Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

With the goal of providing world-class capabilities to allow the nation's armed forces to fight chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack, the U.S. Department of Defense's Chemical and Biological Defense Program must continuously evolve to keep up with the changing nature of conflict and rapid advances in science and technology. This report identifies the core capabilities that must be supported by the program, and identifies strategies for acquiring, developing, or maintaining capabilities to meet current and anticipated future needs.

Research, development, testing and evaluation for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program has largely been carried out in military departments. However, while key competencies and special facilities in military laboratories and test facilities remain important to the program, most of the expertise in the relevant science and engineering now lies outside the Department of Defense, the report finds. The work that is done largely by the military is not carried out in a way that allows its effectiveness to be evaluated usefully, and the transfer of commercial technology into Department of Defense laboratories is inefficient and expensive. Fundamental questions of how research, development, testing and evaluation programs should be organized, and how much chemical and biological defense research is really core to the Department of Defense, require rethinking.

Key Messages

  • Chemical and biological threats are unpredictable, changing, and dependent on the nature of conflict, but the Chemical and Biological Defense Program has not adapted to these evolving needs. The U.S. simply cannot afford to deal with all threats on an individual basis, and there is no universal solution. The program will need to choose which problems to solve.
  • The Chemical and Biological Defense Program's mission—"Provide global chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense capabilities in support of National Strategies"-- is too broadly stated. It allows a variety of interpretations, making it challenging to understand program priorities.
  • There is no program-wide Chemical and Biological defense strategy, nor common characterization of the program elements among the participating organizations. Strategic priorities tend to change with changes in senior leadership. As a result efforts requiring sustained or long-term commitments are unable to deliver timely results, if at all.
  • Little of the fundamental science required for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program lies primarily in the Department of Defense. The vast majority of the scientific research performed in the U.S. occurs in academic and industrial laboratories. However, the military laboratory community is not as strongly partnered with key external research institutions and programs as it could and should be.
  • There is the potential to significantly improve chemical and biological defense capabilities using existing technology. However, despite the nation's superb biomedical research establishment and the explosive growth of the biological and biomedical science that is relevant to the Department of Defense and the public health community, relatively little of this broad competency has been applied to problems relevant to chemical and biological defense.
  • Separation of science and technology performers from the end user is impeding their ability to meet the user's needs. Individuals in the military laboratories noted that understanding more fully the context of their work could assist science and technology personnel in developing operationally relevant productions, identifying variables or factors that would otherwise be overlooked.
  • Broadly speaking, the capacity for test and evaluation to support the needs of the Chemical and Biological Defense Program exists with the Department of Defense. Test and evaluation is a core component of the program, and will be important to maintain within the Department of Defense at a high level of competency and responsiveness.
  • Much of the current test and evaluation is based on unrealistic expectations of how material or equipment would actually be used. Furthermore, test and evaluation plans apparently are not subject to independent external review. These plans are created internally, and the committee observed little evidence of the use of external expertise to review testing plans.
  • A requirements-driven science and technology process is not a good match for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program, and is inadequate for addressing the evolving and innovative nature of chemical and biological threats. Moreover, with the perceived goal of 100% protection, few products reach the field in a timely manner, especially in the medical countermeasures part of the program.
  • Successful transition between the Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense and the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense offices requires a mutual agreement on appropriate transition points, encoded in multi-year program plans and budgets. There is no end-to-end authority for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program, which is particularly problematic for medical products. There is a risk that a transition gap between research and development and acquisition could result in the development of a project management "valley of death."
  • The principal research, development, testing and evaluation military organizations associated with the Chemical and Biological Defense Program are benefitting from major facility investments that are planned to provide both capabilities and capacities to meet the anticipated needs of the program, Operating and maintaining these facilities, however, will place a burden on both the owning Service—principally the Army—and the program.
  • All or part of the elements required for healthy research, development, testing and evaluation activities to ensure clarity of purpose, focus of investments, and coherence of management were missing at the organizations visited by the committee. Of special concern are strained relationships between the Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense and the laboratories, the new rotational policy for military commanders in the Army, and a trend toward increasing oversight of both technical work and operations at the facilities.
  • All programs benefit from scientific peer review when done well, and these reviews keep the skills of scientists and engineers sharp. The Chemical and Biological Defense Program and its supporting laboratories would benefit from independent, periodic review at the programmatic and scientific levels. The Chemical and Biological Defense Program should also encourage and participate in institutional reviews.