U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday outlined a series of reforms designed to tackle what he views as the military’s declining prowess as China, Russia and others field new weapons technologies.CSBA's Robert Martinage laid "third offset strategy" in out in, Toward a New Offset Strategy: Exploiting U.S. Long-Term Advantages to Restore U.S. Global Power Projection Capability
Mr. Hagel said the Pentagon needed to look outside the traditional defense industry to target emerging technologies that could be developed within budget constraints, a move that some leaders believe could reshape the weapons business over the next decade.
Defense officials have said the priorities include longer-range and hypersonic weapons, enhanced cybersecurity platforms and unmanned systems.
As a matter of urgency, the U.S. military needs to “offset” the investments that adversaries are making in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities—particularly their expanding missile inventories—by leveraging U.S. advantages in unmanned systems and automation, extended-range and low-observable air operations, undersea warfare, and complex system engineering and integration. Doing so would allow the United States to maintain its ability to project power, albeit in novel forms, despite the possession of A2/AD capabilities by hostile forces.Related to this, of course, is the recognition that U.S. naval surface force are being out-ranged and out-gunned by overwhelming numbers of ship threatening cruise and other missiles, which we discussed on Midrats with Bryan Clark here.
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The "Third Offset Strategy" has critics, one of whom is James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Institute, who penned The Third Offset: The "Fairy Dust" Strategy for The National Interest, which describes the option picked Mr. Hagel to get the US Defense back into the game as:
... another “easy button” solution: the promise that we’ll fix declining capabilities by deploying new technology.It is worth reading these arguments and pondering where we should be headed.
The Secretary offered no details that would suggest he considers technology to be a serious strategy for overcoming our deteriorating defenses. Basically all he said in his speech was that his Pentagon would spend the next two years planning to have a plan. That is not a plan.
Second, basing a strategy on technological innovation that is not in hand is nothing more than wishful thinking. It would be like Taft’s Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, planning to fight World War I with nuclear weapons. Game-changing technology happens when it happens—not on-demand, like cable. Indeed, betting on technology that’s not mature often leads to deploying technology before it’s ready, which in turn leads to the kinds of massive cost overruns and delays a cash-strapped Defense Department can ill afford. Of course, the United States should always be seeking out technologies that offer decisive competitive advantages, but that is not the basis for a sound strategy.
Third, it’s a mistake to build a strategy around a single point of strength, because that often becomes a single point of failure.
Dr. Carafano links to a report by the congressionally chartered, bipartisan National Defense Panel "Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future" which he characterizes as showing, " . . . how wide the gap has grown between what the Pentagon has and what it needs . . ." or, as the panel put it:
The effectiveness of America’s other tools for global influence, such as diplomacy and economic engagement, are critically intertwined with and dependent upon the perceived strength, presence and commitment of U.S. armed forces. Yet the capabilities and capacities rightly called for in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, hereafter referred to as the QDR, clearly exceed the budget resources made available to the Department. This gap is disturbing if not dangerous in light of the fact that global threats and challenges are rising, including a troubling pattern of territorial assertiveness and regional intimidation on China’s part, the recent aggression of Russia in Ukraine, nuclear proliferation on the part of North Korea and Iran, a serious insurgency in Iraq that both reflects and fuels the broader sectarian conflicts in the region, the civil war in Syria, and civil strife in the larger Middle East and throughout Africa.At least everyone at this level of the argument acknowledges there are a growing threats that "sweet talk" will not abate.
Sleeping bullies have awakened and are beginning to show their simmering resentment of Pax Americana.
Those who might oppose the U.S. and its allies are equipping themselves with the tools to counter our current military strengths in their respective areas of interest.
It our turn to make moves to counter their counters.
If that means developing new technologies, that seems to me to be a good thing. Surging new technology only works,though, if we can maintain an edge by not letting those who would oppose us steal such tech out from under us.
We really need more ships and aircraft. If we manage it correctly, they don't need to be the most expensive tools. Further, if we can't afford more ships, then as Bryan Clark argues, we need to fix our current ships to deal with the real world threats we face.
We also need to be more "offensive minded" in our approach.
That's a strategy of sorts.