The Pentagon is preparing for a mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile on board a U.S. ship, using a system that has not yet been tested at sea, reports Fox News.
The operation would be part of an agreement struck in September by Syria, the U.S. and Russia to eliminate Syria's deadly chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014.
The U.S. is still waiting on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international group leading the destruction efforts, to formally approve the U.S. mission, the report said.
U.S. defense officials who briefed reporters at the Pentagon Thursday morning said the Motor Vessel Cape Ray, a ship owned by the Department of Transportation, is currently being outfitted in Norfolk, Va., with a Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, designed to dilute the chemical weapons stockpile.
These officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, added that the FDHS was designed to be portable and will be tested at sea for the first time later this month, only weeks before it's planning to embark.
Despite the limited time allowed for testing, the officials were quoted by Fox News as having said they are "comfortable" with the system, which has been successfully tested on land at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
The system can fit into two standard-sized shipping containers and works by mixing the chemicals with water and bleach, and storing that inert waste on board. All cleansing operations will happen below deck and, according to these officials, "absolutely nothing will be dumped at sea."
The plan, the officials said, is to have a third party, most likely the Norwegians, remove the stockpiles from Syria and meet the Cape Ray at a location outside Syria to transfer the material. It has not yet been decided where that meeting will take place, or where the Cape Ray will be when it begins the process of destroying the weapons.
The joint Russian-U.S. Syrian chemical weapons disarmament plan was endorsed by the UN Security Council in September, when it adopted a resolution demanding the destruction of Syria's entire chemical arsenal, estimated at about 1,000 tons, by June 30 next year.
The resolution was a last-minute measure to prevent an American strike on Syria in retaliation for the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack on a Damascus suburb in August that left hundreds dead.
While Syria has won praise for cooperating with the mission, it was recently reported that the United States is looking at new classified intelligence indicating that the Syrian government may not fully declare its chemical weapons stockpile.