Sandia LabNews

Explosive Destruction System gets workout destroying munitions on both sides of the pond

Explosive Destruction System gets workout destroying munitions on both sides of the pond

Success has been the name of the game for the Explosive Destruction System (EDS), which wrapped up development testing of a new larger system in the United Kingdom this summer with the remarkable accomplishment of completing every test on its originally planned date during the five-month-long deployment.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond one of the other three systems built by Sandia to dispose of aging munitions was used to destroy 15 mortar shells containing mustard agent that were recovered at the Spring Valley subdivision of Washington, D.C.

"When we started in 1998," says project manager John Didlake (8118), "we expected to destroy a maximum of six rounds in a year. This year we have destroyed 34 recovered munitions in the US and 22 in the UK, four rounds in one day, and nine rounds in one week." The Army is expanding the original mission of the EDS to include nonexplosively configured munitions and deployments, not only to public sites, but also to military bases where nonstockpile munitions are stored.

More than 100 munitions or bottles containing a chemical agent have been destroyed so far. The munitions are placed within a leak-tight chamber, where their metal shells are opened with an explosive charge. The contents are then neutralized with caustic chemicals and the effluent disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.

Designed by Sandia for the Army’s Nonstockpile Chemical Materiel Program, EDS is intended for use with WWI- and certain WWII-vintage chemical warfare materiel. It can be used when a chemical munition is deemed unsafe to transport or store by routine means, when a stored munition is determined unsafe for continued storage, or when the limited quantity of munitions requiring destruction does not justify the use of other means.

The first three EDS units were designed to destroy munitions containing up to 1-pound equivalent of TNT. A fourth system completed in November 2002 can handle up to 4.5 pounds of TNT equivalent. It just completed tests at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, England. The testing demonstrated the ability of the large system to destroy three smaller munitions at one time. Processing multiple munitions in the systems to increase throughput and reduce cost is a primary desire of the Army. The Army will continue operational testing of the large unit this fall and winter at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.

"The Spring Valley deployment in Washington, D.C., was a historic event for EDS since Spring Valley was the birthplace for EDS," John says. In May, one of the smaller EDS units was deployed to a parking lot about 100 yards from Sibley Memorial Hospital, where the rounds containing mustard agent, recovered from the subdivision, were safely destroyed in the unit.

During WWI Spring Valley was a chemical weapon development and testing site operated by American University’s extension service. After the war many munitions were buried at the site. In 1993, construction workers building upscale homes dug up an explosively configured chemical munition. The public location prevented the normal destruction method of packing tens of pounds of explosives around the munition, setting off the explosives, and letting the fireball consume the chemical agent. Concerned about the possibility of other sites like Spring Valley, the Army commissioned a survey that identified more than 100 possible sites for buried munitions in the US.

One possible site was proven when an armed and fused 4.2-inch mortar containing phosgene was recovered from a farmer’s field in Gadsden, Ala., on land that was previously part of Camp Sibert, a WWII Army training base. EDS destroyed the round in an operation staged about 100 yards from the farmer’s home on the Sunday before Labor Day 2002. The farmer seemed to put his faith in the emergency responders, John says, leaving home only for church and an afternoon with friends during the major part of the destruction operation.

The EDS project is a combined effort between Explosives Application Dept. 15322 in Albuquerque and Engineering for Emerging Technologies Dept. 8118 in Livermore.