- The Department of Defense unveiled a new strategy to supercharge troops’ immune systems against a seemingly unlimited array of chemical and biological threats.
- Defense leaders say that not only has the threat of state-backed bioweapons increased, but naturally occurring pathogens, such as COVID-19, can cripple the force.
- “We may be entering a renewed era where nation state [biological warfare] threats will reemerge,” Gerald Parker, associate dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Department of Defense (DOD) launched a new strategy aimed at making those who serve in the armed forces impervious to every conceivable chemical or biological threat, according to a strategy document released Tuesday.
Recent technological advances mean DOD’s past strategy of developing individual preventative measures or cures for each known chemical or biological threat is no longer realistic, according to the document. Instead, DOD’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program (CBDP) will focus on finding ways to engineer servicemembers’ immune systems with catch-all vaccines, therapeutics and equipment that can handle a seemingly endless landscape of chemical and biological threats, including ones that aren’t directly the result of weapons programs, Politico first reported.
“We may be entering a renewed era where nation state [biological warfare] threats will reemerge,” Gerald Parker, a former deputy assistant secretary for CBDP and associate dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. (RELATED: US Army Explains How To Respond When A Soldier Questions Showering With ‘A Female Who Has Male Genitalia’)
“There is also an expansion of high containment labs worldwide with ready access to powerful new technologies, increasing the risk of accidental and deliberate outbreaks, even pandemics,” he added.
CBDP will “leverage” existing relationships with pharmaceutical companies to fast-track development of immunization technologies, each of which can protect troops against multiple viruses, the Pentagon strategy states.
One thread of prevention DOD is developing looks to “modulate the immune system” through six different metabolic pathways, according to Politico. Researchers are also looking into monoclonal antibodies, a COVID-19 remedy, for three distinct groups of viruses.
The new approach will address “many bugs” with “one drug,” Parker explained to the DCNF, calling it a “step in the right direction” toward guarding the force from pathogens and maintaining troops’ readiness to jump into action whenever they are called upon.
The strategy mimics how former President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed provided funding and eased regulatory requirements to hasten discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine, experts told the DCNF.
“In a response preparedness posture, we need to invest in unique medical infrastructure designed to rapidly produce new vaccines and drugs, and leverage existing medical infrastructure by adapting them to target new agents quickly,” Kevin Wingerd, CBDP’s medical director, said in a release.
DOD is also exploring wearable devices that can monitor vital signs, such as blood oxygen and heart rate, of troops in the field and generate a diagnosis when a pathogen, chemical or biological, attacks, Politico reported.
I want to echo @DepSecDef‘s thanks to our troops.
Let’s also recognize @DeptofDefense‘s heroic contributions to Operation Warp Speed, which – under General Perna’s leadership – developed, produced, and delivered three COVID vaccines in record time, saving millions of lives. https://t.co/I3mjumUqlB
— Sen. Jim Inhofe (@JimInhofe) April 2, 2022
The Pentagon’s massive expansion of its program to counter chemical and biological weapons grew in part out of the COVID-19 virus’ rapid spread around the globe, highlighting both the potential for non-weaponized agents to weaken the military at a large scale and DOD’s role in developing a countermeasure, the Pentagon said.
“DOD was essential to Operation Warp Speed’s success,” Parker said.
Researchers disagree whether the COVID-19 originated in a lab or could have a dual use in Chinese military research, but the virus nevertheless put a U.S. Navy vessel virtually out of commission in March 2020, Politico reported.
“An adversary might think about using that to their advantage,” Peter Brooks, a weapons of mass destruction expert at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF.
Major U.S. adversaries have stockpiled pharmaceutical-based agents that are easy to conceal and difficult to contain, experts warned. China’s ramped up fentanyl industry is already contributing to an opioid crisis in the U.S., but analysts are worried Beijing could use the drug in a widespread attack, according to Politico.
Russia has also developed and deployed the nerve agent Novichok in multiple assassination attempts in recent years, and officials worry Russia may use similar weapons if its war in Ukraine turns south.
“Instead of just dealing with one specific number of threats, they’re worried that some of these threats have actually changed because of biotechnology capabilities,” Brooks said.
The U.S. is closely monitoring chemical and biological weapons programs in China and Russia, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a briefing Tuesday.
DOD has budgeted $1.3 billion over the next five years to work out the strategy, Ian Watson, deputy assistant secretary for CBDP, told Politico.
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