The U.S. Must Urgently Address Disparities Between Current CWMD Capabilities, Capacities, and Future Preparedness Strategies


By BG (Ret.) William King

The recent release of the U.S. National Biological Defense and Pandemic Preparedness Strategy and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) has revealed shortcomings in the country’s current operational capabilities and capacities. Therefore, a new management approach is needed.

The CWMD mission must deter attacks from those possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), prevent acquisition by those seeking WMDs, and respond to chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear WMD attacks. Since no single U.S. Government department, agency or partner has all the capabilities, authorities, information, or capacity to execute this mission, a support construct that improves enhanced situational awareness, knowledge management, synchronization, coordination, communication, and integration across the U.S. Government has immense potential to reduce the disparities and improve overall effectiveness. 

Improving planning and synchronization through sophisticated data analytics and tailored decision tools would benefit organizations such as U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Under the Unified Campaign Plan, USSOCOM is responsible for coordinating and synchronizing the DoD CWMD mission, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the policy and acquisition offices in the Office of the Secretary of Defense responsible for CWMD, the Joint Staff, as well as offices at the State, Department of Homeland Security, and the 17 other departments and agencies with CWMD responsibilities. Synchronized DoD and interagency strategies and plans would facilitate the development of integrated operational capabilities and capacities with clear situational communication to the National Command Authorities and Congress.

During the next few years, the CWMD mission will face even more complex trans-regional challenges that demand coordinated, integrated solutions and specialized expertise at the echelons of authority. To minimize the risk of the threats of this critical mission area, a “team of teams” approach consisting of trained and experienced subject matter experts supporting the entire U.S. Government and population must be formed, focused, and ready to execute the necessary strategy, operations, intelligence, and logistics. This renewed approach must also include fully integrated and synchronized parallel efforts from U.S. allies and partners.

As demonstrated in the U.S. COVID-19 response, significant active and sustained coordination is critically required across the full U.S. Government to effectively and efficiently address and support the complexity of the CWMD mission and mitigate the impact of real WMD events. This sustained, consistent coordination must scale across all 19 departments and agencies with CWMD responsibilities to improve readiness, reduce duplication of efforts, build situational awareness and knowledge, and solidify authorities. Forums and publications like CBNW Magazine are critical to improving this communication and increasing knowledge of common operational practices.

BG (Ret.) William King has served in a wide variety of command, leadership, and staff positions across numerous levels of the U.S. Army, Joint Task Forces, Regional Commands, and most recently as the Commanding General of 20th CBRNE Command before retiring on July 19, 2017, with 30+ years of active-duty U.S. Army service. Today he is a Principal/Director at Booz Allen Hamilton, responsible for developing the market for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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