Agency Spotlight:

Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction

Amid growing concerns about the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the Pentagon has created an organization under Strategic Command to coordinate and expedite government responses to WMD attacks around the world.

As it gains staff and experience, the Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction will take on a more proactive role, seeking to prevent attacks involving nuclear, chemical and biological weapons around the world.

Conceived in 2005 and activated earlier this year, the center brings together the various WMD offices within the military as well as those in civilian agencies such as the departments of Energy and State, according to U.S. Navy Rear Adm. William Loeffler, deputy director of the new organization.

“I wouldn’t say there was confusion before, but there was not as much coordination as there is now,” Loeffler said in a June 14 interview. Loeffler described the center as the “nexus” within the U.S. government for addressing WMD-related issues.

The center is equivalent to and falls under the same umbrella as the Joint Functional Component Commands created by Strategic Command in 2005, but carries a different designation because it is headed by a civilian official, Loeffler said.

The center is led by James Tegnelia, who also serves as the director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The two organizations are co-located at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, and that arrangement has helped mitigate perceptions of the center as the “new kid in town” in dealing with other government agencies, Loeffler said. It also helps the center take advantage of the research and development work under way at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, he added .

In testimony before the House Armed Services terrorism and unconventional threats subcommittee April 5, Tegnelia said the center supports Strategic Command by identifying potential WMD attacks and developing procedures for timely coordinated responses. The center also identifies future needs and makes suggestions to the commander of Strategic Command to advocate for those capabilities, he said.

The Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction currently is staffed by about 30 military and civilian employees, Loeffler said. Most are located at Fort Belvoir, but a small component is stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to serve as liaisons with staff at Strategic Command headquarters, he said.

Staffing is one of the center’s current constraints , Loeffler said. The center would like to be able to play a more active role in monitoring proliferation and heading off attacks, but is limited in its ability at this time by its personnel level, he said.

Currently, the center can continuously monitor the globe using satellites and other information sources for WMD attacks, provide an impact analysis if an attack takes place and respond immediately, he said.

As the center approaches its planned full-staffing level of around 130 in 2008, it will be able to play a more proactive role in thwarting attacks before they take place, Loeffler said. The center is working to improve its ability to keep tabs on countries or groups that are trying to acquire or spread WMD capabilities, he said.

“We want to anticipate problems to stay inside an adversary’s decision cycle,” Loeffler said.

In the event of a WMD attack, the center would work with U.S. forces in the area to direct a response and determine the likely number of casualties , Loeffler said.

The WMD center works closely with Strategic Command’s various Joint Functional Component Commands , Loeffler said. Having all of those organizations reporting to Strategic Command helps them cut through bureaucratic boundaries that may have existed previously , he said.

The center and the Joint Functional Component Commands worked well together during Global Lightening 2006, which wrapped up in April, Loeffler said. The Global Lightening exercise takes place annually and is intended to examine how Strategic Command’s components work together to deter attacks against the United States.

The center took place in the Global Lightening exercise last year before it was declared operational, but it was so new at the time that the exercise was not designed with as heavy a focus on WMDs as it was this year, Loeffler said.

Loeffler said the center will participate in future exercises with military organizations as well as other executive branch agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State and Department of Energy, or foreign military and government agencies as directed.

The center works particularly closely with the Joint Functional Component Command for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, which is co-located with the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon to take advantage of sensor data, Loeffler said.

The U.S. Air Force’s GPS navigation satellites carry nuclear-detonation detection sensors, and the infrared sensors aboard the Pentagon’s missile warning satellites also could detect such blasts. Space-based sensors also play a role in identifying facilities that are or could be used to produce WMD.

Loeffler acknowledged that satellites play a crucial role in the WMD center’s mission, but declined to specify details due to sensitivity.

Other sensor platforms that are valuable in addressing the WMD threat include unmanned aerial vehicles, Loeffler said.

In written testimony submitted to the House Armed Services Committee, Tegnelia said the center is examining the possibility of outfitting unmanned aerial vehicles with sensors that can detect chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and may demonstrate this capability in 2007 in an exercise with U.S. Pacific Command.