Protecting installations from biological and chemical attacks is receiving fresh attention from the Department of Defense, as researchers develop tools and knowledge for managing such strikes.
Fears that military bases, supply hubs and civilian installations might be targeted are driving some attention away from front line fighters to protect their rear flank. "We're shifting our focus on protecting things that support the warfighter," said Donna Bar-bush, director of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological integration for the deputy assistant secretary for chem-bio defense. "Sometimes it doesn't look like the traditional war fight."
The military is launching a new effort, including equipment purchases, scientific studies and research initiatives, to guard against biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear strikes. The goal is to thwart an attack, and stay operational if one does Occur.
"Response and recovery are getting a fresh look," said Klaus Schafer, deputy assistant for chemical and biological defense at the Pentagon. "It's about time for that."
Joint Program Guardian handles a wide array of installation defenses and homeland defense missions. Its manager, Army Col. Camille Nichols, said her $2 billion program is "spread thin."
The Installation Protection Program, Guardian's central component for hardening military bases, is receiving $91 million this year, with a requested $145 million for 2006. That figure will rise to $218 million by 2009. None of the figures Nichols cited included the cost of maintaining the equipment.
"We're not buying 200 bases worth of stuff at once," she said at a recent industry convention. "We're spreading that out over a period of time ... Not every base will have the same equipment, but they will have the same all-hazards capability."
Other security-focused items being developed by Guardian include robotic sentries to patrol depots and bases. These machines are studded with sensors and operate easily on the asphalt of military installations. "This is a robot made for benign environments," Nichols said.
But much of the purchasing is going towards items that are not unique to WMD defense, she said, such as computers and communications equipment that become crucial during a crisis.
Last year, the Pentagon's Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense awarded a three-year $117 million contract to Science Applications International Corp., of San Diego, Calif., to manage the Installation Protection Program. The contract includes an option for a three-year, $390 million extension.
SAIC, as the lead systems integrator, has recently opened a web portal to solicit bids from vendors. Items include protective suits, voice amplifiers, biological filters, hand held chemical monitors, fixed sensors, portable radiation monitors and skin decontamination kits. Nichols said that 60 meetings with potential vendors have been arranged through the Internet portal.
There are gaps in the scientific knowledge of chemical and biological threats. This lack of information can be deadly during an attack, and can mean the difference between a base reopening for action, or staying operationally defunct.
One dilemma for base commanders is the delicate balance between resuming critical operations while protecting staff. That means investigating the lingering effects of small amounts of dangerous materials, officials said. …