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Tanker Competition

In the article, “Defense Department can split tanker buy, and still save money” (June 2009), the authors mention only those issues that benefit from a split Air Force KC-X tanker buy.

Arguments against a split buy might include the fact that you are not only buying the best aircraft, but also the loser aircraft of the competition as well. There are costs involved with separate training, maintenance and logistics. Will it be cost effective to have two separate aircraft assembly lines? This will make it harder to reach the most economic quantity of aircraft, if it is reached at all. Lastly, the Air Force would have to transition in two new aircraft while still managing the KC-135 and KC-10 tankers. Common training, maintenance, and logistics will save money, but they become invaluable during wartime.

James Trent Corbett
Midlothian, VA

Energy Security
The May issue of the National Defense presented two well-written articles by Grace V. Jean on offshore wind energy, and by Michael G. Frodl and John M. Manoyan, on natural gas. Given the urgency of the energy challenges the world is facing today, sensible and intelligent decision is needed on how to focus our effort and allocate our resources to technology areas where tangible and intangible returns can be obtained. Despite the higher cost of wind energy than fossil fuels, wind and solar energy should have the potential to meet the world energy need indefinitely.

The development and deployment of wind and solar energy technology is not only a good economic investment, but the demonstration of technological leadership in tackling the 21st century’s most challenging problem. Only when the United States has mastered a comprehensive technology portfolio for sustainable energy utilization, while able to maintain independent access to some of the finite fossil energy reserves in an unlimited time frame, will true energy security be proudly acclaimed for today and for tomorrow.

Charles Rong
Rockville, MD

Nonsensical Points
According to your June 2009 article, “Ambitions of All-Electric Navy Get Reality Check,” the obvious benefit of the new super-cooled motor is its smaller size. But what does that have to do with the power generator? Why do I need a new motor to distribute electric power to other equipment across the ship? This makes no sense. 

In another June article, ”Defense Department can split tanker buy and still save money, the authors completely ignored the real problem with the tanker buy. The Air Force had no clear idea what it wanted and its requirement was thus too vague. Once the Air Force decided what sort of aircraft it wanted, well then you can look at multiple bidders on components and subcomponents.

Chester A. Kojro
Rolla, MO
 
Military Health Care
Your Washington Pulse article (May 2009) reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says that Tricare for military retirees is driving heath care costs up. I would suggest that $47 billion is a drop in the bucket when compared to the fiscal 2010 defense budget. It is a small price to pay for our military retirees, and is well deserved. It certainly doesn’t warrant the statement that “We don’t want to become a Defense Department that is largely a health care system as some corporations have found themselves.”

Peter T. Pomonis
Retired Col., USA

7 Deadly Myths
We read with both interest and alarm the article entitled “Seven Deadly Myths about Weapons of Terror” (June 2009).  We are concerned about the statements relating to countering biological terrorism. (2nd Myth: Big-Budget Technology is Needed to Counter Biological Terrorism)

Statement:  It takes a highly skilled individual with special equipment to “mill” the anthrax spores.

Comment: The equipment needed to develop an aerosolized pathogen and distribute it widely is readily available, at low cost and is used routinely in the pharmaceutical industry and in agricultural activities.

Statement: If an individual is treated with antibiotics shortly after inhaling anthrax spores, the infection usually can be cured.

Comment:  Your argument is based on the premise that antibiotics are available, administered quickly enough and a full course is taken and the antibiotics are actually effective against the strain of B. anthracis. The logistical challenges in distributing medical countermeasures to a large population in a timely manner are well documented. A less well known fact is that antibiotic resistant anthrax bacilli are widely found in nature and accessible from repositories worldwide. An antibiotic resistant strain of B. anthracis can be easily developed from a common strain in short period of time, by individuals with only basic skills in microbiology. A student from a county college, not a Ph.D scientist, should be able to complete this task. Anthrax caused by resistant strains cannot be cured with antibiotics or post exposure use of vaccines.

Statement: A prompt response with effective medical countermeasures, such as antibiotics and vaccination, can potentially blunt the impact of an attack.

It takes several weeks to develop an adequate immune response to the pathogen, and even in healthy adults, not all individuals develop a protective immunologic response when vaccinated. Importantly, our growing elderly or immuno-compromised population may not be able to develop protective immunity because of their diminished immune response.

Our nation’s experience in the treating of clinical anthrax is very limited. Two cases of naturally occurring inhalation anthrax reported during the last two years suggest that severe forms of the disease are not readily treatable with currently available antibiotics and/or with polyclonal immunoglobulins, and that novel therapeutic agents are desperately needed.

Currently existing treatment agents may not protect or treat a sufficient portion the population from a serious bio-threat and alternative therapeutic strategies are in urgent demand. It may take a combination of inventive research, meticulous planning, involvement of highly skilled labor and solid investments to develop new drugs, but this is a noble life-saving effort. There is an ongoing partnership between industry, academia and government to develop a portfolio of medical countermeasure, under the leadership of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the Defense Department. Additional information can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/aspr/barda/index.html

Irena Kirman and Jeremy Middleton
Elusys Therapeutics
Pine Brook, NJ 


After reading the article “7 Deadly Myths About Weapons of Terror,” I was disappointed with the oversimplifications presented in Myth 2 (Big Budget Technology is Needed to Counter Biological Terrorism). While I agree with the theme that the best defense to a biological attack is a good response, it is essential that we have the necessary medical countermeasures with which to respond and at present we do not.

Your source Michael Pantella at the University of Iowa said that combating a biological attack should be the same as any infectious disease and that if antibiotics are stockpiled in sufficient numbers the public health system should be able to respond once a pathogen has been identified. Antibiotics are not one-size fits all treatments for any pathogen, naturally occurring or man-made. In reality, the antibiotics currently available are not the most effective treatments for anthrax, smallpox or plague, as mentioned in the article, and new solutions are needed.

In the past, two options have been available for the treatment of anthrax infections, a vaccine and antibiotics. While antibiotics can be effective in killing anthrax bacteria, they are not effective against the anthrax toxins once they have been released into the blood. Also, antibiotics may not be effective against antibiotic-resistant strains of anthrax. Fortunately, through collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a contract under Project Bioshield, Human Genome Sciences (HGS) was able to develop a human monoclonal antibody, Abthrax, for the treatment of inhalation anthrax. HGS began delivery of Abthrax to the Strategic National Stockpile earlier this year.

Currently, there is no approved treatment for smallpox. There is a smallpox vaccine, which is a live attenuated vaccinia vaccine. While the vaccine is the best available protection one can get if exposed to the virus, there are considerable side effects and risks associated with the vaccine, making it unsuitable for a large portion of the U.S. population. With funding from the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Chimerix is developing CMX001 as an orally available version of cidofovir, shown to be an effective antiviral therapeutic effective for the treatment of smallpox as well as complications resulting from the smallpox vaccine.

These are just a couple of examples of the progress that has been made in protecting the American people against a biological attack, natural or man-made. As stated in the article, establishing an effective system to respond to a biological attack will in turn improve the nation’s ability to manage other public health disasters, however, appropriate support needs to be given to the development of essential medical countermeasures to ensure a safer America.

Laura E. Kilpatrick
McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP
Washington, D.C.
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