Taking On The Threat of WMDs

A new partnership between U.S. Strategic Command and the University of Nebraska is pushing the envelope to address what Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Stratcom’s commander, calls one of the most pervasive threats to the United States: weapons of mass destruction.

Army Staff Sgt. Maliek Kearney and Army Sgt. Danielle Doucette transfer a sample of simulated nuclear fallout as Ruth Anne Sorter from the Department of Energy looks on during the Prominent Hunt exercise in Indiana that helped test the Defense Department’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enterprise. (U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Carol McClelland )

Army Staff Sgt. Maliek Kearney and Army Sgt. Danielle Doucette transfer a sample of simulated nuclear fallout as Ruth Anne Sorter from the Department of Energy looks on during the Prominent Hunt exercise in Indiana that helped test the Defense Department’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enterprise. (U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Carol McClelland )

Kehler, who’s been tasked by President Barack Obama under the unified command plan to lead the Defense Department’s efforts to combat WMDs, championed the first university-affiliated research center to be sponsored by a combatant command.

Stratcom entered into a five-year contract with the University of Nebraska in late September, establishing the 13th UARC within the Defense Department. All are committed to cutting-edge research in some of the most challenging areas confronting the United States, explained Evan J. Hoapili, Stratcom’s deputy director of capabilities and resource integration.

“The purpose of a UARC is to focus a high-level, world-class research university on a specific, enduring, technical hard problem.”

“The idea is to create a continuity of research and focus and generate out-of-the-box thinking to solve a problem that is vexing the department,” Hoapili told American Forces Press Service.

Stratcom selected the University of Nebraska for the coveted UARC contract, based on its existing research programs at its National Strategic Research Institute, Hoapili said.

The UARC, he said, will invite the best and brightest minds to delve into nuclear forensics, ways to detect biological, chemical and nuclear threats, passive defense against weapons of mass destruction, and consequence management.

Collaborating with other research institutions, University of Nebraska researchers will explore areas ranging from new ways to identify a WMD aboard a container ship without slowing down the entire delivery network to ways to make the human body more resistant to chemical or biological agents, Hoapili said. They also will investigate faster, more effective decontamination methods in the event of an attack.

The research will extend to laws governing space, cyberspace and telecommunications — other key areas within Stratcom’s area of responsibility.

“These are big, technical problems. If you solve any one of these, it will be a huge difference for the department, and frankly, for the security of the United States,” Hoapili said.

The outcome, he said, could lead to breakthroughs in areas that top the agenda, not just at Stratcom and the Defense Department, but across the U.S. interagency, particularly at the departments of Homeland Security and Energy.

A Stratcom-led executive steering committee that oversees the UARC includes representatives from several agencies. This helps synchronize counter-WMD efforts across the government and brings different perspectives, expertise and revenue sources to the challenge, Hoapili said.

“The beauty of the UARC is that it enables you to synergize the efforts across all these different departments … into an integrated effort that is focused on the right problem set,” he said. “Ultimately, what we hope to come up with are the most-efficient, cost-effective ways of detecting, eliminating and mitigating weapons of mass destruction.”

But Hoapili emphasized that Stratcom’s partnership with the University of Nebraska will extend long beyond the initial contract. The hope, he said, is that the UARC will spawn researchers who commit themselves to the challenge over the long term, either through government service or through research efforts that support DOD.

“These are problems that aren’t going to go away, and the department recognizes that it is going to be with us for decades, if not forever” he said. “So we want to build an enduring enterprise, and to grow a cadre of researchers, professors, students and PhD candidates all focused on what is possible in dealing with the gravest threat to the United States.”

Kehler told Congress earlier this month he’s excited about the new partnership.

“One of my highest priorities, in addition to securing and reducing dangerous materials, is acquiring the capabilities to monitor and track lethal agents and their means of delivery, and defeating or responding to the use of these weapons,” he told the House and Senate armed services committees.

“The UARC will help address these challenges by providing unique access to academic perspectives and research methods not currently found anywhere in DOD to engage current and future counter-WMD challenges.”

University-affiliated laboratories have been conducting research and development for the U.S. military for the past six decades. DOD launched the first UARCs in 1996, to maintain essential engineering and technology capabilities required by the department.

“UARCs have changed the nature of their problem set. They are pushing the envelope, and I expect the same out of this one,” Hoapili said. “I can’t predict where it will go, but I know it is the right way to go.”

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

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