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Guided by National Defense Strategy, Defense Department Increases Force Lethality

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The best way the United States can avoid war is for everyone to know it would win. That means having the best, most modern equipment, a highly trained, ready, and well-organized force, and a demonstrated ability to rapidly deploy anywhere, across all domains, to defend its interests and to help defend the interests of allies and partners. The U.S. military must be the most lethal combat force on the planet.

Building a more lethal force is one of three lines of effort central to the National Defense Strategy laid out in 2018. It's something Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper has been focused on since he took office last year.

A row of service members lie on the ground and fire their rifles.
Firing Practice
Marines with 5th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, fire from the prone position at Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 14, 2020.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl Ronald L. Parker II
VIRIN: 200714-M-RP207-057

Esper said the department must modernize the force, to include investing in "game-changing" technologies to transition from a legacy military to a capable force of the future.

"This will allow us to maintain our long-held battlefield overmatch, which is more important than ever, as China and Russia continue to modernize their militaries and pursue advantages in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and 5G," Esper said.

In the last year, the department has also requested the largest research and development budget in its history, and has secured funding for its 11 modernization initiatives, including hypersonics and artificial intelligence.

A missile takes off at night.
Minuteman Launch
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., May 1, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany E. N. Murphy
VIRIN: 190501-F-TM985-1009A

Within hypersonics, the department is accelerating development of weapons with plans to start fielding systems in 2023. The department has also ramped up flight testing of hypersonic systems with 40 tests planned in the next five years.

On the AI front, the department is accelerating the fielding of AI capabilities to meet warfighter needs through the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. The department also announced its "AI Ethics Principles" to ensure the U.S. is the global leader in the responsible development and use of AI.

A submarine in the water.
The nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine USS North Dakota pulls into its homeport at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., Jan. 31, 2019. The sub was returning from the U.S. European Command area of responsibility.
Photo By: Navy Cmdr. Jason M. Geddes
VIRIN: 190131-N-LW591-002A

Also a priority is the modernization of all three legs of the nuclear triad, including air-launched systems, ground-based systems and sea-launched systems. Coupled with that is modernization of the nuclear command, control, and communications infrastructure.

Over the past year, the department has fielded the new W76-2 submarine-launched, low-yield ballistic missile warhead. The department is also now developing next-generation interceptor and ballistic missile defense systems to keep pace with adversary missile systems and ensure layered defense of the homeland.

A military aircraft approaches a refueling boom.
Fuel Prep
An F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter prepares to receive fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker at an undisclosed location, May 15, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Keifer Bowes
VIRIN: 190515-F-ZD147-0031C

In cyber, a relatively new domain,  U.S. Cyber Command is supporting the department's "defend forward" strategy. This  ensures the U.S. is persistently engaged with cyber actors to defeat them online, improve the lethality of combatant commands, and support a whole-of-government effort to deliver a safe, secure and legitimate election.

Space, an even newer domain, has received a boost as well since Esper took office. In December, the department stood up the U.S. Space Force, an entirely new military service under the Department of the Air Force. Earlier in 2019, the department also stood up U.S. Space Command. With both of these new activations, the department recognizes the growing importance of space as a warfighting domain.

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