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DoD Extends Technological, Operational Edge Into the Future

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, December 14, 2015 — The Defense Department’s civilian and military leadership is pursuing a significant and enduring effort to extend its military, technological and operational edge well into the future, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said today.

In a speech at the Center for a New American Security’s National Security Forum, Work noted that this push into the future is driven by a pressing need to modify the defense program to meet evolving threats in the national security environment.

The effort includes new approaches to evaluating and offsetting the conventional strengths of potential adversaries, a commitment to U.S. allies and friends, and a drive to innovate.

The Only Great Power

During the period between 1999 and 2014, Work said, the United States was the world’s only great power and the sole military superpower.

“This gave us enormous freedom of action, but the circumstance is changing” he said, “The unipolar world is starting to fade and we have a more multipolar world in which U.S. global leadership is likely to be increasingly challenged.”

For the United States, Work added, “the most stressing [challenge] is the reemergence of great power competition.”

For the purposes of building a defense program focused on the capabilities of potential adversaries, the deputy secretary said he uses international relations theorist John Mearsheimer’s definition of a great power -- a state having sufficient military assets to put up a serious fight in an all-out conventional war against the dominant power, and possessing a nuclear deterrent that could survive a first strike against it.

On Their Way

By that narrow definition, Work said, “[and] from a defense program perspective, if Russia and China are not yet great powers, they're well on their way.

“We've been trying for 25 years to include Russia within the European community and we want to partner with it on a wide variety of global issues,” Work said, adding that the United States still seeks both outcomes.

But Russia, he explained, is modernizing its nuclear and conventional forces, sharpening its warfighting doctrine aimed at NATO, rattling its nuclear saber, seeking to undermine NATO and intimidate the Baltic States, and trying to rewrite the international rule book.

As a result, the department is adapting its operational posture, contingency plans and programs to deter further aggression, the deputy secretary said.

The Bottom Line

“China, a rising power with impressive latent military technological capabilities, probably embodies a more enduring strategic challenge as its ambitions and objectives expand in Asia, [the] Western Pacific, littoral Africa, Latin America and elsewhere,” Work said.

China's words have been about peaceful rise and about defense, he added, but its actions will be the true test of its commitment to peace and stability in the current international order.

The department continues to pursue military-to-military cooperation and a wide range of confidence-building measures with China “to make sure we never come to blows, but … we can't overlook the competitive aspects of our relationship, especially in the realm of military capabilities. And that's the bottom line,” Work said.

A Focus on Capabilities

DoD focuses on the capabilities of potential challengers, and Russia and China present the United States and its allies and partners with unique and increasingly stressing military capabilities and operational challenges, the deputy secretary said.

The department understands the importance of engaging with potential competitors but it does so cognizant of its central purpose “to reassure our allies and partners … and to protect U.S. forces and our allies from direct attack," he added, "and, should deterrence fail, make sure that we are able to roll back any aggression that occurs.”

The best way to prevent great-power competition from becoming great-power conflict, the deputy secretary said, is for the United States to maintain a safe, reliable and secure nuclear arsenal for so long as those weapons exist, coupled with strong conventional deterrent capabilities.

Offset Strategies

The United States has historically strengthened its conventional deterrence by pursuing a combination of superior technological capabilities and innovative operational and organizational constructs that offset the strengths of its potential adversaries, Work noted.

In the 1950s, the first offset strategy sought to blunt Soviet numerical and geographical advantage along the inner German border by introducing, demonstrating and developing the operational and organizational constructs to use battlefield nuclear weapons, he said.

After the Soviets achieved strategic nuclear parity in the 1970s, the second offset strategy included precision-guided munitions with near-zero miss.

Today, the department is pursuing a third offset strategy that includes the following five kinds of technological advances:

1. Learning Systems

2. Human-machine collaboration

3. Human-machine combat teaming

4. Assisted human operations

5. Network-enabled, cyber-hardened weapons

Deterrent Posture

Work said the first priority in trying to build a strong deterrent posture is "to try to achieve a technological overmatch against potential adversaries."

The department needs new technological capabilities to try to achieve the technological overmatch important to an offset strategy, the deputy secretary said, but “you need new organizational and operational constructs to make them real and to gain operational advantage.”

Such capabilities also must be demonstrated, Work added, so an adversary can see that any attempt to achieve operational success in the warfighting campaign is likely to fail, even if they were to achieve an initial advantage in time and space.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)