DOD prepping US vessel for Syria mission

 The Pentagon is prepping an American vessel to destroy Syria's confiscated chemical weapons, should President Obama hand that mission to U.S. forces. 

The MV Cape Ray, a civilian transport vessel, is currently at the Navy shipyard in Norfolk, Va being outfitted field deployable hydrolysis system technology, which will allow U.S. forces to safely dispose of those chemical stockpiles, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Monday. 

Administration officials approved the use of the Cape May for possible disarmament operations over the weekend, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden confirmed to the Wall Street Journal. 

The ship work being performed aboard the Cape Ray is part of the "prudent planning" being conducted inside the Defense Department, in anticipation of the White House order, Warren told reporters at the Pentagon. 

The Cape Ray is currently under the control of the Department of Transportation, according to Warren. It remains unclear whether control of the ship would be transitioned to the military command if Obama gives the mission the green light. 

He could not comment as to when the modifications to the Cape Ray would be complete. 

That said, Warren made clear on Monday that American military forces have yet to recieve orders to begin assisting with the Syrian disarmament effort. 

However, "if we are tasked with that mission" the Cape Ray will be ready to perform those operations, he added. 

Warren declined to comment on whether the Cape May's possible deployment to the Syrian coast would be the extent of Washington's involvement with the disarmament program. 

In October, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested American and NATO forces would play a significant role in the United Nations-sanctioned disarmament program in Syria. 

In July, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July told leaders of the Senate Armed Forces Committee that a significant deployment of ground troops would be needed to secure Syria’s chemical weapon sites if an operation of that kind were ordered.

"Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites" in the country, Dempsey wrote in a letter.

Pentagon estimates at the time reportedly said 70,000 troops would be needed to lockdown Assad's chemical weapons program.

That said, Hagel reiterated that even if NATO forces were sent in to back up the OPCW inspectors, U.S. troops would not be part of that operation. 

"There are no plans to have any U.S. forces in any way in Syria," Hagel said in October.  

Inspectors from the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have already confiscated or destroyed a majority of Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical stockpile over the past several months. 

Earlier this year, Assad declared his regime owned more than 1,000 metric tons of weaponized chemical agents, including nerve gas, dispersed over 20 sites in the country.