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Offset Strategy Puts Advantage in Hands of U.S., Allies

By Claudette Roulo DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015 — In the face of one of the most volatile security environments the United States has faced in decades, the Defense Department's Defense Innovation Initiative seeks to halt the erosion of the nation's military technological superiority, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said today.

The initiative, in concert with a new offset strategy, will put "the competitive advantage firmly in the hands of allied capabilities and American power projection over the coming decades," Work said in remarks prepared for delivery at a forum hosted by the Center for New American Security.

Past Offset Strategies

Offset strategies were first developed during the Cold War and were aimed at overcoming the Soviet Union's numerical superiority and geographic advantages, the deputy secretary said.

Eisenhower's "New Look" was the first such strategy, relying on nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the Warsaw Pact nations. The strategy enabled Eisenhower to cut manpower and reduce defense spending, Work said, but eventually the Soviets responded and a second offset strategy had to be developed.

Soviet modernization of their nuclear and conventional forces and the approach of nuclear parity led the United States to look outside the nuclear arsenal for deterrents, the deputy secretary said.

Following recommendations from the Long Range Research and Development Planning Program, he said, DoD developed the "Assault Breaker" program, which integrated conventional long-range weapons systems with early warning and surveillance platforms. Together, these systems were intended to break up the multi-wave armor attacks that were the hallmark of Warsaw Pact tactics of the era.

Assault Breaker opened the door to a wave of advances in precision-guided munitions, and, Work said, led to new concepts of operation for the Army and Air Force, and were incorporated into NATO doctrine as the Follow-on Forces Attack concept.

This second offset strategy "proved far more enduring than the first, providing the U.S. military with a decisive operational advantage that has lasted for nearly four decades," the deputy secretary said.

But that advantage has eroded, Work noted.

"To reverse this erosion and to ensure that our conventional deterrence remains robust, DoD is embarking on a third offset strategy that will put the competitive advantage firmly in the hands of American global power projection over the coming decades," he said.

Geopolitical Surprises

A number of "largely unanticipated geopolitical surprises" disrupted the Defense Department's fiscal year 2016 budget deliberations, he said.

In February, Russia's occupation and annexation of Crimea shocked the world and "may herald a prolonged period of heightened tension with Russia," Work said.

The United States commitment to its NATO allies is unwavering in the face of Russia's activities, the deputy secretary said.

"We are working to improve NATO’s ability to deploy faster in times of crisis, including enhancing NATO’s Rapid Response Force, and improving infrastructure and facilities to receive rapid reinforcements," he said.

The U.S. military continues "to help build partner capacity, particularly in our NATO allies in the Baltics,” Work said. “I can announce that the department’s FY 2016 budget request provides for close to $800 million to continue these activities, and expand them, under the European Reassurance Initiative.”

In June, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists launched a fast-moving offensive out of Syria into Iraq, effectively erasing the border between the two nations, he said.

"The threat to our people and our interests, and an opportunity to partner with a new, more inclusive Iraqi government compelled the United States and our allies and partners to forge a counter-ISIL coalition and use force in Iraq to confront a growing threat," the deputy secretary said.

And, the Ebola outbreak came to international attention in August, Work said, threatening to infect up to 1.4 million people in West Africa. President Barack Obama spearheaded an international effort to confront the threat, Work said, which now appears to be on the way to being contained.

Defense Strategy Unchanged

These surprises did not lead to a departure from the current strategy, he said.

"In point of fact, it’s completely in line with the [Quadrennial Defense Review's] emphasis on innovation," the deputy secretary said. "It is about developing the means to offset advances in anti-access, area-denial networks that pose a growing challenge to our military power.

"The execution of a successful defense strategy ultimately is about balancing ends, ways, and means,” Work continued. “The new offset strategy is primarily about changing our ways and means --- the platforms, systems, and operational concepts we use to achieve our objectives."

During the Cold War, there was a monolithic enemy, Work said, but today the nation faces multiple potential military competitors -- including Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. As a result, it doesn't make sense to develop a one-size-fits-all offset strategy, he said.

And until recently, governments were behind the development of leading-edge military technologies, the deputy secretary said. Now, many technologies that might be associated with a new offset strategy are being driven by the commercial sector, Work said.

"The explosion of research and development in the non-defense sector means DoD must devise new means of pulling in commercial technology," he said.

"As it has in the past, technological innovation can serve as a catalyst to our third offset strategy, but there are no silver bullet solutions," the deputy secretary said. "Rather, we look to exploit our traditional advantages and develop new ways of operating that impose strategy-constricting costs on our adversaries."

Innovation must be broad-based and rooted in realistic wargaming, experimentation, and the development of new concepts and leadership, Work said.

The United States must provide its service members with a competitive advantage, Work said, “so that they will never find themselves evenly matched in a conflict -- that is the essence of deterrence and what will ultimately safeguard all of our interests.”

International Coordination

Challenges to power projection affect not just the United States, the deputy secretary said. NATO's interests are worldwide, he added, and America's allies must be more closely integrated into the effort to address challenges in the international security environment.

"While the Defense Innovation Initiative and a third offset strategy is a U.S. initiative, it will also require a deliberate, aggressive effort on the part of our allies," Work said.

Innovation must be pursued with interoperability in mind, he said. Not all of the nation's allies have the same access to technology and operational art, and one way to address that is to think about the potential advantages of specialization, the deputy secretary said.

"Beyond that, many or all allies have forces capable of absorbing innovative doctrine and training that are needed to eventually join in even the most sophisticated operating environments," Work said. "We will do all we can to encourage and enable all allies to innovate together, in concert. But we will also collaborate to seek niche roles and nation-specific contributions that befit some allies’ unique will and ability."

A growing resource gap is closely related to concerns within NATO of the technology gap, he said.

"All of us together need to decide this innovation effort is a priority, that this is a deliberate effort, and that we can’t float along with the current," the deputy secretary said. To secure the international environment, he said, it is imperative allied leaders fulfill the pledge made at the Wales Summit to devote 2 percent of their national outputs to defense.

"We must not shy away from, but rather embrace, the potential criticism that will come from those who fear change," Work said. "We will surely regret it if, in the future, we look back and say we didn’t go far enough. I encourage all of our allies to join with us, be bold and push the boundaries of innovation."


(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)