How Exactly Do You Bomb a Nerve Gas Factory Without Killing a Whole Lot of Innocent People?
The Pentagon wants a better bomb for safely destroying WMDs
Destroying a tank with a smart bomb is easy. Destroying a factory that makes chemical weapons is not.
In fact, it’s absolutely perlious. The problem isn’t blowing up factories—the U.S. military is proficient enough at that. The problem is blowing up nerve gas bombs without triggering a catastrophe.
Saving the world from weapons off mass destruction by poisoning several square miles and killing thousands of people isn’t an acceptable tradeoff.
Disposing of WMDs through peaceful means is already difficult and dangerous. Even with the Syrian government’s cooperation, it took months to safely transfer and destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons in a disposal facility aboard a U.S. government ship.
But what if the WMDs are buried in, say, a North Korean chemical weapons factory that’s so strongly fortified that only a powerful missile can destroy it? Experts say there’s really no safe way to accomplish this.
That’s why the Defense Threat Reduction Agency—the Pentagon organization that works to counter WMDs—is looking for weapons that can safely destroy them without also releasing a toxic cloud.
DTRA says current weapons “have typically focused on the integration of thermal or reactive formulations with traditional high explosive fills to neutralize CBW [chemical and biological warfare] airborne agents inside target structures prior to venting.”
But incorporating chemical neutralizing agents into a bunker-buster bomb still leaves the risk that toxic substances will escape.
The agency also notes that chemical plumes resulting from the destruction of storage facilities are extremely hard to measure, thus “limiting confidence in weapon performance.” In other words, even if the U.S. successfully bombs an anthrax storage facility, the military could have trouble tracking any lethal gases that escape.
Not surprisingly, the Pentagon wants a weapon that doesn’t just go boom. It should have “zero to minimal amounts of high explosive” that result in “near-zero blast and overpressures.”
As usual for such a cutting-edge Pentagon wish list, there isn’t any mention of just what technology might destroy a mustard gas bomb in a fortified bunker while also guaranteeing that that the mustard gas won’t escape.
Interestingly, the DTRA proposal speaks of denying access to WMDs by preventing anyone from removing or using them for days or weeks. This suggests that if the U.S. military can’t destroy WMDs, it at least wants to make sure that they can’t be spirited away to another hiding place.
Or, that some terrorist group like Islamic State doesn’t get its hands on them.
At top—U.S. troops during a chemical weapons exercise. Army photo