“Our adversaries have begun to catch us in technology and in some cases, we believe, may overmatch some of our systems,” said a senior intelligence advisor.
That’s why “we’re particularly interested in the pursuit of the third offset,” he said.
Gary Phillips, senior intelligence advisor for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s G-2, Intelligence Support Activity, spoke about the outcome of Unified Quest 2016, or UQ, during a Feb. 19 media roundtable. He was joined by Brig. Gen. Lee Quintas, director, Concept Development and Learning Directorate, Army Capabilities Integration Center.
Unified Quest is the Army’s annual future study exercise, designed to explore strategies and challenges and offer solutions to the force of 2025 and beyond.
The third offset is a Department of Defense strategy begun in 2014, formally called the Defense Innovation Initiative.
The strategy includes targeting scarce modernization dollars at new technologies that could potentially disrupt technologies being used or being developed by adversaries, according to a speech delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, Jan. 28, 2015.
The reason it’s known as the third offset, Work said, is because the first was weaponry developed during the 1950s to offset the Soviet’s “very, very great conventional strength.”
The second offset also took place during the Cold War in response to Soviet power, but it occurred later, in the 1970s, Work said. That’s when the newly-formed Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency led efforts to build battle networks and precision-guided munitions.
“But just as with the first offset strategy, the second offset strategy is showing its teeth,” Work said. “We’re now starting to see the capabilities and the advantages that it accrues to us is starting to erode, and at an accelerating pace.”
The Future Forces Design I seminar held in November at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the follow-on to that, Future Force Design II, held in Potomac, Maryland, in January, generated a number of ideas regarding what the third offset might look like, and not all of it was technology driven.
Quintas said a lot of the analysis involved looking at how the Army is structured. Specifically, he said how the Army is structured at the division, corps and theater levels, and how effectively those higher echelons support the brigades in joint and expeditionary maneuvers.
Brigades were examined too, he said.
“We looked at our airborne brigades and realized as we did the analysis that they lacked tactical mobility, they lacked reconnaissance capability and lacked mobile protective firepower,” Quintas said. “So, you look at that as a gap and come up with an integrated solution that includes ground mobility for light infantry forces, light reconnaissance vehicular capabilities for the scouts and cavalry squadrons and it includes mobile protective firepower to assist those formations as well.”
Quintas said the UQ participants were especially impressed by the speed at which events can occur at any time in the world.
The Army is largely U.S.-based, with a relatively small forward presence, he said. The rapid rate in which situations develop can impact the time it takes getting to any particular place in the world.
“We’ve got to be able to deploy on short notice to austere locations and operate on moment’s notice,” Quintas said. “We’ve got to be agile in terms of transitioning across the range of military operations. We’ve got to have endurance to sustain those efforts for ample duration. And, we’ve got to have adaptable formations that possess capabilities to operate across the range of military operations.”
Regarding adversaries, Quintas noted: “They’ve studied us and they know there will be a certain amount of time it will take us to project power forward.” As a result, UQ focused on determining what “capabilities and authorities” forward assets may need to make a more rapid transition from buildup to operations.
The other thing that impressed UQ participants was the “transregional aspect to our world,” meaning how events in one part of the world can impact others, including the homeland.
For instance, the linkage between the Islamic State and recent attacks in Paris. And, the spread of al Qaeda to other areas.
Another insight gained at UQ is the extreme complexity of operations in various theaters, Quintas said.
For instance in the European theater, Soldiers must become familiar with a variety of NATO country standards and procedures. Other theaters have their own, he said. The regionally aligned force structure “is an opportunity for us to build greater understanding of those environments and more effectively operate with inter-organizational and multinational partners.”
The U.S. isn’t the only nation or group pursuing an offset. Potential adversaries are as well, Phillips said.
The growing cyber and electronic warfare capability of potential adversaries threaten to take down sophisticated U.S. defense systems, he said.
Overmatch by the enemy isn’t necessarily a new super technology, Phillips said. “It’s the way it’s integrated into the force and the way it’s used.”
A “mashup” of technology is an example of this, he said, meaning using new technology to make an old system more lethal.
An example of that mashup, he said, would be using an iPad to site mortar fire from a legacy 82mm Russian mortar.
Phillips admitted that the outcomes of UQ can only inform the Army to a certain extent “because the future is unknowable. But, you can see a silhouette and likely possibilities in understanding causes of war and turning points or shifts in the character of war.”