Defense Department News

Work Calls for Third Offset Strategy to Bolster Future of Warfighting

Sept. 10, 2015 | BY Terri Moon Cronk

In a changing global security environment, the United States is pursuing a third offset strategy to bolster a weakened conventional deterrence, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said today in London.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute -- the U.K.’s professional forum for national and international defense and security -- the deputy said in prepared remarks that the first and second offset strategies supported DoD well for 25 years, but the “margin of technological superiority,” particularly for guided munitions, is eroding.

This erosion results primarily from two factors,” the deputy said. “First, potential competitors are pursuing levels of advanced weapons development that we haven’t seen since the mid-1980s. Second, our attention has been rightly focused on the Middle East for the past 14 years, and post-war budget cuts have limited our own technical investments.”

Citing worldwide threats, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Russia’s recent coercion and aggression, Work noted the United States and its allies face historically different challenges than before.

Deputy Praises U.S.-U.K. partnership

The deputy said the nation counts on its longstanding relationship with the United Kingdom, and he praised that nation’s leaders.

“We are greatly heartened by the U.K.’s recent decision to continue meeting the NATO defense investment pledge to dedicate 2 percent of [gross domestic product] to defense spending -- making them one of only four NATO countries that now do so,” he said. That commitment sends a clear signal that the U.K. is determined to continue its contribution to collective defense and maintain a global leadership role, he added.

Work said even with the actions of both nations against global threats, more work is needed, particularly given Russia’s declaration that it regards the U.S. and NATO as a direct threat. That is why, as Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, DoD is working with its allies to develop a “new playbook” for NATO to strengthen U.S. conventional deterrence, he noted.

Preparing to Fight on Modern Battlefield

“We … haven’t focused on a highly-capable adversary for a long time and I worry that our proficiency in highly integrated joint fire and maneuver has eroded,” he said. “We must prepare to fight on an incredibly lethal modern battlefield.”

Once the U.S. military shifts to maneuver, it will fight on highly lethal battlefields swept by short-range guided munitions, cyberattacks and electronic warfare weapons, the deputy said.

“What we need is another doctrinal revival like that of the early 1980s. My message to U.S. Army and Air Force audiences is that we need an AirLand Battle 2.0. My message to every NATO country is we need modern concepts as game-changing as Follow-on Forces Attack,” he said.

AirLand Battle was the overall conceptual framework that formed the basis of the US Army's European warfighting doctrine from 1982 into the late 1990s. The Follow on Forces Attack sub-concept aimed to compensate for the short distance between Frankfurt, Germany, and Soviet territory by relying on conventional weapons to attack troops behind the main line of contact -- by attacking follow-on troops, in other words.

Private Sector Integral to Third Strategy

Unlike the first two offset strategies, which depended on military development, the third would rely on commercially driven technology such as robotics, autonomously operating vehicles, guidance and control systems, visualization, biotechnology, miniaturization, advanced computing, big data analytics and additive manufacturing.

A lesson learned from the second offset strategy was the importance of NATO participation, Work said.

He added that innovation must be pursued with interoperability in mind. “We must coordinate and collaborate, avoid duplication, leverage unique capabilities, and push our establishments to innovate in technology, concepts, experimentation and war games,” he said.

“War games are a powerful tool to test new ideas, capabilities and new ways of fighting. [The U.S. and U.K.] militaries are operating together, researching together, and gaming together to ensure our alliance retains unparalleled military capabilities,” Work said.

The U.K.’s Strategic Defense and Security Review is developing at a time that gives both nations an opportunity to think together about where they are both going and how to best cooperate, the deputy secretary noted.

Vowing to continue working closely with the U.K. in such efforts, Work noted that both nation’s militaries have long histories of adapting to changing threats and identifying new approaches that “pit our enduring strengths against the vulnerabilities of our adversaries,” by their ability to operate as partners.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)