Work: Third Offset Focus is to Improve U.S. Battle Networks
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
And OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s (DoD’s) battle networks give the United States tremendous advantage in all levels of warfighting, but competitor nations are working to defeat them and overcome strategic, operational and tactical advantage, the undersecretary of Defense said Dec. 5.
The DoD’s Third Offset strategy is designed to leverage advanced technology to maintain comprehensive strategic stability balance with major state competitors like Russia and China and maintain conventional as well as strategic deterrence, Robert O. Work Jr. told an audience at the Navy’s Future Strategy Forum 2016 at the Navy Memorial.
Work said the strategy aims to maintain U.S. conventional overmatch and conventional deterrence across the full range of military operations, including low-intensity conflict and counter-insurgency operations.
He noted that, to Russia and China, competition is a natural steady state of affairs, whereas competition casts a negative tone among Western democracies.
Russia and China know the power of U.S. battle networks and Work said that those nations have achieved near-parity with the United States in battle networks, as well as guided munitions. Because most of the U.S. combat power resides within the United States, Russia and China have potential advantage in time and space in military operations.
But the United States has had an advantage in the operational level of war because of its battle networks, he said.
“The initial focus [of the Third Offset strategy] is on improving the performance of our battle networks,” Work said.
He listed five technological vectors for the Third Offset: deep learning machines, human-machine collaborative systems, assisted human operations, human-machine combat teaming, and network-enabled cyber- and electronic warfare-hardened advanced autonomous and high-speed weapons.
An example of a deep learning machine is a computer system that can narrow down a search rapidly, such as the real-world case of the Coast Guard tracking down a person making fake Mayday calls and using voice recognition to identify them. Another example is a cyber system that can recognize attack, recognize weaknesses and self-correct its defenses. Another is cognitive electronic warfare, in which a system can make new waveforms on the fly.
The F-35 strike fighter is an example of human-machine collaboration. Its mission system makes the aircraft “not a fighter plane; it is a battle network platform,” Work said. The P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft operating in concert with the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system is an example he gave of human-machine combat teaming.
The use of robotics and advanced algorithms is advancing these concepts and taking the place of humans. He estimated it would take 20 million human analysts to handle the data overload today. Work said the Russians even “think robotics is their way out of a demographic problem” of a declining population.
Work gave the example of the Navy Integrated Fire-Counter Air as “Third Offset before there was Third Offset,” and highlighted the adaption of the SM-6 surface-to-air missile as an anti-ship missiles that “presents the enemy with an enormous problem.”
Another example of the application of the Third Offset is the concept of adapting the Army’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket System as an anti-ship weapon.
Work said the U.S. strategic advantages are its “people, allies, our ability to put together battle networks and jointness.”
He stresses that the Third Offset is “very coalition friendly.”
Work said that the United States has significant cyber warfare capabilities, noting that the services are fielding 6,200 cyber warriors in cyber mission teams that will reach full operational capability in 2018.
“We know what it would take to do offensive cyber,” he said. “But would it affect comprehensive strategic stability?”
Speaking later that day at the Brookings Institution, Work said the Defense Department in the Obama administration has “done a lot of seeding ideas” on what capabilities may be needed to implement the offset strategy and made advances in autonomy. But due to tight defense budgets, they could not flesh them out, he said.
“I believe the incoming [Trump] team will be very pleased with the options they have to choose from,” he said.
Asked about the emphasis in Congress’ compromise 2017 National Defense Authorization Act on increasing the military force structure, Work said “rather than building up, the first thing I’d do is improve what we have,” including “cyber hardening” the command networks.
And, he added, “I can’t tell you about the size of the force” until he knew what the Trump administration’s view of the U.S. role in the world would be.
“Decide what you want that force to do before deciding how big the force will be,” he said.
Work said he could not provide a firm opinion on another controversial element of the NDAA, to split the current office of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics by creating a separate undersecretary for technology until he has a chance to read the details of the legislation.
“At first blush, I do not think the separation makes sense,” but that could depend on what Congress intended, he said.