WASHINGTON — As the fiscal year 2017 budget request awaits delivery, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work has kicked off planning of fiscal year 2018 with a memo outlining seven areas set to undergo the Strategic Portfolio Review (SPR) process.

The items chosen by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter for study give insight into what the Pentagon presumes will be the key challenges to be addressed in the next budget. The results will guide tradeoffs that need to be taken in the next budget request.

"These SPRs, in conjunction with direction in the 2016 Defense Planning Guidance, will be the Department's primary analytical activities to support the upcoming" 2018 president budget request, Work wrote in a Feb. 3 memo obtained by Defense News.

Unsurprisingly, the memo shows a focus on the development of new technologies and concerns over Russia and China, which ties into comments made by Carter Feb. 2 in Washington.

"We must have — and be seen to have — the ability to impose unacceptable costs on an advanced aggressor that will either dissuade them from taking provocative action, or make them deeply regret it if they do," Carter said then,  adding that "In this context, Russia and China are our most stressing competitors."

The review process is co-led by Jamie Morin, director for the Pentagon's Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), along with an official from another Pentagon office.  The seven areas of study were named, but details on the focus were not given. Those areas are:

  • Third Offset Strategy, co-led by Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisitions official. The so-called "Third Offset" is an umbrella term under which innovative new technologies to stay ahead of near-peer competitors will be developed. The signature initiative of Work’s tenure, the concepts of the Ooffset have been sprinkled throughout the FY17 budget request.
  • Strategic Mobility in a Contested Environment, co-led by US Transportation Command. Much of the Pentagon’s attention in recent years has gone towards dealing with the Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) issue where an enemy can keep US forces out of its territory, which poses a particular challenge for mobility assets like tankers that do not have stealth characteristics. Such concerns are likely behind the decision to invest in an unmanned tanker system for the Navy.
  • Stress on the Force, Posture and Global Presence, co-led by Christine Wormuth, undersecretary for policy, as well as the Joint Staff. One of the major challenges facing the Pentagon is the mix of high-and-low force posture when looking to deal with threats from the Islamic State group, commonly known as ISIS or ISIL, as well as from a resurgent Russia and an ambitious China.
  • Ground Combat, co-led by the Joint Staff and Kendall. While the "Rebalance to the Pacific" gives a boost to the Navy and Air Force, the Army has been left without a clear future and with few new technologies in development. It may be getting a boost from Russia’s actions in Europe, but what new capabilities are needed remains to be seen.
  • Space, co-led by the Principal Dod Space Advisor, a new role created in 2015 and assigned to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. The department has not hid its concerns about the accessibility to space that potential adversaries now have, and the Air Force is on the verge of having to decide if it should change its strategy for space into one of "disaggregation," which would see capabilities broken up across numerous small satellites instead of aggregated into one large system.
  • Munitions, co-led by the Joint Staff. In his roll out of the FY17 budget request, Sec. Carter made it clear he is interested in increasing the lethality of existing munitions such as the Tomahawk or SM-6. Developing improvements to other existing munitions, as well as determining the appropriate level of procurement for weapons, will help forge strategy for the department going forward.
  • Counter-Power Projection, co led by Wormuth. This again ties back into the idea of near-peer competitors such as China and Russia looking to expand their spheres of influence, and how the US can work to challenge that.

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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