Craig Campbell, principal director, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, Threat Reduction and Arms Control, speaks to Suzanne Milchling, program executive officer, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, during a tour of the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant March 29, 2018.
ACWA Program Executive Officer Suzanne Milchling speaks with Nathan Whittington, Emergency Management Program Specialist, Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, at a June 27, 2018 public meeting about chemical weapons destruction in Pueblo, Colorado.
Chemical weapons free by 2023, the vision and goal of the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program, can be achieved if its destruction plants can maintain steady state operations, said the programs’ leader.
“The key focus area to meet the destruction of the stockpile by 2023, or as soon as possible, is to enhance the main plants’ ability to function and achieve a steady state of operations,” said Suzanne Milchling, program executive officer, ACWA. “We are also looking at contingency plans so that if we have an issue in the main plant we can route problematic munitions, lots or entire campaigns to another technology,” she added.
The remaining U.S. stockpile, located at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky, will be destroyed by pilot plants using neutralization as the primary agent destruction method. In addition, the plants are being augmented by Explosive Destruction Technologies.
“At the Pueblo plant, we are considering—in addition to improvements in the main plant—using Static Detonation Chambers to eliminate some of the more problematic campaigns, specifically the 4.2-inch mortar rounds. We’re in the process of submitting the National Environmental Policy Act paperwork to ensure that those can be permitted in the State of Colorado and then we’ll move forward,” said Milchling.
In an effort to achieve the 2023 vision, Milchling said it is critical that the program focus on eliminating days of inactivity at the plants. As the plants employ first of a kind technologies, the operations teams are determining how many munitions can be processed safely during each shift, each day. “We need to understand when to do preventative maintenance to eliminate failures from occurring,” said Milchling.
The Pueblo plant, which experienced some unplanned downtime, has destroyed more than 310 U.S. tons of chemical agent as of August 17, 2018. The Blue Grass plant is scheduled to begin operations in 2019.
“We realized early on at the Pueblo plant that trying to achieve maximum throughput was not the way to go. Our goal now is steady state operations, minimizing zero days of operations. We are practicing this philosophy at the Pueblo plant and we are taking the same philosophy and applying it at the Blue Grass plant when operations begin in 2019,” said Milchling.
There are no penalties associated with missing the 2023 Congressionally-mandated deadline, however, Milchling stressed the Department of Defense does not develop plans to break the law.
“The whole organization is committed to achieving our vision of chemical weapons free by 2023. In fact, our vision was voted on by the workforce, and this is the one that resonated the most. Now that we are back in destruction at the Pueblo plant, we are making progress, and everybody sees that things are moving forward.”