Like mammoth Roman candles, rocket motors from two Pershing nuclear missiles were burned Thursday, becoming the first of 867 U.S. missiles to be destroyed under the U.S.-Soviet Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty.
Hundreds of people, including Vice President George Bush and a team of Soviet inspectors, watched the static firing, in which the motors were bolted into a concrete and steel structure, ignited and allowed to burn up their fuel.Bush used binoculars to watch the first 50-second firing at the 8,500-acre Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant. The first Pershing 2 motor burned at 10 a.m., followed 15 minutes later by a 40-second burning of a lighter Pershing 1A.
"This is the day that the two nuclear powers began to move toward a safer world," Bush said.
Col. Nikolai Chabalin, a senior Soviet inspector, said through an interpreter: "We think it is a great event for the Soviet people, the reduction of two types of nuclear weapons. And today we have witnessed the fulfillment of a significant event in the elimination of these weapons under the treaty."
"This is the first elimination of such U.S. missiles under the INF treaty anywhere, worldwide," said Susan Franklin, Washington spokeswoman for the On-site Inspection Agency, established to help carry out the arms treaty.
"It's interesting," said a member of the 12-person Soviet team, Andire V. Krutskikh of Moscow. "We have a lot to do, though."
"The Soviets watch the motors' static firing to eliminate the rocket propellant in the motor," said Dave Harris of Karnack, a civilian employee with the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal.
"We must then physically disable the rocket motor so the motor casing could not be reloaded and reused again," he said. "We're going to do that in a car crusher, squash them in a car crusher."
The Soviets arrived here Wednesday. The treaty allows up to 20 such observers.
"There's a cast of thousands behind this thing, including many ambassadors, with people from New York to Russia," said Longhorn spokeswoman Joann Roberts. "It's exciting."