Biotechnology for the Battlefield: In Need of a Strategy

By Dr. Diane DiEuliis

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Biotechnology — a broad term used to describe technological innovation based on biology — has become an increasingly agile platform for developing new types of soldier enhancements. As such, the field offers novel opportunities for improving warfighter survivability on the battlefield. Despite recent developments, however, the Department of Defense has yet to strategically guide the development of these new technologies at the national level. Recently, War on the Rocks published an article outlining concerns about the lack of coordinated policy for developing synthetic biology – a branch of biotechnology – while preventing its misuse by adversaries. The article rightly pointed to the need to think strategically about the risk of proliferating synthetic biology capabilities, but this is only one part of the picture. Current national strategies encourage policymakers to view advances in biology through a narrow lens of risks to national security and the development of countermeasures to protect against those risks, which, while crucial, neglects the promise for using the same science to develop life-saving or other advanced tools for warfighters. The Pentagon’s current efforts to take advantage of synthetic biology as a platform for defense lack internal cohesion and external direction, and biological innovation faces further challenges given the absence of agile business models to fully harness emerging biotechnologies for the battlefield. Greater coordination between those in the Defense Department whose work relates to biotechnology and improved relationships with the private sector are important first steps toward using this burgeoning area of science not just to mitigate security risks, but also to benefit soldiers on the battlefield. READ MORE>>>