WASHINGTON — The Pentagon hopes to use the next year as a testing ground for the theories behind the Third Offset strategy to lay the groundwork for the next 25 years of American dominance, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said Monday.

Work, speaking at the Center for a New American Security, also opined that despite Russia's aggressive actions in Europe and Syria, China "embodies a more enduring strategic challenge" in the long term for the United States.

Much has been written about the Third Offset strategy, which aims to reassert America's military technological edge. But Work gave greater insight into five key points he is looking into over the next year:

  • Autonomous "deep learning" machines and systems, which the Pentagon wants to use to improve early warning of events. As an example, Work pointed to the influx of "little green men" from Russia into Ukraine as simply a big data problem that could be crunched to predict what was about to happen.
  • Human-machine collaboration, specifically the ways machines can help humans with decision-making. Work's pointed to example for this point was the advanced helmet on the F-35 joint strike fighter, which fuses data from multiple systems into one layout for the pilot.
  • Assisted-human operations, or ways machines can make the human operate more effectively — think park assist on a car, or the experimental "Iron Man" exoskeleton suit DARPA has been experimenting with. Work was careful here to differentiate between this point and what he called "enhanced human operations," for which he did not offer an example, of but warned "our adversaries are pursuing [enhanced human operations] and it scares the crap out of us, frankly."
  • Advanced human-machine teaming, where a human is working with an unmanned system. This is already going on with the Army's Apache and Grey Eagle teaming, or the Navy's P-8 and Triton systems. "We're actively looking at a large number of very, very advanced things," Work said, including swarms of unmanned systems.
  • Semi-autonomous weapons that are hardened to operate in an electronic warfare environment. Work has been raising the alarm for the past year about weapons needing to be hardened against such attacks, and noted the Pentagon has been modifying the small diameter bomb design to operate without GPS if denied.

Because the next year is all about war-gaming and testing the theories behind these points, Work warned not to expect a giant influx of cash in the 2017 budget request, but rather something in the $12 billion to $14 million billion range to "verify" the hypothesis.

The deputy also was up front about why he, and others at the Pentagon, have been talking openly about the technologies it is looking at, citing it as part of the conventional deterrence strategy against near-peer competitors.

"We will reveal to deter and conceal for war-fighting advantage. I want our competitors to wonder what's behind the black curtain," Work said.

That ties into a theme spread through his speech, also raised in previous comments, that the next 25 twenty five years will be defined by competition among "great powers," specifically the US, China and Russia.

"Nothing can match the destructive potential of high-end war between great powers," Work said, and while cooperation with Russia and China is the goal, "we want to make sure we can ensure our national leaders that we are ready in case someone makes a miscalculation."

Russia's actions in Ukraine, which rely on the "little green men" theory of irregular warfare, has proved to be "a laboratory for future 21st century warfare," Work said, and he expects Russia to remain aggressive in the years to come.

But despite that, China is the greater challenge long term because of its strategic thinking in creating partnerships in Africa and South America, he said.

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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