Submucosal glands (SMGs) are a prominent structure that lines human cartilaginous airways. Although it has been assumed that SMGs contribute to respiratory defense, that hypothesis has gone without a direct test. Therefore, we studied pigs, which have lungs like humans, and disrupted the gene for ectodysplasin (EDA-KO), which initiates SMG development. EDA-KO pigs lacked SMGs throughout the airways. Their airway surface liquid had a reduced ability to kill bacteria, consistent with SMG production of antimicrobials. In wild-type pigs, SMGs secrete mucus that emerges onto the airway surface as strands. Lack of SMGs and mucus strands disrupted mucociliary transport in EDA-KO pigs. Consequently, EDA-KO pigs failed to eradicate a bacterial challenge in lung regions normally populated by SMGs. These in vivo and ex vivo results indicate that SMGs are required for normal antimicrobial activity and mucociliary transport, two key host defenses that protect the lung.