lack of Biowatch strategy sees further muddle

Following last weeks cancellation of Biowatch we thought we'd ask what the plan was now. Based on the response from DHS we are not sure there is much of one...

Last weeks cancellation of Biowatch was a further disappointment for a CBRN industry that has recently had to get used to diminishing grants and opportunities across the world. While we have not been major fans of Biowatch in the past we, unlike other media commentators, have more appreciation of how difficult bio detection is and how long it takes to get right. So consequently when Secretary Johnson cancelled Gen 3 we hoped that it might not be all bad news, and that someone there might be a ray of sunshine. Consequently we went digging in DHS press office to find out the answer to these questions:
What does the decision to kill Gen3 Biowatch mean for the project?
Is this a death knell to the current specific requirement, to the Conops or to the greater capability?
Will there now be a Gen3a, a Gen4 or will Gen2 remain the limit?
What happens to the costs for Gen2? As with any piece of technology the longer it is in service the greater the maintenance/replacement costs become, is there budget in Biowatch for these replacements, or will there need to be an increase requested?

What we received back from them was: “As Secretary Johnson has said during his confirmation and since taking office, he is focused on preserving frontline priorities across the Department by cutting costs, sharing resources across DHS components, and streamlining operations wherever possible. DHS will continue to make responsible investments in personnel, technology and asset recapitalization that are critical to ensuring our future security, while recognizing that difficult fiscal choices must be made. As part of this focus, DHS announced the cancellation of the BioWatch acquisition of autonomous detection technology (also known as Gen-3). DHS remains committed to the BioWatch program and will ensure that current BioWatch operations continue as part of our layered approach to biodefense. This decision is in line with the Department’s focus on efficiency, ensuring that we continue to pursue cost-effective acquisition without compromising our security.”

I would describe these as vague platitudes at best - who ever endorses non cost-effective acquisition? Considering that the Talent/Graham Report encouraged the belief in a biological attack in five years, and the level of investment that has already been made into Biowatch, either there is a threat or there isn't. If Biowatch Gen2 could do the task why did DHS bother with a Gen3, if it couldn't do the task why are they bothering to continue that budget stream?

Yes, yes, it is all a lot more complicated than that, but this is symptomatic of a trend: don't be surprised when Gen2 is quietly downscaled in some obscure piece of legislation in 18 months.

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