Chemical-Biological Defense Office to Kick off Dozens of New Programs

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The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense will have money to spend in these lean budgetary times. The perceived threat from these deadly agents, along with a renewed emphasis in the Pentagon on guarding against weapons of mass destruction, has pushed the office to begin a series of new programs.

There will be about $3.5 billion from fiscal years 2013 to 2018 to spend on everything from new vaccines and protective gear to information technology that will create a global early warning system for infectious diseases, said Carmen Spencer, the joint program executive officer for chemical and biological defense.

"Everything is locked in Jell-0," he cautioned, referring to the continuing resolutions and budget uncertainties that have plagued the Defense Department of late.

"Because of the world situation as it is today and the emerging threats, there is much more scrutiny in our ability to protect our armed forces, [and] to prevent WMD proliferation around the globe," Spencer told reporters at an advanced planning briefing for industry day at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md.

The new Defense Department strategic guidance released in January 2012 said, "In partnership with other elements of the U.S. government, DoD will continue to invest in capabilities to detect, protect against and respond to WMD use, should preventive measures fail."

The U.S. military is currently overhauling the way it researches, develops and procures chem-bio defense technologies.

The guidance prompted the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense to ask the National Academies of Science to take a hard look at the way the Defense Department acquires and prioritizes its science and technology investments in these fields.

The report, "Determining Core Capabilities in Chemical and Biological Defense Science and Technology" found that these twin threats are evolving rapidly, but the means in which Defense Department agencies obtain new protective devices, vaccines and sensors to counter them are not keeping up.

"The threat is unpredictable, changing and dependent on the nature of the conflict," the report stated. The department's chemical and biological defense program "cannot rely on breakthroughs in intelligence on adversaries' chemical or biological terrorism or warfare programs to inform how its investments are prioritized," it continued.

The Defense Department chem-bio enterprise has depended on combatant commanders to help write its requirements. But the report pointed out that field officers are not well informed on what their potential adversaries can do, and that they rely on historical data.

Gerald Parker, deputy assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, said the report's findings resulted in a new strategic plan that was signed in the summer of 2012. A technology development roadmap is in the works.

"For too long the program has been fragmented and decentralized, and we are changing that to bring a much better unity of effort," he said.

The report emphasized that the nation can't afford to deal with all potential threats on an individual basis, and it has to prioritize which problems to solve.

Parker said: "The bottom line: We simply must employ more cost effective, efficient, agile capabilities to close current gaps and prevent against future surprise."

Requirements originating from combatant commanders that call for 100 percent protection results in programs that never reach their goals, and therefore, never reach the field, the report said.

"We must develop and field integrated, net-centric, multi-mission capabilities to rapidly detect, identify and communicate, correlate, analyze and inform the common operational picture used by decision makers to direct resources and respond to minimize the effects of a [WMD] attack," Parker said. …