The Army’s huge and aging Pine Bluff Arsenal—which
has produced incendiary and chemical-defense equipment since World
War II—is pursuing new missions.
The arsenal, located 35 miles southeast of Little Rock, the state
capital of Arkansas, is 8.5 miles long and 2.75 miles wide. Established
in 1941 to build incendiary bombs and artillery shells, the arsenal
later expanded its mission to include war games, signaling and screening
smoke, riot control agents, and illuminating and non-lethal munitions.
During the Cold War, Pine Bluff began working on biological and
chemical weapons. It remains the second largest storage site in
the continental United States for chemical weapons. It also produces
chemical and biological protective equipment and trains active and
reserve military units in chemical and biological defense.
After the demise of the Soviet Union, Pine Bluff managed to survive
several rounds of base realignments and closures, known as BRAC.
The Bush administration, however, is supporting a Pentagon proposal
for additional rounds of closures in the years ahead, and Pine Bluff
is looking for ways to bolster its chances of continuing to survive.
During a recent Chemical Biological Defense Industrial Base Symposium
in Little Rock, Army Maj. Gen. John C. Doesburg, commander of the
Soldier Biological and Chemical Command, urged private industry
to consider opening operations at Pine Bluff, which he said “has
a lot of land and facilities.”
In the 2001 Defense Authorization Act, Congress included the Arsenal
Support Program Initiative, explained Pine Bluff Executive Assistant
Larry Wright. The initiative was designed to help maintain the viability
of Army arsenals, including Pine Bluff, he said.
The initiative allows arsenals to enter into cooperative partnerships
with private corporations, Wright explained. Companies can work
out agreements with arsenals permitting them to use warehouses,
office space and other facilities, he said.
In return, the companies must pledge to make some sort of comparable
non-monetary contribution to the partnership. For example, Wright
noted, a firm might agree to make improvements in buildings or help
maintain road systems or railroad tracks. This is better for the
arsenal than simply renting out space to private companies, he pointed
“If we received money, we’d have to turn it over to
the U.S. Treasury,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able
to keep it and use it to support the arsenal. Believe it or not,
that’s a major obstacle for us.” He cited three pilot
programs underway at Pine Bluff as part of the initiative:
In addition, Pine Bluff is opening its gates to other outside activities,
officials said. In May 2001, the American Red Cross dedicated its
new Clara Barton Center for Domestic Preparedness at Pine Bluff.
The center—named for the Civil War-era nurse who founded
the American Red Cross—provides basic education and training
for disaster workers who will provide humanitarian assistance following
chemical, biological or nuclear incidents, explained Program Manager
This facility is equipped with state-of-the-art digital instructional
facilities, including electronic video-conferencing and distance-learning
equipment, he said. At full capacity, two 1,500-square-foot classrooms
will accommodate 1,000 Red Cross students per year.
The Justice Department has established a Domestic Preparedness
Equipment Technical Assistance Program at Pine Bluff, Wright explained.
DPETAP teaches emergency responders how to choose, operate and maintain
their radiological, chemical and biological detection and response
With a total of 20 courses and exercises, DPETAP teams provide
detailed technical information and hands-on training, Wright said.
The Washington Group International Inc., meanwhile, has announced
plans to build a facility at Pine Bluff to destroy non-stockpile
chemical weapons. In December, the company won a $300 million contract
from the Army to destroy such weapons, which are located at military
installations in 38 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The non-stockpile program includes chemical warfare material that
is not part of the inventory of chemical agents stored in bulk or
contained in weapons at eight locations around the country, including
Washington Group currently is completing construction on another
plant to destroy those weapons stored at Pine Bluff that are part
of the chemical stockpile.