November 17, 2014

Press Note: The New DOD Offset Strategy

By Ben FitzGerald, and Shawn Brimley

Washington, November 17 – In a major speech on November 15, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel unveiled the new Defense Innovation Initiative, commonly known as the “third offset strategy.” To explain the speech and the broader initiative – and put them in context – the directors of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Beyond Offset project, Ben FitzGerald and Shawn Brimley, have written a new press note. The full press note is below:

Secretary Chuck Hagel’s speech, and the Defense Innovation Initiative, have been in formulation since the confirmation of Bob Work as the Deputy Secretary of Defense (full disclosure: Work served as CEO of CNAS before his confirmation). This speech showed DOD’s clear intent to focus significant effort on identifying and investing in game-changing technologies, as well as operational concepts and acquisition reform to maintain U.S. technological superiority in the 21st century.  

Hagel and Work have both hinted at this initiative in recent speeches at Newport and the National Defense University. In his latest speech, Hagel showed much clearer intentions and unambiguously communicated to Congress and the Pentagon that this is a serious effort and that Bob Work is firmly in charge. 

Described as a "third offset strategy," the initiative is cast as an attempt to replicate previous efforts to leverage technological innovation to secure U.S. military advantage in a complex and uncertain security environment. The first offset strategy occurred in the early years of the Cold War, as the United States developed a sophisticated global surveillance and strike architecture predicated on nuclear weapons.  The second offset strategy occurred during the late 1970s and was based on game-changing investments in stealth, space, networking, and precision munitions. Hagel is signaling that a new offset strategy must identify and leverage new emerging technologies to secure U.S. technical advantage in the 21st century. 

In his speech, Hagel described how DOD will look at "breakthroughs in the most cutting-edge technologies and systems – especially from the fields of robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data, and advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing,” incorporating perspectives from outside experts and addressing serious bureaucratic issues including budget uncertainty.

The devil will be in the details, however. It remains to be seen whether this initiative will be a serious driver of change or merely fodder for talking points. Even if the Pentagon is able to get its own house in order, this initiative will require congressional support to be successful. 

Shawn Brimley, Executive Vice President and Director of Studies and Ben FitzGerald, Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program are co-directing a major research project on this initiative. Beyond Offset, co-chaired by Bill Lynn, former Deputy Secretary of Defense and CEO of Finmeccanica North America, and Michèle Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and CEO of CNAS. As part of this project, CNAS is sponsoring a range of analysis on military technology strategy. This resource can be viewed at: http://www.cnas.org/beyondoffset

Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Brimley are available for interviews on the speech and offset strategy. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org, or call 202-457-9409.

  • Ben FitzGerald

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Technology and National Security Program

    Ben FitzGerald was a Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at CNAS. In this capacity, Mr. FitzGerald led CNAS efforts to explore...

  • Shawn Brimley

    Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Shawn Brimley is Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) where he manages the center’s research agenda and staff. Mr....