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 Homeland Defense 


by Harold Kennedy 

The Defense Department’s agency in charge of developing chemical and biological defense technologies is shifting its focus from large-scale incidents on the battlefield to small-scale terrorist attacks against civilians.

The Defense Department’s agency in charge of developing chemical and biological defense technologies is shifting its focus from large-scale incidents on the battlefield to small-scale terrorist attacks against civilians.

“It’s been a seismic change in how we do business,” Army Brig. Gen. Stephen V. Reeves told a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear conference, which was conducted in Tampa, Fla., by the U.S. Special Operations Command and the National Defense Industrial Association.

The joint program executive office for chemical and biological defense, headquartered in Falls Church, Va., was set up in April 2003 to serve as the focal point for research, development, acquisition, fielding and maintenance of equipment to protect all U.S. military personnel against chemical and biological weapons during combat.

The office’s programs also include developing and fielding equipment for the National Guard’s weapons of mass destruction civil-support teams and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive enhanced response forces, as well as the Marine Corps’ chemical biological incident response force. The Marine unit, headquartered at Indian Head, Md., was established in 1996 to respond anywhere in the world in the event of an attack involving a chemical, biological or nuclear agent.

The Guard currently has 32 certified civil support teams, with 22 members each. These teams are trained to test disaster sites for mass-casualty agents. Another 12 teams are working toward certification. In November, the Defense Department notified Congress that it planned to field 11 more of the teams in 2005, which would complete Congress’ request that every U.S. state and territory have one. In addition, the Guard has 11 chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive enhanced response force units, each of which has about 100 people who assist the civil support teams by locating and decontaminating victims in a relatively short period of time.

Previous chem-bio acquisition efforts—notably the massive drive to equip U.S. forces before the invasion of Iraq—were conducted by each individual service. The new office is intended to streamline chemical and biological acquisition and leverage the capabilities of each of the services.

The Army remains the executive agent for the department’s overall chemical and biological defense program, as required by existing federal law. The chem-bio defense office reports both to the Army and defense acquisition executives.

The office and its predecessors have worked to develop chemical and biological detection devices; medical vaccines, pretreatments, therapeutic and diagnostic equipment; individual protective masks and suits; collective protection shelters; decontamination equipment and systems: and, warning and reporting systems.

Thus far, however, a large-scale chemical or biological attack against U.S. troops in the battlefield has failed to materialize.

A Central Intelligence Agency report, released in November, warned that al Qaeda is determined to hit the United States with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, probably in small-scale attacks.

The threat, Reeves said, is becoming more complicated. “Quite frankly, things used to be pretty simple in the past,” he said. “It was hard, but now it’s getting harder.”

Real changes are being made in the national strategy for dealing with chemical and biological threats, “not just in technology, but also doctrine, force development and materiel,” Reeves said.

The Pentagon’s focus is shifting from strategic deterrence of large-scale chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats and dealing with short-term effects on the battlefield toward elimination of weapons of mass destruction, while increasing domestic preparedness for small-scale, low-dose attacks against civilian targets, Reeves said.

As they rush to improve civilian chem-bio protection, the military services are “becoming technology carnivores,” Reeves said. “Industry is showing “substantial interest,” he said. The result is more mature technologies.

The challenge is “selecting the best-available technologies,” he said.

Unfortunately, a widespread perception appears to exist in industry that “all this technology is out there that we might be able to use, but the government’s got it all wrapped up in rules and regulations,” Reeves said. “I get a lot of fan mail that says, ‘you guys are a bunch of bureaucrats who are putting our troops in danger.’”

The nation’s interests, however, are not served by rushing products to the field without proper testing, Reeves said. “The view graphs may look pretty good, but we need to take the products out into the real world and test them,” he said.

“Sometimes, we get accused of being a little bureaucratic, but when it comes to safety, that’s where we won’t compromise,” Reeves said. “That’s not negotiable.”

In October, Reeves noted, a federal grand jury indicted a Georgia businessman for misleading investors into believing that his company had a product that could destroy anthrax spores. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency failed to prove that the product worked.

In emergencies, Reeves said, his office can field technology quickly. “Right after the 2001 anthrax attacks, for example, we needed a biological detection system that could be used in cities,” he said. “Within 30 days, we were able to develop one, based on a version that was designed for use in the battlefield. The process usually takes 45 days.”

Among the equipment that the joint office has developed or is developing for the Special Operations Command, Reeves noted, are:

How much testing is required and how well a product must work before fielding are “judgment calls,” Reeves said. “There are times, when the need is urgent, that a 10 percent capability is better than no capability at all. Other times, it has to work nearly 100 percent of the time, or we won’t buy it.”

Products must be tested in a wide range of environmental conditions, including low air pressure, contamination, extreme heat or cold, blowing sand, very high or low humidity, high salinity and constant vibrations. “As we learned in Iraq, desert heat and blowing sand are huge issues,” he explained.

Another important issue, Reeves said, is survivability. “Does a piece of equipment pose any threat to the people around it? What are the unintended consequences if things go badly?”

Even in non-military, urban environments some ruggedness is required, Reeves said. “In Phoenix, Ariz., temperatures can reach 122 degrees,” he said. “In St. Paul, Minn., they go down to 30 degrees below zero. Hawaii gets 130 inches of rainfall per year. In June 2003, Nebraska recorded 7 inches of hail.”

Although his office heads up the Defense Department’s chem-bio acquisition efforts, each of the services is buying equipment for civilian consequence-management, outside the department’s program, Reeves said. “We need a process for procuring this non-standard equipment,” he said.

The selected equipment list—developed by the Interagency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability—is not an adequate guide for non-standard needs, said Dale E. Klein, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs. The board was established in 1998 by the Defense Department’s consequence management program integration office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s weapons of mass destruction countermeasures unit.

The list “can be used as a guideline for types of equipment needed by responders for a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident,” Klein said in a 2004 memo to defense officials. “However, the selected equipment list provides only generic equipment nomenclature with corresponding national standards, so it does not solely provide all of the information needed to allow responders to select specific items of equipment,” he said.

Civilian agencies—including the Department of Homeland Security, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health—are working to establish national standards for civilians using chem-bio consequence-management equipment, Klein said.

As an interim measure, Klein has established a panel to review purchase of such equipment by military services and other defense agencies. The panel—chaired by Reeves—will oversee purchases in cases where military or national standards don’t exist.

The goal is to ensure that the gear is safe, suitable and effective, Reeves said. “For the first time, non-standard procurements will be taken through a disciplined process,” he said. The process, however, merely reviews purchases, he noted. “This is not a [Defense Department] equipment testing program.”

To comply properly with the review process, the services should select equipment based on need, and then submit a request explaining the need, how it will be used, safety data, test documentation, and independent test and operational data.

“All independent test and operational test data is a service responsibility, including the cost of testing,” Reeves said. Test data supplied solely by a contractor for a product is not adequate. Also required, separate from the panel’s approval process, is a plan for all necessary training, sustainment and logistics support for the equipment.

The contractor is responsible for support services in selecting the equipment, providing technical data and test results, assisting in preparing the approval package, and providing any additional information that might be needed.

The panel will conduct the review and recommend whether the joint project executive office should approve the procurement. “My job, at the end of the day, is to put my name on the line, and say whether equipment is safe and effective,” Reeves said. The results, he added, will be published on the office’s website ( 30 days of application.

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