The Bigeye bomb was a proposed U.S. binary chemical weapon. The Bigeye was a glide bomb designed under the auspices of the U.S. Navy. Initially approved by the Carter administration, the program persisted into the early 1990s.
As the stockpile of unitary chemical weapons began to leak in the 1970s the Department of Defense was acutely aware of the public backlash this created. With this in mind the Pentagon insisted it needed a binary chemical weapons program to counter and deter a Soviet or third-world chemical attack. The U.S. Army's Chemical Corps was reactivated in 1976 and with it came the increased desire for the Army to acquire a retaliatory chemical capability in the form of that binary chemical weapons program. Initially, the United States was in arms control talks with the Soviet Union and then-President Jimmy Carter rejected Army requests for authorization of the binary chemical weapons program. The talks deteriorated and Carter eventually granted the request. However, at the last minute Carter pulled the provision from the budget, this action left the decision on a retaliatory binary chemical weapons program to Ronald Reagan.
Bigeye was the codename for the BLU-80, a concept conceived during 1959. During the 1970s at Pine Bluff Arsenal around 200 test articles were produced. Initial contracts for the Bigeye were awarded in June 1988, to the Marquardt Company, the project's primary contractor. The original timeline for the U.S. binary chemical weapons program called for the Bigeye to be deployed by September 1988. Reagan authorized the spending of more than $59 million in 1986 ($127 million in present-day terms) to revive the chemical weapons program, under the original timeline, the Bigeye was to be the first of these weapons produced. After a General Accounting Office (GAO) report pointed out numerous flaws in the program the U.S. Senate moved to effectively kill the binary chemical weapons program, including the Bigeye bomb. In 1989 President George H.W. Bush announced that the U.S. would retain the option to produce such binary weapons even after the Chemical Weapons Convention took effect. At the time of his announcement, 1992 was the earliest date Bigeyes were expected to be produced.
The Bigeye was a roughly 230-kilogram (500 lb) bomb delivered by plane. It consisted of two separate canisters of chemical weapons which were combined just before flight. It was the separation that was meant to make handling the weapons simpler by increasing their shelf life and decreasing the amount of maintenance they required. The bomb was a U.S. Navy weapon designed to spray VX nerve agent over a target area by gliding through the air over it. Inside the weapon two compounds, non-toxic by themselves, sulfur and QL, were combined to create VX.
The Bigeye bomb would have weighed 270 kg (595 lb); 82 kg (180 lb) would have been chemical agent, VX in this case. It was to have a length of 2.29 m (7 ft 6 in) and a diameter of 340 mm (13 1⁄4 in). The glide bomb had a wingspan of 438 mm (1 ft 5 1⁄4 in). The Bigeye was not planned to have any guidance, propulsion or autopilot systems.
Problems and issues
The 14 year plus, on again off again, Bigeye bomb program was plagued with problems and controversy from its outset. The Chemical Corps was accused of interest in binary chemical weapons only to enhance its recent reactivation; critics also charged the Army was opposed to arms control talks. Also criticized was the entire idea of a modern American chemical weapons program. Such a program, the argument went, would actually encourage others to develop chemical weapons, as opposed to acting as a deterrent.
The testing, which had dismal results, presented its own set of problems. In 1987 the Navy conducted 58 tests, results were "very inconsistent". Problems the Navy encountered with the Bigeye included excessive pressure build-up, questions about the lethality of the chemical mixture, unpredictable agent burning, and overall performance concerns. Scientists debated the efficacy of the binary weapons program, especially since the Bigeye had only been tested using simulants. This led to speculation that the binary weapons might be inferior to those unitary weapons they were replacing. The GAO repeatedly backed these assertions, maintaining that the Bigeye was not adequately tested and that it had encountered major technical issues.
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