Chem-Bio Office Working Through Supply Chain Issues
The pandemic-fueled supply chain crisis that has clobbered industries across the nation is also affecting a key Pentagon office tasked with countering biological threats, limiting its ability to surge critical technologies if needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated several challenges, including the ability to obtain important components and parts for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense technologies, said Col. Chris Hoffman, principal director for the Pentagon’s chem-bio defense program.
“This is a very small community with … a limited amount of manufacturing that’s oriented on producing our products, which inherently creates some challenges in our ability to scale up and meet surges in demand,” he said during an online event hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.
A recent survey conducted by the program’s analysis office found that 57 percent of the manufacturers that the organization relies on are at least at a medium risk for supply chain challenges and vulnerabilities.
One area of major concern is the manufacturing of semiconductors, Hoffman noted. Semiconductors are the foundation of the advanced technologies that both regular citizens and military officials rely on. A global shortage amidst unprecedented demand during the pandemic for electronic devices has created a major supply chain issue.
While the United States is a leader in the design of semiconductors, in recent decades the manufacturing and production of microelectronics has moved offshore.
The semiconductor shortage has had a direct impact on the CBRN defense office, forcing officials to delay the testing and fielding of some of its systems, Hoffman said.
For example, the nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicle sensor suite upgrade program has faced delays.
“We had a switch as well as some software challenges that made us deliberately slip the testing as we couldn’t get the two prototypes built in order to test [them] because critical supplies were unavailable,” he said.
The chem-bio defense office plans to work with industry to better identify where shortcomings in the pipeline are to mitigate future issues, Hoffman said. It has already begun making some targeted investments into certain technologies to ensure it has the necessary parts and supplies to execute programs.