Researching Tomorrow's Chem-Bio Defense


Chem_tech This is part three of my investigation of the DOD Chemical Biological Defense Program (CBDP) budget for FY2008. Today, we invade the lair of the research and development community. Sixty-one percent of the R&D budget for next year ($610 million) is in budget activities 6.1 through 6.3, what is called science and technology or the tech base. Not much happens in here other than applied research into potential technologies that might develop into a practical application - someday. And that pays for a lot of scientists' salaries. The other 39 percent is advanced development (about $380 million), budget activities 6.4 and 6.5. These funds are used to prove that prototypes work and that a given project is ready for manufacture and fielding.

I'm going to talk about the advanced development funds first, because it's easier to explain. The medics will develop biological vaccines to counter plague and botulinum toxin ($40 million and $19 million respectively). We might see a fielded plague vaccine in 2010 - maybe. Don't count on a bot tox vaccine prior to 2015. Nearly $70 million is going to the Transformational Medical Technologies Initiative (TMTI). Although the project is supposed to be focused on far future "silver bullets" for BW threats, for some reason, DOD will start spending advanced development funds next year. On what, I have no idea, since the investigational part has barely started in the tech base. I'm not sure DOD knows what they'll be doing either - it's been more of a "here, take this $2 billion and put it to work with industry" kind of affair. Ready, fire, aim.

Medical chemical research funding is about one fourth of that of med bio research funding. The $36 million is being split nearly equally on an advanced anticonvulsant system, a nerve agent bioscavenger, and an improved nerve agent treatment system. There's about $7 million being spent at AFRRI for medical radiological countermeasures. This is a new area - previous to 2007, the CBDP really didn't want to do med rad countermeasures. Then Dale Klein (from DOE) decided that the CBDP might want to think about being a CBRN Defense Program. Hasn't completely happened yet, in part because the Air Force and Navy really don't want to do joint radiological programs, and there is so much medical radiological research already going on outside of the program.

The tech base for medical accounts for 42 percent of the R&D budget. There's nearly $250 million being spent in the TMTI program, $85.7 million spent on biological defense research, and $62 million being spent on chemical defense research. Don't ask me what they spend it on. Lots of drug discovery efforts, studies on how things work in the body, potential pre- and post-treatment therapies. I'm not a medical guy, and tech base is frankly a lot of small, high risk projects, many of which aren't successful. It's not DARPA-like, but it's not uncommon to see a project go for 3-4 years before being terminated if it isn't leading anywhere.

On the non-medical side, about 13 percent of the R&D funds goes to advanced development projects. Detection projects make up 4.5 percent ($45 million) of the R&D funds. In biodetection, most funds are going to the development of critical reagents for biological detection ($10 million) and development of a tactical (man-portable) biological agent detector ($3 million). I'm not enamored of a Joint Biological Tactical Detector System (JBTDS). The warfighters want a bio equivalent to the automatic chemical detectors, refusing to listen to the analysts quietly pointing out that chemical hazards are somewhat different acting than biological hazards. The requirements guys have ignored the challenge of managing the analysis of thousands of liquid samples every week if this system were to be fielded.

On the chemical detection side, DOD is spending $12 million on continued R&D for the Joint Chemical Agent Detector (yes, even as it is being fielded, there's still significant R&D tweaking going on). About the same is being spent on the joint reconnaissance systems, probably tests and evaluations. A few million being spent on the agent water monitor system. There's really not a lot of new R&D being spent in CB detection, largely in part that we've got good systems out there, and there are few potential future technologies to reach out toward.

Individual protection R&D, funded at $12.5 million, is addressing the Joint Service Aircrew Mask, probably for final testing and approval prior to production. No R&D going to new suits or masks for the first time in a while, and is not expected for several years more (other than in the tech base). In part this is because (again) we have pretty good suits and masks, and there are no great leaps forward in this area. Also, the CBDP is being lazy and not really searching for what ought to be the next big idea in individual protection. We're stuck with hot suits and rubber masks. If something comes up, they'll move the money.

Collective protection has just one R&D project, the Joint Expeditionary Collective Protection project. This effort will field mobile field shelters and expedient shelters replacing... well, there is nothing out there right now for troops other than medics. There's $14 million going to that project, which is really a realigned effort from a former CP shelter project that crashed and burned when the users wouldn't back off their unrealistic demands on technology and engineering (we want it much smaller, with air conditioning, easy to transport... whine, whine). So we're trying again, and maybe we'll see some shelters in 3-4 years.

Decontamination projects have a big $9 million going to three sensitive decontamination projects: the sensitive equipment decon system, a platform interior decon system, and a human remains decon system. As I mentioned yesterday, the sensitive equipment decon project may be ready in 2010, and the interior decon (for inside vehicles) won't be ready prior to 2012. Right now, the only option to handle contaminated electronic equipment is to junk it. The last project, human remains decon, is a "special demand" by the medics and quartermasters. OSD wants to have the capability to decon contaminated corpses in such a manner that the bodies can 1) come home to Mom and Dad, and 2) be viewed in an open casket funeral. Really unreasonable demands, considering the bodies were formerly contaminated with CB warfare agents, but who ever said OSD leadership was reasonable? So the CBDP will buy some commercial technology and test it, field it in an effort to shut them up.

Information systems are actually getting the most R&D funds (after medical) at $48 million (nearly 5% of the R&D budget), going to the three projects mentioned yesterday - JEM, JOEF, and JWARN. The great thing about software projects is that they can always spend R&D funds to tweak their products, even after they've been fielded (as Microsoft can tell us). Nothing really sexy - it's the usual stuff. Improve the accuracy of how models demonstrate how CB hazards act in the real world, display the information on military communication systems, and include more medical and environmental data in the models. The tough part is, as ever, integrating CB hazard data into battlefield data without stalling communications.

Tech base for the nonmedical efforts are funded at $186 million - about half that of medical tech base (thanks to TMTI). I don't get much details from the tech base - again, it pays for 3-4 year long science projects that investigate various ways to improve the above capabilities. Standoff and point detection science gets the most (more than $40 million in 2008), with information systems getting $30 million and protection (individual and collective) getting $25 million. Decon sciences get less than $10 million, because there aren't a lot of new technologies there. Maybe $30 million for various science research projects aimed at finding out more about threat agents and other innovative research efforts.

The test and evaluation money ($67 million, a bit under 7 percent of the advanced R&D) is just going to building capabilities (buying equipment, outfitting buildings) to modernize the DOD's ability to... test and evaluate CB defense equipment (duh). Lots of money for Dugway, Edgewood, and a few other small T&E sites - special equipment, development of test methods, etc etc. Yawn. Has to be done, I guess, to ensure the equipment works as advertised.

That's about it. Not really sexy like the Missile Defense Agency. But then again, they have a few billion - several billion actually - more than the CBDP does. Again, more information on these R&D projects can be found in the OSD annual report to Congress on CB defense.

-- Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist Show Full Article

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