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WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2016 — The Defense Department’s technological and organizational leaps over the decades have been characterized as strategies to offset or overcome the conventional strengths of potential adversaries.
DoD is now in the throes of the Third Offset Strategy, according to defense officials, and today Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work explained the offset’s main elements — and discussed its first organizational construct — to an audience at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
“Offset strategies are not about technology per se,” Work said. “… [They’re] about technologically enabled operational and organizational constructs that [give] the joint force an advantage — primarily at the operational level of war, but also the tactical — thereby strengthening conventional deterrence. And we’re starting to see examples of both.”
The Third Offset’s first organizational construct is the Air Force’s Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center, or JICSpOC, he said, at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.
JICSpOC went live in October 2015 as collaboration among U.S. Strategic Command, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Air Force Space Command, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the intelligence community and commercial data providers, according to the Stratcom website.
In January the center held a tour for distinguished visitors who included Stratcom Commander Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney and senior defense officials. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the center in May.
Work said JICSpOC “is designed to perform battle management and command and control of a space constellation under threat of attack. It has to fight through those attacks and provide the space support that the joint force relies upon.”
He added, “We’ve never had something like that before because we’ve never needed something like that before but it is the first step in the Third Offset to start to readdress and to extend our margin of operational superiority.”
After his visit, Carter described space as a domain that must be the province of warfighters and not just engineers.
“JICSpOC is about combining the operators with the space community — the DoD space community and the intelligence community, which operates very important space systems,” Carter said. “… What the JICSpOC is doing is asking itself how we would change the way [the Global Positioning System] operated if the GPS constellation came under threat or attack, electromagnetic or physical attack.”
As early as 2012, Work said, DoD started thinking about a Third Offset Strategy simply to restore the margin of operational and tactical advantage that underwrites conventional deterrence.
In response to the question, “Offsetting what?” the deputy secretary makes a list.
“Most of our combat power is in the United States. We no longer have large concentrations of forces in theaters [where] they might fight [giving] our potential adversaries an initial advantage in time and space and probably numbers,” he said.
Second, great-power competitors now have achieved rough guided-munitions parity with the United States, something the nation hasn’t had to deal with in quite some time, Work added.
Third, he said, adversaries “know how important and how powerful our networks are so they spend an awful lot of money to pay for counter-network technologies such as electronic warfare, cyber and counter-space because they know how central the space constellation was to the second offset” in the 1970s to the 1990s.
AI and Autonomy
Achieving the Third Offset depends on taking the advice of the Defense Science Board, whose members surveyed a range of technologies and determined that improving the battle network’s performance meant exploiting advances in artificial intelligence and autonomy, allowing the joint force to assemble and operate advanced joint collaborative human-machine battle networks of even greater power, Work said.
“We believe strongly that this will help restore the margin of operational superiority and strengthen conventional deterrence,” he added.
The five key technologies described by the deputy defense secretary are as follows:
— Learning machines;
— Human-machine collaboration, which Work said means using advanced computers and visualization to help people make faster, better and more relevant decisions;
— Assisted human operations, which means plugging every pilot, soldier, sailor and Marine into the battle network;
— Human-machine combat teaming, creating new ways for manned and unmanned platforms to operate; and
— Network-enabled autonomous weapons, he said, all connected on a learning command, control, communications and intelligence, or C3I, network.
“We believe this vision is very well-matched for an evolving era of technological dynamism as well as warfare where challenges are multidomain and multifunctional and operations — especially cyber, electronic warfare and guided-munition salvos — move at high speeds,” Work said.
“These speeds are going to shrink the human-based [observe, orient, decide and act] loop and we’re going to have to go after these technologies to fight fire with fire and buy back the time for our [people] to make decisions that will allow us to prevail at the tactical and operational levels of war,” he added.
Work said that new operational constructs are emerging not only from the Air Force but from the Army and the Navy.
The Army’s new operational construct is the concept of multidomain battle, he said, and the Navy has introduced an idea called electromagnetic maneuver.
In an introduction to a 2016 Naval War College Review reading posted to the Army Capabilities Integration Center website, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, deputy commanding general-futures at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, wrote that multidomain battle is cross-domain operations in the context of joint combined arms maneuver that creates temporary windows of superiority across multiple domains, and allows joint forces to seize, retain and exploit the initiative.
An unclassified briefing called A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower presented in March 2015 characterized electromagnetic maneuver as the Navy’s warfighting approach to gaining military advantage in the electromagnetic spectrum, or EMS, to enable freedom of action across all Navy mission areas.
The approach would let the Navy understand and control signatures, command the EMS as critical maneuver space, and use the EMS to deliver integrated fires, according to the briefing.
To the Air Force, the deputy secretary described a specific area where airmen could naturally help advance third offset thinking and serve the joint force.
“We need ideas about how to connect sensing and effect grids through a command and control grid that is multidomain, multifunctional and coalition friendly,” Work said.
“We need Air Force thinkers to expand the idea of the [combined air operations center] and think in terms of building a joint learning C3I network that can mesh operations across domains, across functions, with allies and sometimes across regions,” he added.
“All have the potential to once again transform the way the joint force fights,” Work said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)