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News   Defense News

U.S. Meets Milestone in Chemical Weapons Stockpile Destruction

May 19, 2022 | BY YOUSRA FAZILI, DEVON BISTARKEY & AMANDA DUCASSE

The Defense Department's Chemical Demilitarization Program reached a milestone in its effort to eliminate the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile and recovered chemical warfare materiel. The last M55 rocket containing venomous agent X, or VX nerve agent, was destroyed at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Richmond, Kentucky on April 19, 2022. 

With the entire stockpile of VX nerve agent successfully destroyed, the U.S. is on track with treaty compliance and international obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention to meet the 2023 stockpile elimination deadline. Progress here supports U.S. commitment to arms control. 

A man wearing protective gear looks at metal canisters inside a wooden grate.
Rocket Removal
An operator begins removing M55 rockets from a pallet before they enter the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 211101-D-D0439-1001

"When the CWC was signed, it was widely agreed that chemical weapons are one of the most inhumane weapons of mass destruction and that their use and production should be eliminated," said Deborah G. Rosenblum, assistant defense secretary for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs. "U.S. leadership and commitment against the use of chemical weapons is imperative as countries, such as Syria and Russia, have failed to comply with CWC obligations."   

As a leader in the global disarmament community, upholding norms against the possession and use of chemical weapons comes at a crucial time. Concerns persist that Russia may use chemical weapons in their assault on Ukraine, validating a fundamental view that international norms against chemical weapons remain under threat. 

The U.S. remains committed to a world free from chemical weapons, and concomitant with that is a resolve to eliminate the use and production of chemical weapons.   

Since the establishment of the original chemical weapons destruction deadline, the priority to safely and expeditiously dispose of chemical agents required the advancement of alternative, non-incineration technologies. According to Rosenblum, "the United States remains committed to safely and effectively eliminating our chemical weapons stockpile in a manner that protects the security, health and safety of local communities."  

The U.S. campaign to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile met delays, and corresponding extensions, from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons as environmental and public health concerns were addressed to ensure the safest possible destruction methods.   

While this effort began nearly 40 years ago, this final push represents decades of policy, cooperation and technological advancements.  

In September 2017, Russia completed the destruction of its declared chemical weapons stockpile with the Russian destruction program benefiting from technical assistance and funding through DOD's Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. However, as evidenced by the Russian use of the chemical agent Novichok to assassinate Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018 and use in the attempt to assassinate Alexei Navalny in August 2020, Russia clearly retains a chemical weapons capacity. 

Three people wearing hard hats and masks stand next to one another inside a plant.
Static Detonation Chamber
Assistant Defense Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs Deborah G. Rosenblum, left, listens to information about the static detonation chamber 2000 at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Kentucky, Oct. 12, 2021.
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 211012-D-D0439-1001

"Chemical weapons have been a scourge to humanity, and we are proud to be party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans this entire class of weapons of mass destruction," said Kingston A. Reif, deputy assistant defense secretary for Threat Reduction and Arms Control. "We are so pleased to have achieved this milestone towards reaching complete chemical weapons disarmament." 

The DOD remains on target to the complete destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile by the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty commitment of September 30, 2023. 

Destruction of the VX M55 rockets began at the Blue Grass Army Depot on July 9, 2021. Under the observation of trained operators and international inspectors from the OPCW, nearly 18,000 rockets were disassembled and drained of their chemical agent. The Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives is responsible for the safe and environmentally compliant destruction of the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile stored at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky. The PEO ACWA continues to focus on destroying the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles.