Set against a backdrop of intensifying conflicts in the Middle East, including sarin and chlorine chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians and the worst Ebola outbreak on record, spending on CBRN equipment, defence programmes and training is set to expand. As before, the US leads the way in CBRN procurement – but spending has been affected by cuts, sequestration, and pressure to embark on further military deployments – most notably, operations against Islamic State, which from August to October 2014 totalled at least $780 million.

Nevertheless, the 2010-2014 Homeland Security Threat Assessment still maintains CBRN attacks as the most dangerous threats facing the US homeland and overseas assets and the Obama administration has said it is committed to accelerating spending on CBRN programmes. From $5.5 billion in 2013, the US market for CBRN defence (detection, protection, decontamination, disposal and simulation) by the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Homeland Security is due to grow, albeit slightly and ever-prone to change and events, at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 0.8% to reach $5.9 billion by 2023. Procurement is also not only specific for CBRN, but also for Hazmat and disasters which come under the umbrella of ‘all-hazards response’, such as bioterror

The CBRN Defence Market 2013-2023. North America was expected to account for the largest share of the market during the forecast period, with a global market share of 53%.
The CBRN Defence Market 2013-2023. North America was expected to account for the largest share of the market during the forecast period, with a global market share of 53%.

mitigation infrastructure to contain pandemic disease outbreaks, and first-responder command control and communication systems to respond to natural disasters as well as terrorist events.

Chemical and Biological Defense Program

The Department of Defense (DoD) Chemical and Biological Defense Program (CBDP) invests in MCMs (medical countermeasures) for protection of military personnel, diagnostics, biosurveillance, and non-traditional agent and emerging threats. Examples of recent DoD contracts include a $2.2 million award by the CBDP Biosurveillance Management Office for Illumina, Inc. to provide 13 sequencing systems that can rapidly confirm threat identification, characterize novel threats, and monitor genetic variation in known pathogens. Earlier in 2014 Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque NM awarded a sole source contract to MRI Company to provide the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) with 1,200 sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) single-use overgarments, hoods and footwear, chiefly to protect against particulate radiation.

Preparing for the aftermath of a CBRN event is high priority for US homeland security research (HLS) policy. Spending on CBRN and HAZMAT decontamination technologies rose from $0.8 billion in 2009 to $1.45 billion in 2014. More than$2.7 billion was earmarked for procurement and advanced development of CBRN and pandemic influenza medical countermeasures.

Shortcomings in civilian procurement

US military units participating in exercises and show demonstrations still tend to field more technically advanced CBRN equipment than their civilian counterparts. They also have greater knowledge about CBRN manufacturing companies, possibly due to a tighter chain of command, and the “tighter link” to the units in the field enjoyed by senior DoD procurement officials, according to Director of military programmes and business development for Immediate Response Technologies,Gary L. Hall. He also says civilian CBRN/health care organizations need to establish closer ties with CBRN medical units and with the National Guard WMD Civil Support Teams (CSTs), and Fatality Search and Rescue Teams. The WMD CSTs in particular procure and maintain state-of-the-art equipment and highly trained personnel for gold-standard CBRN response and are located throughout the US.

Hall also noted that equipment for hospitals, such as life sustaining systems, had been purchased through larger organizations at the county and state level with had little or no knowledge of what companies could additionally provide them. For CBRN needs for civilian facilities, the industry needed to work more closely with county and state organizations in the US and develop relationships with the end users – fire departments, EMS units and hospitals.

Funding for Ebola

A technician at Applied Diagnostics Branch, US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory as part of vaccine research.  ©US Army/Dr. Randal J. Schoepp
A technician at Applied Diagnostics Branch, US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory as part of vaccine research.
©US Army/Dr. Randal J. Schoepp

And what of funding for Ebola preparedness, following reported failures to treat safely and effectively the first cases to emerge on US soil? The DoD has earmarked $750 million for Army assistance in the affected West African countries for six months from September, including construction of seven testing labs and 17 treatment facilities by mid-November 2014. Additionally, $311 million is for purchase of PPE, disease detection and response, community health workers and other anti-Ebola MCM. Joint Biological Agent Identification and Diagnostic System kits – haemorrhagic fever assays – have been deployed to National Guard units in all 50 states.

But federal home spending on Ebola R & D vaccines and treatments has declined – from a total of $59 million in 2006 to $42.5 million in 2013. Vaccine funding also fell by 50% from FY 2010 to $17.2 million in 2013. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director, Francis Collins, told The Huffington Post in October that the NIH had been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001, and that researchers and doctors would likely have been “a year or two ahead of where we are had research funding stayed on track… It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here.’”

The NIH total budget rose 7.7% to $29.3 billion in fiscal 2013 from $27.2 billion a decade earlier but the figure for 2013 was less than for 2012 as due to sequestration, spending was cut by 5.2%. As usual, it’s political – Republicans claim credit for boosting the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2013 while Democrats counter that the Republican-controlled House is behind cuts to the NIH. Budgets for the CDC and health research have actually stalled or have been reduced slightly as House Republicans forced cuts to domestic budgets.Annual funding for the CDC public-health preparedness and response programmes was $1 billion less in fiscal 2013 than it was in 2002 – the year after the anthrax mailing attacks, when CBRN warnings were at their height. Now another serious medical crisis has reared its ugly head and unlike anthrax, is infectious – a further peak in funding is likely but against a background of recession, cuts, and further US military and homeland security commitments.