In a recent NDU speech, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bob Work, spoke about the need for a third offset strategy in order to maintain U.S. technological superiority. This raises a couple of questions: What is an “offset strategy”? And what is the Department of Defense (DoD) thinking about with this approach?
A keen student of military-technical history, Work is building on two famous previous such strategies. By offset, he means a strategy that allows one force to overcome or mitigate another force’s advantages. Looking back, Work identifies the use of superior U.S. nuclear capability in the early part of the Cold War, under Eisenhower in particular, to “offset” the numerical superiority of Soviet forces. This first offset strategy was successful until the Soviet Union developed a credible second-strike nuclear capability and especially as it achieved nuclear parity and mutually assured destruction with the United States. This left the United States in a bind, as it was no longer credible that the United States would risk its own destruction by using nuclear weapons first against a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.
Accordingly, the United States then developed a second, conventional “offset” strategy, designed to create a stronger conventional deterrent against the numerically superior Soviets. This strategy has since become known as the Offset Strategy.
Developed under the leadership of then-Under Secretary of Defense Bill Perry in the late 1970s, there were two primary components to the Offset Strategy. First, the DOD generated technological superiority by investing its robust research and development (R&D) budget into specific information-based technological enablers and ‘force multipliers’ like global positioning services (GPS), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms and a range of information and networking technologies that would improve the efficacy of extant U.S. weapons platforms.
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