A critical mission of the Defense Department is to dissuade, deter
and defeat actors who threaten to use weapons of mass destruction
against the United States and its interests, four WMD experts told a
House Armed Services Committee panel.
Testifying before the HASC's subcommittee on intelligence and special
operations were: Jennifer C. Walsh, who is performing the duties of
undersecretary of defense for policy; Brandi C. Vann, acting assistant
secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense
programs; Navy Vice Adm. Timothy G. Szymanski, deputy commander of U.S.
Special Operations Command; and Rhys M. Williams, acting director of the
Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The hearing addressed DOD's fiscal
year 2022 budget request for counter-WMD, or CWMD, strategies, policies,
priorities, programs and state of readiness.
"[DOD] continues to improve its ability to dissuade, deter and defeat
these threats while maintaining the ability to respond to and mitigate
the effects of WMD use," Walsh emphasized. "We are taking action to meet
WMD challenges, and, as the nature of WMD threats is evolving, we know
we have more work to do."
DOD has three lines of effort to organize its WMD work to counter
such threats: prevent acquisition, contain and reduce threats, and
respond to crises, she added.
"As the department increases its focus on competition among great
powers, developing the capabilities necessary for us to fight and win in
a cyber-contested environment in those theaters becomes
critical," Walsh said.
"As administration officials direct and develop new national and
departmental strategy reviews and guidance documents, DOD's CWMD
stakeholders will be focused on addressing the dynamic CWMD threat and
ensuring that it gets space in [strategy reviews and guidance
documents], including posturing the department to mitigate biological
threats more effectively and improving readiness for … challenges in
Europe and Asia," she said.
Vann said the Nuclear Chemical and Biological Defense office,
including the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, is responsible for
ensuring the department maintains the capability and readiness to
counter WMD across the threat landscape. She also said NCD is aligning
to meet the direction given by the president's interim national
security, strategic guidance, and the secretary's priorities. "Our
efforts will enable us to close today's gaps rapidly, mitigate
vulnerabilities, anticipate emerging threats, and strengthen our
domestic and international partnerships," she said.
But the pace of technology continues to move faster and faster, Vann pointed out.
"As a result, the players on the world stage are shifting; the
conflict landscape is changing and so are the hazards that we all face
— making our jobs ever more complex," she told subcommittee members.
"Overcoming these changes and the emergence and reemergence of unique
[chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] threats requires the
department to first understand the emerging threats landscape and then
develop adaptive capabilities to respond to these threats as they arise.
In doing so, we can ensure that the joint force can fight and win in
CBRN-contested environments, prepare for surprises from emerging
threats, and reduce the risks that they pose."
Vann discussed modernizing the force, and she said fields such as
artificial intelligence, machine learning, additive manufacturing and
rapid medical countermeasure development provide an opportunity to adapt
DOD's defense capabilities quickly and effectively. "We should embrace
the technological revolution within the private sector and lead
game-changing technology advancements to ensure our warfighters are best
prepared for the future threat," she added.
"We will continue to remain behind the warfighter and ahead of the
threat to ensure joint forces' ability to survive, operate and
regenerate combat power in the future," Vann said.
"Clearly, WMD are complex transregional challenges that demand the
application of specialized expertise and authorities across our
government, as well as our foreign allies and partners," Szymanski
testified. "The Department of Defense plays a unique and critical
supporting role to our interagency colleagues, especially at the
departments of Energy, State, Treasury and Commerce [and] our law
enforcement entities to prevent and contain WMD threats, even as we
prepare to respond to WMD crises."
The vice admiral said U.S. Special Operations strives to improve its
methodology and ensure it provides timely, reliable, relevant and
actionable information to support senior department decision-making.
"Our aim is to better support senior leaders charged with employing our
joint force today, developing and preparing for tomorrow and helping to
design a military that is ready to fight and win against both current
and future web threats," Szymanski said.
"There are few greater challenges to U.S. national security than
those posed by WMD in emerging threats," Williams said. "As the
globalized threat landscape evolves, DTRA's uniquely skilled workforce
and robust, collaborative network of partners are ready to evolve with
it, continuing to safeguard the lives and interests of the United States
and our allies abroad."