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DOD CB Defense Programs Could Stall Due to Budget Cuts

Chemical and biological (CB) countermeasures research efforts by the Department of Defense (DOD) Chemical and Biological Defense Program (CBDP) is expected to dwindle due to congressional military budget reductions and lingering sequestration effects, according to CBDP’s $35,000 2016 Annual Report to Congress in which the Pentagon described its research and development activities to defend against chemical and biological threats.

“Reduced defense spending,” the report warned, “will constrain the ability of the CBDP to develop, procure and sustain Joint Service priority capabilities that improve the ability of the Warfighter to counter CBRN threats. The combination of evolving CB threats, reduced budgets, and uncertain fiscal futures forces the CBDP to focus its limited resources to address the highest priorities and greatest risks.”

“This environment translates into increasingly complex program management decisions with no margins for error due to a lack of sufficient and predictable resources,” DOD told Congress, noting, “the CBDP relies on a highly specialized base of expertise to research, develop, test, evaluate, acquire, field, train and maintain the capabilities to counter current and emerging threats.”

“Maintaining this unique historical knowledge while developing the future technical experts and leaders in niche areas has become increasingly difficult as resources have declined and government technical positions have become less attractive for recruiting,” the report said, emphasizing that, "CBDP continues to seek efficiencies in all areas to ensure a capable base of infrastructure is maintained while delivering improved capabilities to counter CB threats and risks to our warfighters and the nation.”

While the report “provides an assessment of the DoD’s overall readiness to fight in a chemical and biological (CB) warfare environment,” DoD also “faces CB threats that are complex, diverse and pose enduring risks to the Joint Force and homeland,” noting that, “The variety, origin and severity of these threats continues to grow while resources shrink. The DoD protects US Forces against weaponized CB agents and emerging threats using an integrated, layered defense and a risk informed approach. In order to strike a balance between risk and resources, the DoD integrates capabilities to the maximum extent.”

The CBDP enterprise plays a critical role in the ability of the Joint Force to complete their missions safely and effectively by providing the necessary capabilities to deter, prevent, protect from, mitigate, respond to, and recover from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats and effects. The CBDP is an integral contributor to a global systems approach to countering weapons of mass destruction (CWMD), providing effective and affordable CWMD capabilities for the US and its partners and allies.”

Steven Aftergood, who produces the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog, said, “Last year the Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug to be used as a countermeasure against Yersinia pestis, the biological agent that causes bubonic plague. The drug was developed with funding from CBDP.”

In addition, Aftergood said, DoD “performed basic research in genetic engineering and nanoelectromechanical systems related to defense against CB threats, and supported the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, among other initiatives.”

He also noted that, “The latest reported use of chlorine gas by Syrian government forces in the city of Aleppo is a reminder that chemical warfare is not simply a relic of a primitive past, but an actual reality today.”

A reduced budget will impact important research such as:

  • The role of gene duplication and amplification in the evolution of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria;
  • Investigating noninvasive, transendothelial routes for brain drug delivery, as well as targeting of the blood-brain batTier for neurotoxicant antidotes. Examining nano- and nanostructured materials as active therapeutic vehicles for CB countermeasures; and
  • Research of nanoelectromechanical systems, molecular motors, nanomechanical resonance sensing, and nanometer imaging to improve detection time, increase medical countermeasure (MCM) effectiveness against a broad spectrum of threats and provide new modalities for CB solutions.

It could also impact the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD), which is the materiel developer within the CBDP, advancing technologies andprototypes through research and developmentto procurement programs that provide validated CBRND products to the Military Services. JPEO-CBD’s Joint Project Managers (JPM) are organized by specific chemical and biological defense focus areas for materiel advanced development.

Continuing, the report emphasized that, “the JPEO-CBD Joint Logistics Advisory Council for Chemical and Biological Defense Industrial Base Working Group (IBWG) core assessment areas include CBDP items (systems), organic IB [industrial base] and CBRND manufacturers. The IBWG findings show that risks remain that influence and challenge the DoD’s ability to sustain the CBRN IB, among them: availability of raw materials, life cycle sustainment costs, changing non-traditional warfare/rogue nation methods and the uncertain operational tempo created by regional and international CBRN-related events. The operational environment can shift at any time in today’s interconnected world, so it is imperative that the IBWG continues to apply a multidisciplinary approach to managing the IB” community.

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