Pentagon official calls for Total Force focus on emerging biothreats

  • Published
  • By Joseph Clark
  • DOD News

The Defense Department has reached a pivotal point in responding to the quickly evolving biological threat landscape, a senior Pentagon official said Aug. 23.

Deborah G. Rosenblum, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, said the U.S. faces an unprecedented number of complex biological threats posed by near-peer competitors, non-state actors and naturally occurring pandemics that require an integrated, departmentwide focus.  

"These threats certainly impact the readiness and resilience of our military forces," Rosenblum said. "Biodefense is no longer something that's the purview of just specialized units who have traditionally been worried about these threats.  

"Integrated deterrence requires a combat-credible force," she continued. "And to be combat credible, the whole joint force must be capable of fighting through biothreats and being resilient." 

Earlier this month, the Pentagon released its inaugural Biodefense Posture Review which lays out key reforms aimed at positioning the department to counter biothreats through 2035.  

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III directed the comprehensive review in a 2021 memo outlining DOD's biodefense vision and providing direction for the department to ensure the military remains prepared to operate in a biothreat environment. 

The reforms outlined in the review call for enhanced early warning and understanding of emerging biothreats, improving the preparedness of the total force, speeding response to biothreats to mitigate their impact on DOD missions and improving strategic coordination and collaboration to enhance biodefense.  

The reforms will be initiated by the newly created biodefense council, chaired by William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment. 

The reforms also align with key National Defense Strategy priorities to defend the homeland against the multidomain pacing threat posed by the People's Republic of China, deter strategic attacks against the U.S. and its allies and build a resilient joint force.  

"The [Biodefense Posture Review] was built on the foundation laid out in the National Defense Strategy along with the National Biodefense Strategy, but it was also greatly informed by a number of lessons learned from the COVID-19 response," Rosenblum said during an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  

Rosenblum said that in addition to remaining focused on biological threats posed by near-peer competitors and nonstate actors, the U.S. must remain focused on emerging biotechnologies that could be incorporated into adversaries' future biological warfare programs. 

"We are at a pivotal point in biodefense," Rosenblum said. "We must maintain our momentum to prepare for any number of complex potential biological threats."