Amid cuts, DOD focuses on next 'offset strategy'

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said the new strategy would help counter emerging asymmetrical threats.

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work

Work says the offset strategy will emphasize innovation.


The Pentagon's No.2 civilian this week fleshed out details of what the Defense Department is calling its "third offset strategy," designed to leverage emerging technologies and new sources of innovation as a way to counter, or offset, a series of asymmetrical threats in the Middle East and on NATO's eastern border while proceeding with the ongoing Pacific defense pivot.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out the Pentagon's innovation initiative in November, designed to counter a new set of evolving threats. The initiative includes another DOD Long Range Research and Development Planning program similar to an R&D effort for a second U.S. offset strategy launched in the 1970s.

That effort and the latest R&D initiative come as combat operations wind down—back then in Vietnam, today in Iraq and Afghanistan. A major difference this time around is that military planners are up against budget sequestration, which senior DOD officials warn could reduce R&D spending over the course of the next five-year defense plan by an estimated $23 billion.

In describing the latest DOD offset strategy, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said this week: "In point of fact, it's completely in line with the [Quadrennial Defense Review's] emphasis on innovation. It is about developing the means to offset advances in anti-access, area-denial networks that pose a growing challenge to our military power."

In remarks this week at the Center for New American Security, Work added: "The execution of a successful defense strategy ultimately is about balancing ends, ways and means. The new offset strategy is primarily about changing our ways and means—the platforms, systems and operational concepts we use to achieve our objectives."

Work previously noted that the last offset strategy, which focused on stealth, guided munitions and information technology, worked for roughly 40 years, "but it is simply no longer viable."

Senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary-designate Ashton Carter, will have their hands full refereeing the expected force structure cuts across the three military services while trying to come up with funds for force modernization. Arati Prabhaker, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, asserted last summer before a ballroom full of technology company executives that DOD's focus on complex, monolithic weapons systems without regard to cost "is now killing us." 

The balancing act faced by Pentagon planners grew more difficult this week when the Defense Business Board reported back to Work that it is recommending a $125 billion cut in U.S. military spending over five years. Likely savings could come from early retirements as well as slashing contractor services, the board said.

It also called for productivity gains as a way to maintain military operations. For now, it remains to be seen what if any impact the recommendations would have on efforts to craft a third U.S. offset strategy.

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