US military at pivotal moment for biodefense, review warns
The U.S. military faces an acute threat from foreign adversaries who are developing advanced biological weapons programs and must act urgently to counteract growing threats in the biodefense sphere, a new Pentagon report warns.
The “Biodefense Posture Review,” released Thursday, says the U.S. can become more prepared by enhancing early warning systems for biological weapons threats, preparing its military forces better and speeding up responses to mitigate the impact of such threats.
The Pentagon said it is already working to address the concerns by increasing collaboration across the military and Defense Department’s civilian structures to bolster biodefense capabilities.
One key solution outlined in the report, which has already been implemented, is the establishment of the Biodefense Council. The council will work to advise and synchronize a stronger approach to biodefense.
Deborah Rosenblum, the assistant secretary of defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, said the U.S. faces “an unprecedented number of complex biological threats.”
“This review outlines significant reforms and lays the foundation for a resilient total force that deters the use of bioweapons, rapidly responds to natural outbreaks, and minimizes the global risk of laboratory accidents,” Rosenblum said in a statement.
The report was ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in 2021 following the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus, which had a powerful impact on the U.S. military along with the rest of the world.
The virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19, Sars-CoV-2, emerged from Wuhan, China, although its origins are unclear. Experts have theorized it may have come from a live animal market in the city or from a research lab.
U.S. officials warned that North Korea and Russia maintain “offensive” biological weapons programs that violate the international Biological Weapons and Toxins Convention (BWC), which has been ratified by nearly every country in the world.
Both countries, along with China and Iran, likely also maintain the ability to deploy “traditional pathogens and toxins” that could be highly infectious and spread rapidly across the globe, according to the report. It also says the risk of accidental contagious threats is increasing with the number of laboratories worldwide conducting high-risk research.
U.S. officials examined biodefense threats through 2035 and advised modernization efforts across the Pentagon and military forces to address them.
One way to do so is to shore up domestic production to be less reliant on global supply chains that can be rattled by a pandemic, the report says. Other recommendations include increasing medical research and development against infectious diseases and incorporating biothreat planning into Defense Department exercises.
According to the Pentagon, the Under Secretaries of Defense for Policy and Acquisition and Sustainment led the report with assistance across the board from the Defense Department.
John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for Space Policy, said in a statement that the goal is to “deter biological weapons threats” and to understand how to “operate in contaminated environments” if needed.
“As biological threats become more common and more consequential,” Plumb said, the reforms outlined in the report will “strengthen collaboration with allies and partners.”