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House Armed Services panel aims to bolster biomanufacturing

The Innovative Technologies Subcommittee wants to use biotechnology to develop materials with military applications

Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin chairs the House Armed Services panel on innovative technologies.
Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin chairs the House Armed Services panel on innovative technologies. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Armed Services Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems Subcommittee’s portion of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act would seek to foster biotechnology that could improve the U.S. military’s effectiveness.

The mark aims to create new biomanufacturing facilities, among other steps, to help transition biotech for potential military use from the experimentation stage all the way into production.

“We are hopeful that this will provide a new and much needed capability to transition products successfully proven in the lab to the commercial scale and provide that intermediate step that is currently very difficult for a lot of technologies to bridge,” a subcommittee aide told reporters Tuesday.

The legislative text and draft report language from the panel is also replete with provisions designed to encourage innovation and efficiency in the Defense Department’s use of information technology, software, sensors and the like. 

The subcommittee made the bill and report language public on Tuesday and plans to mark it up on Wednesday. On June 22, the full committee is scheduled to hold its marathon annual markup, which will wrap up all its subcommittees’ marks into one measure, add the full committee’s changes and then report it to the House. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, plans to mark up its version of the bill next week.

The NDAA has become law for 61 years in a row.

Biotech push

The Innovative Technologies Subcommittee’s mark would require the creation of a new class of biomanufacturing capabilities and facilities under the rubric of the Manufacturing USA Institute, a public-private initiative begun in 2014. The defense-related institute would either be new or would expand an existing one that is focused on biomanufacturing.

The measure defines biomanufacturing as “the use of living organisms, cells, tissues, enzymes, or cell-free systems to produce materials and products for non-pharmaceutical applications.” 

The subcommittee’s mark would encourage biotech research into the creation of materials such as “polymers, coatings, resins, commodity chemicals” and other materials with fragile supply chains.

“So instead of your traditional chemical manufacturing — that might have complicated supply chains or might not be environmentally friendly — they’re looking at this bioindustrial manufacturing as an alternative way of creating these products,” a subcommittee aide said.

The mark also enables research into new chemicals and materials, including carbon neutral cement and carbon negative commodity chemicals, the committee said in a statement.

The measure would require the Pentagon to analyze the biotechnology industrial base and recommend ways to enhance its domestic manufacturers. And the panel’s mark would ask the department to look into the feasibility of deploying biomanufacturing plants overseas to ease supply chain concerns.

Reporting mandates

Biomanufacturing is just one of the areas where the panel hopes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of technology that matters to the U.S. military. 

The subcommittee’s piece of the NDAA also would:

  • Require reports on deliveries of software, to gain more insight into performance in that realm. It would also require an independent assessment of the cost to the department of poorly performing information systems. Too many U.S. servicemembers are spending time “literally staring at their computer” while waiting for downloads and the like, instead of performing more productive activities, a subcommittee aide told reporters Tuesday.
  • Require a review of the Joint All-Domain Command and Control system, a network under development that would be common to all the armed services, potentially enabling them to share actionable information in real time. The program is foundational to the U.S. military’s future, aides said. The review is aimed at gaining a better understanding of what is and is not working because, one aide said, “We’ve got to get it right.”
  • Seek a report on the office of the Pentagon’s chief information officer, with an eye to ensuring it has the necessary number of people with the right skills.
  • Push more support for facilities and systems used in testing new weapons, such as hypersonic missiles, by requiring assessments of test and evaluation resources and equipment —  both the government’s and contractors’ —  to meet the demands of major programs.
  • Examine how “horizon scanning” can discover new technologies with defense applications.
  • Encourage support for patented inventions that come from places other than Defense Department laboratories.
  • Create a quantum computer strategy and identify plans to use quantum computer testbeds.