemical warfare agents in bulk and can be up and running within 10 days of arriving on site.

“We are acquiring some ability to deal with chemical materials should we be in a position where we have to do that,” Frank Kendall, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said Wednesday during a presentation at the IDEEA-sponsored COMDEF conference in Washington.

Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians has dominated the debate of whether the U.S. should conduct a punitive strike. While there has been talk of conducting targeted strikes, the Obama administration has said it does not intend to use ground forces.

The Pentagon has been overseeing the destruction of U.S. chemical weapons since the late 1990s. DoD destroys stockpiles of chemical materials such as mustard gas at several facilities in the US. But the new system can eradicate chemical weapon materials on site.

“The Department of Defense recently developed a transportable chemical weapons destruction system designed to fill a gap in the national capability to destroy U.S. bulk chemical agents, wherever they are found,” Jennifer Elzea, a DoD spokeswoman, wrote in an email Wednesday.

The new system was built at the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center in Maryland. The center oversees the handling and processing of recovered munitions in the U.S. and overseas.

The system is “designed to convert chemical agents into compounds not usable as weapons,” Elzea wrote. “Neutralization is achieved by mixing the agent with water and other chemicals and heating it.”

A crew of 15 people is needed to operate the system at any given time, according to the Army. The system can neutralize between five and 25 metric tons of chemicals per day, depending on the material.

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