The Defense Department's civilian and military leadership is
pursuing a significant and enduring effort to extend its military,
technological and operational edge well into the future, Deputy
Defense Secretary Bob Work said today.
In a speech at the
Center for a New American Security's National Security Forum, Work
noted that this push into the future is driven by a pressing need to
modify the defense program to meet evolving threats in the national
The effort includes new approaches to
evaluating and offsetting the conventional strengths of potential
adversaries, a commitment to U.S. allies and friends, and a drive to
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work speaks at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C., December 14, 2015. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee)
The Only Great Power
During the period between 1999 and 2014, Work said, the United
States was the world's only great power and the sole military
us enormous freedom of action, but the circumstance is changing” he
said, “The unipolar world is starting to fade and we have a more
multipolar world in which U.S. global leadership is likely to be
For the United States, Work added,
“the most stressing [challenge] is the reemergence of great power
For the purposes of building a defense program
focused on the capabilities of potential adversaries, the deputy
secretary said he uses international relations theorist John
Mearsheimer's definition of a great power -- a state having
sufficient military assets to put up a serious fight in an all-out
conventional war against the dominant power, and possessing a
nuclear deterrent that could survive a first strike against it.
On Their Way
narrow definition, Work said, “[and] from a defense program
perspective, if Russia and China are not yet great powers, they're
well on their way.
“We've been trying
for 25 years to include Russia within the European community and we
want to partner with it on a wide variety of global issues,” Work
said, adding that the United States still seeks both outcomes.
But Russia, he explained, is modernizing its nuclear and
conventional forces, sharpening its warfighting doctrine aimed at
NATO, rattling its nuclear saber, seeking to undermine NATO and
intimidate the Baltic States, and trying to rewrite the
international rule book.
As a result, the department is
adapting its operational posture, contingency plans and programs to
deter further aggression, the deputy secretary said.
The Bottom Line
rising power with impressive latent military technological
capabilities, probably embodies a more enduring strategic challenge
as its ambitions and objectives expand in Asia, [the] Western
Pacific, littoral Africa, Latin America and elsewhere,” Work said.
China's words have been about peaceful
rise and about defense, he added, but its actions will be the true
test of its commitment to peace and stability in the current
The department continues to pursue
military-to-military cooperation and a wide range of
confidence-building measures with China “to make sure we never come
to blows, but ... we can't overlook the competitive aspects of our
relationship, especially in the realm of military capabilities. And
that's the bottom line,” Work said.
A Focus on Capabilities
focuses on the capabilities of potential challengers, and Russia and
China present the United States and its allies and partners with
unique and increasingly stressing military capabilities and
operational challenges, the deputy secretary said.
department understands the importance of engaging with potential
competitors but it does so cognizant of its central purpose “to
reassure our allies and partners ... and to protect U.S. forces and
our allies from direct attack," he added, "and, should deterrence
fail, make sure that we are able to roll back any aggression that
The best way to prevent great-power
competition from becoming great-power conflict, the deputy secretary
said, is for the United States to maintain a safe, reliable and
secure nuclear arsenal for so long as those weapons exist, coupled
with strong conventional deterrent capabilities.
States has historically strengthened its conventional deterrence by
pursuing a combination of superior technological capabilities and
innovative operational and organizational constructs that offset the
strengths of its potential adversaries, Work noted.
In the 1950s, the first offset
strategy sought to blunt Soviet numerical and geographical advantage
along the inner German border by introducing, demonstrating and
developing the operational and organizational constructs to use
battlefield nuclear weapons, he said.
After the Soviets
achieved strategic nuclear parity in the 1970s, the second offset
strategy included precision-guided munitions with near-zero miss.
Today, the department is pursuing a third offset strategy that
includes the following five kinds of technological advances:
1. Learning Systems
3. Human-machine combat teaming
Assisted human operations
5. Network-enabled, cyber-hardened
said the first priority in trying to build a strong deterrent
posture is "to try to achieve a technological overmatch against
department needs new technological capabilities to try to achieve
the technological overmatch important to an offset strategy, the
deputy secretary said, but “you need new organizational and
operational constructs to make them real and to gain operational
Such capabilities also must be demonstrated, Work
added, so an adversary can see that any attempt to achieve
operational success in the warfighting campaign is likely to fail,
even if they were to achieve an initial advantage in time and space.
By Cheryl Pellerin
DOD News / Defense Media Activity
Comment on this article