The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has created a new directorate focused on supporting the U.S. nuclear mission, DTRA Director Kenneth A. Myers III told a House panel this week.
At the hearing, Myers and other members of the Defense Department community that counters weapons of mass destruction discussed successes and enduring challenges of their mission area before the House Armed Services Emerging Threats Subcommittee.
While delivering his testimony, Myers made the announcement. “I want to share with the committee our standup of a new directorate that is focused on our support to the nuclear deterrent and our stockpile,” Myers said.
Elevating the Nuclear Support Mission
The goal of DTRA, based at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is to elevate its nuclear support mission to meet the expectations of the Nov. 14, 2014, DoD Nuclear Enterprise Review, the recommendations of which focused on oversight, investment, personnel and training.
“It is our top priority,” Myers said, adding that the Nuclear Enterprise Support Directorate will be fully operational later this spring.
DTRA is co-located with, and Myers also directs, the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Myers said DTRA also addresses national security priorities like biological and chemical threats, and used the agency’s work with Ebola and in Syria as examples of its capabilities.
National Security Priorities
“In both cases we had the expertise to evaluate a serious threat. We developed the needed technologies in close coordination with the organizations represented at this table,” he added, “and we provided planning and execution support to all aspects of the operations.”
Now, Myers said, Ebola cases in West Africa continue to decline and 600 metric tons of Syrian chemical materials have been destroyed.
DTRA now is involved in counterproliferation efforts to help Ukraine, he added, specifically Ukrainian border guards. The agency is scheduled to provide $39 million worth of equipment, including bulldozers, armored trucks, graders, thermal imagers, patrol boats and concertina wire, Myers said.
“We don’t carry out military operations but we provide the tools so that our colleagues can,” he said in written testimony, listing some of the agency’s recent accomplishments.
Countering Emerging Threats
DTRA developed a massive ordnance penetrator called the MOP that’s designed to hit deeply buried targets. DTRA also provides U.S. Special Operations Command with counter-WMD tools and equipment.
“We are playing a leadership role in developing vaccines and therapeutics to battle Ebola and other infectious diseases,” Myers said.
The agency also is developing advanced situational awareness tools to help DoD stay ahead of emerging threats, he said, and enhancing the capabilities of partners and allies who work alongside the United States to counter WMD.
In his remarks to the panel, Eric Rosenbach, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, said the state of the world today makes it increasingly likely that a state or a nonstate actor could use a weapon of mass destruction.
With that in mind, he said, “it literally is the top priority of DoD and the U.S. government to try to prevent an attack like this from happening.”
Strategy to Counter WMD
Last June the Defense Department issued a new whole-of-government Strategy to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction, Rosenbach said in written testimony, “to reflect our evolving thinking and ensure that all our components are focused on the same lines of effort, objectives and supporting activities.”
The strategy describes three approaches in countering WMD, he added — preventing acquisition, containing and reducing threats, and responding to crises.
Rosenbach said the last element of the strategy focuses on activities and operations for managing and resolving complex WMD crises.
“This goal involves either taking kinetic action against hostile nonstate actors who acquire WMD … and who we must assume would be prepared to use them,” he said, “or ensuring that we and our partners are prepared to mitigate the effects of any WMD use or spread of an infectious disease … to ensure the homeland remains safe and our operations abroad can continue.”
Reducing Incentives to Acquire WMD
The strategy, Rosenbach said, also set the following supporting objectives:
- Reducing incentives to acquire, possess and employ WMD
- Increasing barriers to WMD acquisition, proliferation and use
- Managing WMD risks from hostile, fragile or failed states and safe havens
- Denying the effects of current and emerging WMD threats through layered, integrated defenses
In his remarks to subcommittee members, Dr. Chris Hassell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, explained that chemical and biological threats are dynamic and threaten U.S. troops and allies, and civilians around the world.
Hassell oversees, integrates and coordinates the DoD Chemical and Biological Defense Program in cooperation with the secretary of the Army as executive agent, he added.
Chemical and Biological Defense
Chemical and Biological Defense Program components include the Joint Staff J-8 Joint Requirements Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, DTRA’s Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, and the Chemical and Biological Defense Test and Evaluation Executive, which establishes test policy and standards, the deputy assistant secretary said in written testimony.
The program conducts research and develops technologies for a range of chemical defense capabilities, Hassell said, including detection, medical countermeasures, decontamination and protection.
Recent CBDP accomplishments include advancing characterization and toxicity estimates, advancing information that supports improved detection, transitioning decontamination efforts up to advanced development, and transitioning enhanced medical countermeasures, he added.
The program also supports interagency efforts to develop nontraditional agent defense capabilities and has created mechanisms, networks and processes in which data and information is shared across DoD and the interagency.
Countering Biological Threats
To counter biological threats, Hassel said, vaccinations are available to prevent disease caused by two of the leading biological warfare threats, anthrax and smallpox.
“DoD continues to make progress on more vaccine candidates for plague, botulinum toxins, Ebola and Marburg viruses, ricin and equine encephalitis viruses,” he added, “and nerve-agent pretreatments.”
In 2012 the White House released a National Strategy for Biosurveillance, and today CBDP is developing enhanced and integrated biosurveillance systems, Hassell said, adding that they are composed of research, development and acquisition efforts supporting improved environmental detection systems, rapid medical diagnosis, and integrated information systems.
Through fiscal year 2015, for example, the Joint U.S. Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition advanced technology demonstration, known as JUPITR, will provide specific detection and analysis capabilities to address the need for biosurveillance on the Korean Peninsula, Hassell said.
The Most Intractable Problem
JUPITR “will enhance the ability of U.S. Forces Korea and the Republic of Korea to respond to biological threats,” he added.
For the force as a whole, Hassell said, his office has determined that the threat of undetected attacks is one of CBDP’s most intractable problems.
Detecting, identifying and attributing attacks are significant technological challenges, he said, and detection capability to prevent contamination is elusive, particularly for biological threats.
“While an improved detect-to-treat capability is showing promise, the window for early detection and warning to prevent casualties requires continued dedicated efforts,” Hassell said.
“As a result,” he added, “we are pursuing vaccines and therapeutics for the most dangerous threats that we currently cannot detect in adequate time to warn the warfighter to take other protective measures.”
Article by Cheryl Pellerin, Defense Media Activity, edited for context and format. Image courtesy of DTRA.