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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks' Remarks at the White House Summit on Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing (As Delivered)

Thank you very much to Jake and for the whole White House team here for the amazing work you’ve done to get us to this point.

At the Defense Department, this moment in the bioeconomy matters for a lot of reasons.

First, we know that biotechnology and biomanufacturing have transformative potential for our mission at DoD to defend the nation. 

It helps us improve capabilities, solve logistics challenges in ways that are sustainable, to Secretary Granholm’s point, and to protect our people.

And of course we know that strategic competitors like China are themselves prioritizing these technologies. They want to displace U.S. leadership and they want to challenge our competitiveness.

Under Secretary Austin’s leadership at DoD, we know, though, that we have what it takes here in the U.S. — to really footstomp what Jake said earlier — we have here, the ability, the ingenuity, the resolve to lead the way, and we have the right kind of innovation ecosystem to make it happen.

So, what can DoD do to help in this space?   

Well, over the next five years, DoD will be investing nearly $1.5 billion dollars to expand U.S. bioindustrial manufacturing infrastructure, strengthen biosecurity and cybersecurity at those facilities, and use biotechnology to bolster our supply chains. 

The goal, really, is to help be a key catalyst for a domestic bioindustrial manufacturing base, and more quickly turn basic and applied research into operational prototypes and reliable, reproducible products that can be made at scale.

We believe these investments will incentivize biotech innovation and manufacturing capacity for products important both for commercial and defense supply chains, such as critical chemicals for lubricants, energetics, and fuels.

This investment really builds on a history of groundbreaking DoD investment in the biotech space.

You can think about DARPA’s work 10 years ago that kickstarted a rapid-response mRNA vaccine platform for infectious diseases, or more recently funding that the department has provided for some of the early wastewater assessment work for COVID, which has great applications for force protection against the coronavirus or future pandemics — and has offered spin-off potential for U.S. and overseas communities grappling with biothreats.

And I also understand I think we have here with us today two of DoD’s nine Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, BioMADE and BioFabUSA, so thank you to them for all the great work they’re doing.

Going forward, we expect our focus on biotechnology and biomanufacturing to be transformative for what we do at DoD for our forces.

Let me just give you an example of some of the things that are already happening:

  • At DARPA, they’re looking at spraying an algae-based substance on a patch of dirt, and watching it grow in a matter of minutes into a landing pad hard enough to safely take-off and land a helicopter — that is game-changing for us for distributed forces who are operating from remote islands in places like the Pacific or other austere environments.
  • Or, using bio-enabled manufacturing to resupply and reinforce, for example, Army and Marine Corps units spread out on islands across half a hemisphere so they can operate and be sustained no matter what an adversary might do. And by the way, that is a much more sustainable approach from a climate perspective.
  • Or, using biotechnology to make advanced sensors that are smaller, lighter, more efficient, and less expensive than what we might build mechanically to detect and warn, for instance, that a chemical or biological agent has been released.

Those examples aren’t science fiction, I think as the folks in this room know. Like the institutions, companies and agencies represented here today, they’re proof of one of America’s greatest strategic assets — and that’s our incredibly-vibrant innovation ecosystem. It’s the envy of the world, and we want to help keep it that way. 

Thanks very much.