which was tested at Dugway Proving Ground and has components stored at Tooele Army Depot - is so seriously flawed that its designers should go back to the drawing board.
That's according to a memo obtained by the Deseret News that was written by U.S. Comptroller General Charles A. Bowsher to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.Bowsher oversees the General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog agency, which in 1986 said the bomb had so many basic problems that it should not be produced. But on Jan. 19, 1988, President Reagan certified that production of the Bigeye was in the best interest of nation anyway.
Last fall, Bowsher assembled an independent panel at the request of the Department of Defense inspector general to determine whether the Bigeye's problems were serious - as the GAO said - or minor, as the Defense Department said.
"The panelists concluded that GAO was correct," Bowsher wrote Cheney. The panel included a retired admiral, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, the director of the Office of Technology Assessment and the head of an Energy Department nuclear safety committee.
The Bigeye is the first of a new generation of chemical arms that is supposed to be safer to use and store and would replace aging chemical stockpiles. The Reagan administration also credited fear of the new weapon for persuading Soviets to begin serious negotiations to ban all chemical arms.
The Bigeye contains two chemicals that are harmless until they are mixed in flight to form nerve gas. Older chemical weapons contain already mixed nerve or mustard agent. And many such weapons - including 784 at Tooele Army Depot - are leaking.
The Army plans to destroy the aging weapons by 1997 using methods pioneered at Tooele's Chemical Agent Munitions Disposal System plant.
Defense Department spokesman Rick Oborn told the Deseret News Friday that plans to destroy the older weapons will not be affected by any problem or delay with the new Bigeye. "They are completely separate programs."
Problems with the Bigeye listed in Bowsher's memo include: The military doesn't know what specific tasks it wants the Bigeye to do, hasn't formed adequate criteria to determine if the bomb is reliable and hasn't adequately resolved such issues as whether in-flight mixing will produce nerve gas that is pure enough to be lethal.
One conclusion was "developmental issues cited by GAO with regard to Bigeye are major and unresolved. The panelists agree that DOD has not adequately dealt with concerns about pressure buildup, purity, flashing and VX (nerve gas) deposition density."
The memo also quoted panel members as saying the bomb was of "very ancient design" and used "outdated parts" that could hurt reliability. One member also said the military should evaluate whether it would be better to use other chemicals than nerve agent VX or other delivery systems than a bomb.
"He pointed out that delivery from a drone or an air-launched cruise missile would be a good alternative to (bomb) delivery by aircraft," the memo said.
It also said that the military's plans to conduct more tests of Bigeye prototypes at Dugway without first some redesigning or answering of basic mission questions "are highly questionable. Time, money and resources may be wasted on testing a weapon that may ultimately be either redesigned or canceled."
DOD spokesman Oborn said the military has been making only a few prototypes of the bomb for more testing. No money has been approved for regular production yet, and little is available for testing.
In the past, the Defense Department has said that while the Bigeye had problems, they were relatively minor.
The Deseret News was told last June by former DOD spokesman Randy Morger that examples of such problems included ice forming on a cable between the bomb and high-flying airplanes, which caused the fuse on the bomb to fail.
"That was fairly easy to fix. The cable was redesigned, a different lubricant was used and the fuse was changed," he said.
Also as noted before, state officials said that the Army violated state health law by failing to obtain proper permits to allow open-air testing permits when the Bigeye was tested in Utah two years ago.