JUST IN: Pentagon’s Bio-Defense Posture Review Expected in Fall

By Stew Magnuson

Defense Dept. photo

BALTIMORE — The Pentagon’s first bio-defense posture review should be delivered this fall, senior Defense Department officials said July 27.

The COVID-19 pandemic — along with a host of other man-made and natural threats — prompted the Pentagon to start work on its first bio-defense posture review, which was first announced in a “Bio-Defense Vision Statement” delivered by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III in November 2021.

Army Col. James Harwell, deputy division chief on the joint staff, J-8, in the joint requirements office for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense, said biological threats come from a variety of sources including weapons of mass destruction — which can be created by militaries or terrorists — as well as naturally occurring diseases.

Because of that, the Defense Department has a lot of different programs housed under several different departments and agencies, he said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s CBRN Defense Conference and Exhibition in Baltimore.

The myriad programs and funding streams create stovepipes, he said. “We recognize that at all levels, the pots of money are split,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted many of the Defense Department’s shortcomings when it comes to responding to manmade versus natural biological threats, he said.

“What COVID identified was the gaps and seams … when it comes to those stovepipes,” he said. The Defense Department needs to be able to close those gaps and seams, he added.

“What we are endeavoring to do right now is to force lateral decision making so that we recognize that biological threats don’t necessarily fit neatly into biological weapons [category], or emerging infectious diseases,” he said.

Often the source of an outbreak of a disease isn’t known until long after the beginning of an incident, he pointed out.

That is the case with COVID-19, the source of which is still being studied and debated more than two and half years after the beginning of the crisis.

Ian Watson, deputy secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, said COVID-19 lessons learned will be a part of the review.

“It is a very large, very complicated review,” he said. The fact that bio-defense is receiving its own review is telling, he said. Other topics that receive regular posture reviews include nuclear weapons and missile defense, he pointed out.

The review will look at roles, responsibilities and requirements for agencies and organizations that are involved in bio-defense, he said. It will inform the 2024 budget and will result in major realignments in 2025, he added.

Deb Rosenblum, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological programs, will be providing more details on the review on the second day of the conference, Watson said.


Topics: WMD Defense, Domestic Preparedness

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