By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
July 28, 2009 - The Defense Department boasts the world's strongest ability to respond to chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction, a top Pentagon official said today. Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities, Paul Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland security, discussed the U.S. capabilities in responding to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives, or CBRNE.
"[The Defense Department's] CBRNE response capabilities are the best funded, best equipped, and best trained in the world," Stockton said in prepared testimony submitted to Congress. "During the past eight years, [the department] has developed a wide range of CBRNE response capabilities and has trained to employ these capabilities rapidly in support to civil authorities to help save lives."
Among National Guard units, the department has developed civil support teams in each state and territory that are prepared to respond in the instance of an attack by a weapon of mass destruction, Stockton said.
The department also is establishing three federal response units designed to assist civil authorities in the aftermath of a mass attack. Additionally, other federal forces are at the defense secretary's disposal -- special units such as Army technical escort battalions, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's consequence advisory teams that can provide unique technical support.
"As well, general purpose forces can assist with transportation, medical support, logistics support, evacuation, damage assessment and security," Stockton added. "If necessary, the president has the authority to order up active duty members and units of the reserve components for up to 365 days to assist in responses to CBRNE threats or attacks."
Appearing alongside Stockton at the hearing was Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, who spoke about Northcom's role regarding mass weapons attacks.
"The employment of a large-scale [CBRNE] device in the homeland has the potential to incur significant loss of life, cause mass panic, inflict large-scale physical and economic damage, and present consequence management challenges greater than those resulting from previous disasters," he said in a prepared statement. "Accordingly, Northcom must anticipate the full spectrum of CBRNE incidents that could occur domestically."
Renuart has previously said that anticipating threats is the key to readiness. When he took over Northcom's reins two years ago, he modified the command's mission statement to reflect this notion.
"When I took command, I added one word to the mission statement, and it was 'anticipate,'" Renuart said in a speech last month. "And it forces you to think differently about planning, preparation and prevention. It forces you to think about resiliency."
Northcom, which was established about a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is responsible for an area of operations that includes the United States, Canada and Mexico. It serves as a "one-stop-shopping" point for military support in case of an attack on American soil.