Home » Budget Industry » Officials: Third Offset Strategy Key to Maintaining U.S. Military Technology Dominance


Officials: Third Offset Strategy Key to Maintaining U.S. Military Technology Dominance

Aircraft CF-02, an F-35 Lightning II Carrier Variant attached to the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 completes a flyover of the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000). US Navy Photo

Aircraft CF-02, an F-35 Lightning II Carrier Variant attached to the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 completes a flyover of the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000). US Navy Photo

The driving concept behind the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy comes down to : If we’re not changing, we’re losing to “pacing competitors” like Russia and China in conventional warfare.

Bob Work, deputy secretary of defense, said the two near-peer adversaries have reached parity in areas from sensor nets to logistics and support grids and both have put a lot of money in U.S. systems and networks.

Speaking Friday as part of a panel at a daylong forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, he described two schools of thought to counter these advances.

“You have to fight to keep your networks together” when under attack or “train your force to operate with thin lines of communication.” He said in the latest offset strategy “we expect the network to dissemble” and it is necessary to train the force to be resilient and adapt to the new circumstances.

“We believe our people [including allies and partners] provide us a competitive advantage,” he said.

Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his way of looking at the strategy “isn’t an answer; it’s a question,” comparable to a journey rather than a destination. “But we have to ask the right questions” through experimentation to determine success or failure, then develop doctrine and distribute that doctrine across the joint force and share with allies, and keep refreshing it over time.

An example of that would be long-range precision strike at volume across every domain from cyber to undersea, he added.

Work said it wasn’t about technology per se but achieving an increase coupled with a willingness to keep innovating. It’s a realization that “we may only have an advantage of five years,” in part because of the proliferation of technology. He used the example of how the rifle and railroad changed warfare in the mid-19th century of technological advances that were quickly adapted by many nations.

Stephanie O’Sullivan, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, added, “We’re right at the beginning” of integrating advances in autonomy and artificial intelligence.

Work, Selva and O’Sullivan head the Defense Department’s advanced capabilities and deterrence panel.

“We’re barely scratching the surface” of artificial intelligence and autonomy in conventional warfare, Selva said. He said he regularly asks industry “will your widget [really be] open architecture,” so that it can be adapted to new realities rather than tied to proprietary technology that counters a threat that has been successfully countered.

“We’re making modest investments” to discover what is achievable now and what isn’t to achieve that advantage, Work said. “We’re thinking more like a competitive business.”

The success of the new strategy “is really about the force taking ownership of it,” rather than passing it off as “a bright idea” that has no immediate effect on deck-plate operations, Selva added.

Work said an earlier example of that acceptance came when the Army and Air Force developed Air Land Battle that forced the Soviet Union to re-think how it would have to operate under these changed circumstances.

  • Lazarus

    Technology is not by itself a “strategy.” Even Andrew Marshall once said, “success lies not in the technologies themselves, but in developing the right concepts of operations and organizational structure to best exploit them.” The North Vietnamese did not need any “offset” technologies to beat the US in the Vietnam War. The Germans got so wrapped up in offset capabilities in WW2 that they failed to produce large numbers of reasonably capable systems required to keep fighting. This line of thinking has been around since Harold Brown and William Perry’s “assaultbreaker” scheme to put advanced communications and PGM’s in the hands of US/NATO air/ground formations in the Fulda Gap. It did not benefit the Navy as much, as the Navy has a more evolutionary weapons development process.

    The 1980’s Maritime Strategy was real strategic thought independent of technological improvements. Only that kind of geopolitical calculus wins wars.

    • sferrin

      “Technology is not by itself a “strategy.”

      No but it sure gives you more options. And “assault breaker” is what was required unless you planned on going nuclear. Something had to stop waves of Soviet armor headed west.

      • Lazarus

        No doubt it provides options, but it is not a divided Cold War world anymore. Today’s new Western technology is on the shelves at the same time or the next day in various US opponent arsenals. The only “advantage” now is in having more access to a key resource (like oil,) and being able to exploit that resource’s advantage for combat in some way. The Royal navy’s access to oil fuel in World War 1 (as opposed to Germany who did not) allowed the RN to make the shift from and exploit oil-fueled warships as opposed to coal. There are few such immediate advantages like this today, or magic technologies like GPS/PGM’s of the 1980’s with which to overawe opponents. Real geopolitical strategy rather than reliance on technology or 30 year shipbuilding plans, is again required for success.

    • The Plague

      The only “offset technology” the NVA needed was US politicians setting the RoE, marking targets, and then “negotiating” victory into defeat.

  • PolicyWonk

    In absence of a cohesive and overall threat analysis – how can we pretend to know what our force structure should look like, or what weapons and/or capabilities we require to defeat those threats?

    Individual pockets of technologies created by DARPA, or the service branches, etc., are useless in absence of an overall strategy, if they aren’t designed from the start to interoperate across our land, sea, air, and space-based defense assets.

    Our service branches purchase weapons addressing war fighting from their relatively insular perspective, thereby making interoperability a second thought – at best. We have no national security apparatus that appraises the threats to the nation, or determines what the force structure needs to be, or what weapons should be purchased to defeat these threats.

    Hence – the US Taxpayers get the worst deal for defense dollars spent in the western world.

    These problems would be better addressed by adopting an acquisition system such as that used by the British. Failing that, in return for restoration of funding, the DoD should have to agree to have the entire acquisition system put under receivership, and abide by the changes put in place by the receiver, just like any other failed education system, city, or town.

    • RobM1981

      Unfortunately, “cohesive threat analyses” are often wrong. The LCS is a vessel designed with a very specific threat in mind – a threat that was mis-specified and really never happened.

      Many of the breakthrough platforms that the Navy has developed came from experimentation much like what we are seeing today. Aircraft carriers weren’t widely thought to be much more than recon platforms. Submarines were a cute distraction, when first developed.

      I don’t recall the British having superior naval platforms – did I miss something? What vessels have they procured that make their small force Superior?

      • Lazarus

        The Royal Navy led the world in naval technology development from the early 1800’s through the end of the First World War. Their self-imposed naval construction “holiday” due to misguided disarmament and a belief that war would not happen for a least decade put them behind the U.S. in naval technology by 1940.

        LCS was designed for multiple threats and thanks to reserved space in its modules it can be infinitely upgraded. Try doing that with a conventional frigate. The Australians tried to upgrade some of their existing Perry class ships and it was an expensive fiasco that bought less than a decade more service for 3 ships.

  • The Plague

    Notice what a boatload of corporate managerism these “defense intellectuals” are laying on the public:

    “the two near-peer adversaries have reached parity in areas from sensor nets to logistics and support grids” – Like what? Show me a russian “sensor network” on par with a US system.

    “train your force to operate with thin lines of communication….we expect the network to dissemble” – Therefore we need more drones! Oh, wait, that’s more communications, right? Then we need more autonomous artificially intelligent drones! It only depends on what you mean by the word “autonomous”…

    “…his way of looking at the strategy “isn’t an answer; it’s a question,”…” – Yeah, we don’t know where we got to go, but we do know we got to go there fast! Very fast! Before anybody figures out the lard we’re spreading here…

    “We’re right at the beginning” of integrating advances in autonomy and artificial intelligence” – particularly if we only knew what we’re talking about whenever we say “intelligence”. You know, stuff like your smartphone, or that car that occasionally confuses the a$$ of a tractor-trailer with the sky above…

    ““We’re barely scratching the surface” of artificial intelligence and
    autonomy in conventional warfare, Selva said. He said he regularly asks
    industry “will your widget [really be] open architecture?” – well, Open Architecture really doesn’t have anything to do with AI or Autonomy but we are really fascinated with smartphones and their apps… Well, the problem domain of the smartphone apps might be just a wink smaller than that of, say, fleet air defense, but, hey, it’s just scaling, right..? Right..?

    “We’re thinking more like a competitive business.” – Yeah, you got that one right, buddy, a real bullseye there for you. You really are like a corporation now. Along with the accounting practices of the blue-chips and the subtle assistance they need from money-printing central banks.

    “the new strategy “is really about the force taking ownership of it,”” – The “force” better know what we’re talking about, because we sure don’t. What did we say about running like a corporation?

    “Work said an earlier example of that acceptance came when the Army and
    Air Force developed Air Land Battle that forced the Soviet Union …” – although that was a rather down-to-earth, common-sense idea, nothing like this bag of contradictory peanuts…