MAKICHUK: Expert backs sending expired rockets to Ukraine

CRV7 air-to-ground rockets.
CRV7 air-to-ground

Are the feds too quick on the draw, spending our hard-earned tax dollars? Especially when it comes to military solutions?

The problem is this: Canada's Department of National Defence has 83,303 expired CRV7 rockets warehoused in a munitions depot in Dundurn, SK, about 45 km south of Saskatoon.

A company has been contracted to destroy these rockets, at a hefty price tag of $30 million, but Ukraine wants them.

Fighting for its life against Russia, the rockets can be turned into guided rockets, thanks to a kit made by Lockheed Martin. In any case, Ukraine wants them and Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre wants them sent to Ukraine as well.

Second problem: Canada must inspect the rockets, to make sure they are safe to transport before anything can be decided.

Third problem: The company that signed the contract with the feds to destroy the rockets, is threatening to sue if the feds break the $30 million deal.

They are currently building a facility to make this happen.

I decided this story needed another opinion, so I contacted Allan Vosburgh, CEO of the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation.

Vosburgh is a Vietnam veteran and a Master EOD technician with more than 50 years of experience in munitions management, ordnance disposal and weapons of mass destruction.

"The Golden West as a foundation started back in 1998. It was founded by a gentleman by the name of Joe Trocino. And Joe was actually a World War II era kind of guy," said Vosburgh from his home in Hawaii.

"He had worked in the Manhattan Project early on during the war, so he was a chemist and had been involved in a lot of different (munition) applications."

After turning its attention to landmines (It is estimated that there are 110 million land mines in the ground), the foundation started out by looking for ways to help the humanitarian demining community.

Trocino thought the best way to do that was to engage some of the technical people who had been doing it for many years, but who had retired and were maybe looking for something else to do.

More than one million people in Cambodia still live in fear and work in areas contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs).
More than one million people in Cambodia still live in fear and work in areas contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs).Handout

"As veterans and particularly special ops and explosive ordinance disposal people have a very high rate of suicide, we're working hard to try to give these guys something important to do and give them a purpose in life," Vosburgh said.

"That said, fast forward, we started out working in a variety of places and we worked primarily in Southeast Asia for many years, Vietnam and Cambodia particularly."

"Now we're working in about eight countries in Europe, helping to do explosive orders, disposal training and physical security, stockpile management kind of activities, which is our other specialty."

"We also have a team on 24/7 standby to respond to munitions, explosives related accidents anywhere in the world that US State Department wants to send us."

"So we cover the gamut of munitions related problems. We're a very small organization, a nonprofit charity, and we have probably, I don't know, I would say at any point in time, probably less than 60 people or so engaged worldwide."

Golden West currently has projects in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Fiji, the Republic of Marshall Islands and an office in the Philippines.

In Europe, they're working in Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo and Northern Macedonia and Albania, primarily working with their forces and government to help improve their stockpile management and transportation and handling of munitions.

But what makes Golden West different from the rest, is how they have come up with interesting strategies, in weapons disposal.

Using inexpensive bandsaws from Taiwan to slice up munitions, steaming out the contents and reformulating them into explosive charges.

The latter can then be used to blow up landmines, which are not allowed to be removed due to UN international rules.

These can be stolen from warehouses and just be on the market again, making money for ruthless arms dealers.

A Golden West Foundation worker uses a Taiwanese bandsaw to slice open a shell.
A Golden West Foundation worker uses a Taiwanese bandsaw to slice open a shell.Golden West Foundation

"In Cambodia, we have what we call the explosive harvesting program, which has been running there since 2006 or 2007."

"We've actually produced over 600,000 individual charges that are then passed to our partners at the Cambodian Mine Action Center for distribution to all the mining organizations working in Cambodia."

"As you may know, Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined areas in southeast Asia. It still has a significant landmine problem and they use a lot of those charges on a daily basis to destroy landmines."

Golden West also discovered an easier way to cut the munitions. Instead of using water jets to avoid friction or sparks, they use a less messy, less involved cooling fluid.

"We've done, well, we had documented 47,000 cuts on different types of munitions and we've never had any real problems."

The three parts of the program that are beneficial is that it reduces unwanted stockpiles, it produces charges that are cheap and readily available and also has an environmental aspect because it prevents, or it avoids all the open detonations.

"So you've got a lot of good things going for it. And so far we've seen no real downside to that," he said.

Then there is a surprising offshoot — the metal taken from the weapons are made into souvenirs. Things such as sculptures, bottle openers, plaques and even spoons.

"There's all kinds of variants of things you can do with the metal ... it's usually high-grade steel and with some other metals, copper and brass and so forth."

"But we hand those back over to the host nation so they can recycle that metal and that helps to subsidize the process and also it helps to incentivize people to turn in munitions and generate more stuff."

Munitions training is an important part of the foundation's overseas efforts.
Munitions training is an important part of the foundation's overseas efforts.Golden West Foundation

Which brings us to Canada's troubled rockets.

"I should point out that one of the things that is important to keep in mind about this recycling process is that not all munitions are suitable for recycling," said Vosburgh.

"My sense would be probably not, that it would not be economic to extract the explosive from the warheads, because you're only talking about, I don't know, probably eight pounds of explosive per warhead."

"I mean, it's not a lot and it's a lot of work to cut those and steam them out. So my sense would be probably they would not be good candidates for recycling. I mean, from our standpoint at least."

"However, I wanted to also say that one of the trends that we're seeing worldwide, particularly since this fight in Ukraine, is the upcycling of the worldwide stockpile ... the munitions awaiting disposal is gigantic."

"I mean, in the United States alone, we have hundreds and hundreds of tons of munitions that are waiting for some sort of disposal action to take place. Everything from big rockets to small stuff and small arms."

As a rule of thumb, missiles tend to have about a 15-year shelf life, said Vosburgh. Regular conventional munitions tend to be around 25 years, and that varies.

As long as they are inspected properly and stored properly, munitions can last for a long time," he said.

"And my sense is that these rockets were probably in that category," said Vosburgh.

Not all munitions can be recycled — these are being prepared for demolition with charges.
Not all munitions can be recycled — these are being prepared for demolition with charges.Golden West Foundation

"And you mentioned that there was some desire on the part of the Ukrainians to lay their hands on things"

"I would support that wholeheartedly because I mean, it would require an inspection and obviously the transportation, but I got to tell you, the cost of that versus the cost of de-militarization is going to be significant."

"I mean, you would save a ton of money. And also obviously the Ukrainians need all the ammunition they can get."

"They're really creative in terms of how they're doing things, so I would very much support the idea of shipping that stuff to Ukraine, versus destroying it."

"Keep in mind that there's a significant difference between the commercial side of demilitarization, which is what you would be looking at there for that number of rockets and the NGO kind of cottage industry approach that we would take doing a similar type thing."

"And I frankly have no sense for what the cost differential would be, but those commercial operations tend to be very expensive and that's just a fact of life."

At the end of the day, says Vosburgh, only a small part of those munitions are going to be suitable for recovering explosive and redoing them, because so much of the munitions these days are smoke or cluster munitions or photoflash munitions.

The latter is explosive ordnance dropped by aircraft, usually military surveillance aircraft and designed to detonate above ground to create an extremely bright flash of light.

"I mean, there's all kinds of anti-tank rounds. There's all kinds of things that just don't lend themselves to a recycling process that we use."

"So could it be done cheaper? Maybe? I just don't know."

The Golden West Foundation has played a pivotal role in training European military forces.
The Golden West Foundation has played a pivotal role in training European military forces.Golden West Foundation

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