Pentagon Faces Budget Cuts in Combating Biological, Chemical Warfare

DoD report warns cutbacks hurt efforts to thwart increasingly severe, widespread threats

U.S. and South Korean Army soldiers participate in training exercise in South Korea, Thursday, May 16, 2013 / AP
• August 15, 2016 5:00 am


The Pentagon’s efforts to defeat chemical and biological threats at home and abroad are being hindered by budget cuts, according to an agency report made public last week.

The "variety, origin, and severity" of chemical and biological threats facing the Defense Department are compounding as its resources to fight them are constrained, the Pentagon wrote in an annual report to Congress assessing the agency’s readiness to operate during a conflict where chemical and biological weapons are used.

"The DoD faces [chemical and biological] threats that are complex, diverse, and pose enduring risks to the Joint Force and Homeland," stated the June report, which was obtained on Thursday by the Federation of American Scientists through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"The variety, origin, and severity of these threats continues to grow while resources shrink. The DoD protects U.S. Forces against weaponized [chemical and biological] agents and emerging threats using an integrated, layered defense and a risk-informed approach."

The report specifically focused on the Pentagon’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program, or CBDP, which conducts research and develops technology to help U.S. forces mitigate and prevent threats and effects from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons and materials.

The report highlighted the program’s accomplishments during fiscal year 2015, but also warned that its efforts are being hindered by budget reductions. The program, for example, worked on developing kits for the Army containing equipment to detect and identify chemical and biological warfare agents as well as protective gear and decontamination capabilities. It also conducted research and development in response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

"Reduced defense spending will constrain the ability of the CBDP to develop, procure, and sustain Joint Service priority capabilities that improve the ability of the Warfighter to counter [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear] threats," the Pentagon wrote in the report. "The combination of evolving [chemical and biological] threats, reduced budgets, and uncertain fiscal futures forces the [CBDP] to focus its limited resources to address the highest priorities and greatest risks."

"This environment translates into increasingly complex program management decisions with no margins for error due to a lack of sufficient and predictable resources," the report continued. "The [Chemical and Biological Defense Program] relies on a highly specialized base of expertise to research, develop, test, evaluate, acquire, field, train, and maintain the capabilities to counter current and emerging threats."

The Pentagon said that keeping information on these threats and developing new technologies to counter them "has become increasingly difficult as resources have declined and government technical positions have become less attractive for recruiting."

The program’s budget has been slashed by relatively small but consistent amounts over the last few years. The program lost roughly $100 million in funding between fiscal years 2014 and 2016 and is currently operating on a $1 billion budget, according to Defense Department budget records. Defense spending has been consistently reduced for several years under the Obama administration.

The international community has long prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons. Insurgent groups and rogue states, however, have continued to turn to them.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people during the ongoing five-year civil war in Syria. The Islamic State terror group, which is responsible for large-scale attacks in the Middle East, Paris, and elsewhere, has also aggressively tried to develop chemical weapons. ISIS militants used mustard gas on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, where the group holds territory.

U.S. special operators captured an ISIS militant earlier this year who previously worked as a chemical and biological weapons specialist for Saddam Hussein’s regime, NBC News reported in March. The Pentagon has sent hundreds of U.S. special operations forces to Iraq and Syria to assist local forces fighting the terror group in both countries.