VX rocket destruction.
Operators move M55 rockets containing VX nerve agent from a pallet to a transfer cart to begin the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant April 15. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo.) VIEW ORIGINAL

The last M55 rocket containing VX nerve agent was destroyed at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, or BGCAPP, April 19.

“We are celebrating two milestones today,” said Dr. Candace Coyle, BGCAPP site project manager. “First, the entire U.S. stockpile of VX nerve agent is now completely destroyed. Next, this marks the completion of the fourth of five chemical weapons destruction campaigns in Kentucky.”

“Our team safely completed the first nerve agent rocket campaign using a collective approach to meet and overcome various challenges,” said Ron Hink, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass (BPBG) project manager. “We now turn our attention to the last destruction campaign, GB rockets, which will start later this year.”

Destruction of the VX M55 rockets began at the Blue Grass Army Depot, or BGAD, July 9, 2021. Under the observation of trained operators, automated equipment disassembled nearly 18,000 rockets and drained the chemical agent. As of April 15, more than 46% of the original 523 tons of chemical agent has been destroyed. There are 277 tons of chemical agent safely stored and awaiting destruction at Blue Grass.

The agent was neutralized by mixing it with water and caustic to produce hydrolysate. After the agent was confirmed destroyed, the hydrolysate was pumped to holding tanks, safely shipped via tanker truck and further processed at Veolia Environmental Services in Texas.

The drained rocket warheads were containerized and placed in temporary storage at BGAD. Marked as secondary waste, they will be destroyed in a Static Detonation Chamber unit located on the depot.

“We garnered a great deal of proficiency and gathered a lot of information about how to safely and efficiently destroy VX rockets in the last nine months,” Coyle said. “These lessons learned will be applied to the last campaign of GB rockets to safely eliminate the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile by 2023.”

Throughout chemical weapons destruction operations, the BGCAPP team worked closely with BGAD and Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) partners to destroy the chemical weapons.

“After more than a half century of chemical weapons storage in central Kentucky, the final chapter at Blue Grass Army Depot will soon begin,” said Col. Stephen Dorris, BGAD commander. “I take great pride in working with the dedicated professionals at BGCAPP and BGCA and can attest to the safety record and environmental compliance each of these organizations meet. With their effort, Team Blue Grass has successfully accomplished some truly amazing feats over the last two decades, remaining ‘Pioneers in Quality’ and ‘Army Strong.’”

“It has been an honor to support BGCAPP as they destroyed VX rockets,” said Lt. Col. Edward Williams, BGCA commander. “Completion of this campaign represents a significant milestone in the path to eliminate the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. Now that four of five munition types have been eradicated, BGCA is ready to support the fifth and final campaign.”

The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives is responsible for destroying the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile in Colorado and Kentucky. The organization oversees the contract for design, construction, systemization, operation and closure of BGCAPP with BPBG and teaming partners Amentum, Battelle Memorial Institute and GP Strategies. The project also works closely with community advisory groups to keep them informed about chemical weapons destruction progress.

“I am very grateful for the dedicated staff at the Blue Grass Army Depot and their ability to reach another milestone,” said Reagan Taylor, judge-executive, Madison County, Kentucky. “Each time we reach a milestone in this process it demonstrates the hard work of everyone involved in getting this mission to completion. I am grateful for the high priority the depot takes in keeping Madison County safe and keeping this on track. I’m confident this hard work and determination will continue to the final milestones of destroying these chemical weapons and preparing for a post-Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program Madison County.”

The chemical weapons stockpile at the depot originally consisted of 523 U.S. tons of chemical agent configured in 155mm projectiles containing mustard and VX nerve agent, 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent, and M55 rockets containing GB and VX nerve agent.

In June 2019, the BGCAPP team began destroying the mustard stockpile using the Static Detonation Chamber, an explosive destruction technology. The mustard campaign was completed in September 2021. From January through May 2020, nearly 4,000 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent were destroyed at BGCAPP. From January through May 2021, nearly 13,000 155mm projectiles containing VX nerve agent were destroyed at BGCAPP.

The stockpile sites in Colorado and Kentucky account for the last 10% of what was originally a national stockpile of more than 30,000 tons of chemical weapons. The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity destroyed the initial 90%, which was stored at seven other sites across the U.S. and on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Chemical weapons destruction in Colorado began in 2015. Both sites are on target to complete destruction of chemical weapons by the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty commitment of Sept. 30, 2023, and before the congressional deadline of Dec. 31, 2023.