Efforts to prepare the U.S. military for a series of evolving threats to both the Warfighter and the nation at-large took center stage during the 2021 CBRN Defense Conference and Exhibition in Baltimore, Maryland from August 16-18. The event pulled together a number of key federal, industry, and academic sector partners to discuss the infrastructure and ideas required to maintain military safety and resiliency on the multi-domain battlefield.
“This is not a threat brief, but a reality check,” said Dan McCormick, Deputy Joint Program Executive Officer for Operations and Modernization for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, during the conference’s much-anticipated Acquisition Panel event on August 18. “The barrier of entry into this space [i.e., the use of chemical and biological agents] is coming down rapidly.”
Indeed, the majority of event’s sessions focused on the recent use of chemical agents across the globe and how the actors behind such incidents are adjusting to the ensuing response from world governments. As such, efforts to drive innovation on behalf of the Warfighter were also a central topic of conversation. Over the course of the three-day event, military leaders consistently implored attending industry partners to focus on the Warfighter directly when developing new materiel, noting that making the job of the Warfighter simpler and easier when responding to chemical, biological, and nuclear threats is a top goal of the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Moving forward, a lot of the things in the diagnostic area is – on the battlefield – what we want is something that can go as far forward as possible, and [also] detect sooner, diagnose sooner, so that you can treat sooner,” said Col. Ryan Eckmeier, the JPEO-CBRND’s Joint Project Manager for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Medical, during his portion of the aforementioned panel discussion.
That triple-pronged approach in respect to CBRN threat response – or rather; to protect, to understand, and to mitigate – are key tenets of the JPEO-CBRND’s concept of a “layered, integrated defense,” and serves as a primary gateway into understanding what drives staffers in terms of both scientific innovation and, also, developing the infrastructure required to accommodate and license new solutions quickly. Indeed, members of the JPEO-CBRND team stated that the overall U.S. response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic served as live-action case study in how to approach both a new threat and how to develop the proper mitigation tools and material.
“There’s no silver bullet, and so we feel the layered approach – one that focuses mainly on preparation, eventual response, and then recovery – is best,” said Stacey Shepherd, the JPEO-CBRND’s Acting Joint Project Manager for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Protection during statements delivered on August 18. “Our number one question is: what can we do to keep fighting?”
Said Eckmeier, noting the impact of the novel coronavirus on current research efforts, “The acute respiratory distress syndrome and the aerosolized exposure to almost any biological warfare threat is there, [and] so we’re learning a lot of that from COVID, and we’re finding different targets to go after to treat across the entire symptomology of that.”
To that end, the JPM CBRN Medical was notably instrumental in developing remdesivir, the broad-spectrum antiviral treatment used by the DOD in the pandemic’s early months to combat COVID-19 among Soldiers, by leveraging the organization’s many relationships across private industry and the federal workspace, such as the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command. As such, medications too fall under the JPEO-CBRND’s sprawling and increasingly globally-necessary portfolio. That makes for an organization with numerous immediate and long-term goals – both further refining modern protective gear and further developing emerging vaccines among them – as it keeps its eyes focused on an ever-evolving array of threats and potential adversaries.
“It’s about people and partnerships,” said Eckmeier in closing, addressing the need for a combined effort among all federal and industry entities to accomplish set goals. “No one does any of this alone.”