Third Offset Strategy

The Third Offset Strategy is the US response to the military rise of revisionist powers like the People’s Republic of China. It aims to overcome the limitations of the RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs) of Information, the one that in the decades before and after the turn of the century promised us a long-distance, precise and bloodless war, is already a reality assimilated to a greater or to a lesser extent by many of the most powerful armies. It is evident that this RMA has changed the way of waging war in many aspects, although its influence is far from what was promised by many of its main defenders during the happy 90s. The new developments in terms of autonomous weapons, cyber warfare or nanotechnology, for On the contrary, they represent a change of greater significance that could forever change not only military tactics, doctrine, operations or strategy, but also the very concept of war. Developments that the Third Offset Strategy seeks to promote and accelerate as much as possible to guarantee US military supremacy.

Differences between a Military Revolution and a Revolution in Military Affairs

Before explaining what the Third Offset Strategy really is or the reasons why it could lead to a new RM (Military Revolution), we must explain the difference between this phenomenon -which has only occurred a few times throughout history – and the much more numerous Revolutions in Military Affairs.

A Military Revolution implies that the way of waging war, as a whole, changes drastically compared to the previous period. For example, after the Middle Ages, with the appearance of the Modern State and its great economic capacity thanks to the systematic collection of taxes, professional armies became general. Technologies such as firearms -especially artillery- also spread, and it became necessary to build fortresses designed according to the Italian layout throughout Europe and in the colonies, or to replace galleys with galleons. With this, the war became something completely different from what it had been until then. It ceased to be based on an elite of knights, generally forming part of the retinues of a few noble landowners, as well as organizing itself based on seasonal mobilizations dependent on crops. This reduced the power of the nobility, eclipsed by the Crown, the only institution capable of maintaining a permanent army well equipped with the new firearms.

Something similar happened after the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, closely linked. The massive armies possible thanks to the appearance of the citizen-soldier, their organization into large division-type units, artillery advances both in precision and mobility, resistance to fatigue or mass production, the development of military logistics, which allowed operations to on a large scale and at an unprecedented speed, etc., motivated the appearance of a form of warfare that in many ways extends to the present day and that marked a before and after.

Without going into whether the appearance of the atomic weapon meant a new RM, altering the relationship between political objectives and military means forever, what the reader must understand is that each of these great advances or RM has had an impact that goes beyond the military sphere, to the point of having obvious economic, social and political effects.

On the other hand, each one of these military revolutions has been marked by various RMAs that, as they happened, gave a decisive advantage, but by force provisional, to whoever implemented it more quickly. Thus, thanks to the railway and the genius of von Moltke, for example, Prussia was able to impose itself on France quickly in 1871, although it was of no use in 1914 when the Russian mobilization was much faster than the German General Staff could foresee thanks to other reasons, also to the railway itself. In a similar way years before, in Sinope (1853), the Russian fleet commanded by Pável Najímov was able to give a good account of the Ottoman navy, thanks to the use of Paixhans howitzers, among other reasons, although nothing could stand against the French and English, who they counted on these and other advances soon after, in the Crimea.

In summary, what the reader must understand is that, if a RM occurs on a global scale and has a political, economic, industrial, social and even cultural scope, an RMA is a much more limited phenomenon, limited to the strategic scale and whose scope is limited only to the armed forces and their way of functioning and not to society as a whole.

With its new aircraft carriers, the Chinese Navy will be able to bolster its A2D2 capabilities in the China Sea, thereby limiting the ability of the US to deploy in support of its partners. Photo - China Central Television
With its new aircraft carriers, the Chinese Navy will be able to bolster its A2D2 capabilities in the China Sea, thereby limiting the ability of the US to deploy in support of its partners. Source – China Central Television.

Information-Based Revolution in Military Affairs

The last great RMA that has marked the future of contemporary warfare is the information RMA. Its possibilities became evident, at least to the general public, after the US military intervention in the Gulf War (1991), despite which, its origin is much earlier. Indeed, said RMA was born as a consequence of the Second Compensation Strategy and the SDI launched by the Reagan Administration to counteract the Soviet superiority in conventional means in the European theater as well as to shake off the trauma of Vietnam. This conflict had called into question the American way of waging war, based on attrition, and demonstrated to the US military the need to explore new paths if they were to succeed on the battlefield. To do this, taking advantage of advances, especially in terms of information technology, they gave birth to a series of technologies that allowed their owner an unusual capacity to collect data about the battlefield, process it and use it to attack with weapons designed to take advantage of that wealth of information.

Today no one is surprised by the use of “intelligent” weapons such as cruise missiles or JDAM bombs (Joint Direct Attack Munition or Joint Direct Attack Munition) or Paveway even in “minor” operations, such as campaigns against Daesh. Nor is the appearance on the scene of weapons systems as complex as the F-117 stealth aircraft -perhaps one of the most recognizable faces of this RMA due to its role in the Gulf War or in the air campaigns over the Balkans-, the most recent B-2 or the current F-22 and F-35 fighter-bombers. This, despite the bulk of operations being taken over by suitably upgraded legacy systems such as the F-15, F-16, F-18, Gust, Su-30 or MiG-29 that, without including all the possibilities of the RMA, do take advantage of a good part of the advances that caused it.

In the same way, the widespread use of global positioning systems that makes the precision of the aforementioned smart munitions possible cannot be surprising. Nor the appearance of new networks that compete with the American GPS network such as the Russian system Glonass, the Chinese Beidou or  Galileo -implemented by the European Union- and which is the best example of the generalization is the RMA of the information and from which, in addition, we all benefit on a day-to-day basis, given its dual use.

Above all, the interconnection between the systems for obtaining data on the battlefield, those systems that must process said data and the weapons with which they will be beaten, summarized in acronyms such as C4ISTAR is already a reality even in armies as humble as the Spanish. Even without having the panoply of AW&C aircraft, satellites, drones or reconnaissance and command and control vehicles that the United States boasts -or without going any further our French neighbors-, the interconnection between data acquisition systems and of the three armies, the command and control systems and the weapons systems themselves are advancing year after year and with it the possibility of attacking targets from the plane, tank or ship that is in the best position to do so.

Naturally, the diffusion of the most characteristic technologies of those that have starred in this RMA is, in a certain way, the announcement of its exhaustion. Thus, if the RMA of information provided the United States with uncontested military superiority and ensured for more than a decade the role of hegemon globally, in recent years the situation has been changing at great speed, to the point of making the Third Offset Strategy necessary as a means to give birth to a new RMA.

Although bases such as Andersen, on the island of Guam, will continue to be used for decades, the future RM will allow their importance to be reduced. Photo - USAF
Although bases such as Andersen, on the island of Guam, will continue to be used for decades, the future RM will allow their importance to be reduced. Source – USAF.

The relative decline of the United States and the need for the Third Offset Strategy

The peak of this situation of hegemony -something always exceptional in history- occurred around the turn of the century and especially after the fateful 11/XNUMX that led to the start of the War on Terror. In it, the United States demonstrated its ability to intervene in places as diverse as Iraq or Afghanistan in incredibly short periods of time and carrying out extremely rapid operations with hardly any opposition either on the ground or in the diplomatic arena, because despite the reservations from other states, no one was able to thwart American plans since no one was in a position to do so. Not only the solidarity that aroused as an attacked country, but the reality of a hard power that had no opposition forced the rest to choose to support the US, as Russia did, or to side, as in the case of China, when in a situation of greater parity, they would have adopted a different strategy.

Now, if these conflicts demonstrated what the fruits of the RMA could offer, it is no less true that they also served to expose its limitations against enemies that used other ways of waging war, whether asymmetric, irregular or hybrid.

As if this were not enough, the time and money, as well as the resources used in said interventions -because it is also necessary to take into account the human capital and even the political and diplomatic capital lost as a result of them-, far from improving the security of the United States, has only served to erode it. If these campaigns have forced many of the advances that are part of the RMA to be put into practice, the truth is that this has only been done halfway, since it has had to be done by resorting to cutbacks in terms of investment in research and the acquisition of truly revolutionaries in favor of others more suitable for this type of conflict, such as the MRAP. All this in the midst of a scenario, since 2008, of financial crisis, marked by the large deficit and the negotiations around the spending ceiling that have greatly limited the United States military budget and have left it in a very bad position to deal with the real threats that it will have to face in the coming decades.

As is logical, this situation has been taken advantage of by the rivals of the United States -especially China and Russia-, to implement improvements in their armed forces, taking advantage of the generalization of the technologies born at the mercy of the RMA, partially closing a military gap that, if at the turn of the century it was abysmal, it is not so much anymore.

A good example of this are the recurring Russian exhibitions in its intervention in Syria, in which it has shown – with the intention of attracting export customers rather than for its specific utility – more than a hundred and a half new weapons, including new variants of helicopters, planes or drones, missiles, smart bombs or electronic warfare systems. First of all, it has demonstrated an ability to acquire targets and control the battlefield that is light years away from what has been seen in conflicts as recent as those in Chechnya (1994-1996 and 1999-2009) or Georgia (2008). In fact, with maneuvers as cunning as the control of the Syrian airspace, whose air defense network was integrated with the Russian one in August of last year, it has managed, using the best information that RMA offers, to alter the strategic balance in the region through deterrence.

China, for its part, has been seeking its own variant of the RMA since the 90s, with such original proposals -based on Asymmetric Warfare- such as that of Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui who in 1999 published their book “War without restrictions”. Its economic and technical potential, however, as well as its geopolitical constraints, have led China to opt for a more conventional path, in which most of the technologies of the American RMA have been adopted. Under the firm hand of Xi Jinping, whose geopolitical ambitions have nothing to do with the restraint shown in the past by Den Xiaoping, Jiang Zeming or Hu Jintao, he is developing stealth aircraft, intends to seize a significant part of the world market for civil drones and military, is building its second indigenous aircraft carrier at breakneck speed and launching frigates and destroyers at a furious pace, while persevering with the modernization of its huge and partly still outdated land army. Above all, conditioned by the presence of US troops in South Korea, Japan and Guam, as well as by the support provided by the US to Taiwan and by the threat posed by the US Navy, China has opted for develop numerous missile systems that will ensure the creation of an effective A2/D2 area over the East China and South China seas.

Even medium powers such as Iran have been able to significantly undermine the position of the United States and its allies in vital regions such as the Middle East during this time thanks to a fortunate combination of strategy – alliances or specific collaborations with Russia, Turkey or Qatar – and sponsorship – case of Hezbollah – but also investment in its armed forces with the incorporation of numerous technologies, both indigenous and developed by Russia and China, ranging from anti-aircraft systems to optronic equipment and various sensors for tanks or combat aircraft to anti-ship missiles.

The commissioning of new ship types like the USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) is a first step in weaning ourselves off dependence on offshore air and naval bases. Photo - US Navy
The commissioning of new ship types like the USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) is a first step in weaning ourselves off dependence on offshore air and naval bases. Source – US Navy.

The Chinese threat

The challenges posed by Iran, North Korea or Russia itself, despite being taken into account by US strategists, pale in comparison to the threat posed by a People’s Republic of China, comparable in every respect – one would say that even greater in some aspects, such as the economic or the demographic – than the Soviet Union once represented.

Indeed, China is a global competitor that, although it does not threaten from an ideological point of view -given the limited appeal of Maoist-style communism-, it is limiting power and even expelling the US from regions in which it until now it has had a notable influence -when not hegemony- like Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia or Central Asia.

Despite this growing power, China has remained vulnerable to attack by the United States for a long time, especially if it came from its air and naval forces. This threat required an ad hoc response and therefore, at the end of the 90s and after a period of analysis, in China they understood that in the event of a war with the United States, the optimal way to confront the Americans was to do it asymmetrically and impose an Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) zone on US forces.

It must be taken into account that China has had to see how the United States operated off its coast with total impunity since the XNUMXth century, something that has been repeated over and over again regarding each crisis with Taiwan or Korea. In response, Chinese strategists have decided to give their ballistic and cruise missile capabilities a major boost with the creation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force. Capacities to which must be added those of the EPL Air Force, which will play a key role with its strategic bombers equipped with cruise missiles.

The raison d’être of this strategy lies in the servitudes inherent to the global deployment of the US. It must be taken into account that the Armed Forces of the United States, especially in the case of a war with China, would have enormous logistical costs, arising from the need to support men, weapons and bases at distances that are counted in thousands of kilometers. Its strategic bombers, tankers, AWACS planes and fighter planes would have to operate from a handful of bases in the Pacific, far removed from US territory. Its air-naval fleet would also have to be supplied with fuel and ammunition from bases in the Western Pacific if it intends to maintain a high rate of operations, and all of this is only possible, precisely, because of the existence of those few bases and both a naval and an air fleet that hold them. With these bases eliminated, the threat that the US poses to China would become very different.

For example, without these bases, the US Air Force fighter planes would have to operate from Hawaii or from the US West Coast itself, pushing the physical effort of the pilots to the limit, who would be limited to a few outings a week at best. Similarly, if the fighter-bombers had to operate from Andersen Air Force Base (Guam) to conduct air patrols over the Taiwan Strait, they would only be able to make less than one sortie per day during the first week, with this ratio falling to less than 0,5. XNUMX sorties a day for the rest of the first month of war. Ridiculous figures when compared to the number of sorties carried out over Iraq or Afghanistan in past conflicts and clearly insufficient to confront China.

Keep in mind that during a high-intensity war like the one we are talking about, fuel and ammunition consumption would skyrocket. Not all bases have sufficient runway length to operate air tankers, AWACS and strategic bombers, nor are all bases equipped with magazines with a large quantity of ammunition or fuel tanks and other liquids or spare parts warehouses and adequate workshops for sustain this force. Something similar, although with nuances, would happen with the US Navy, forced to operate from Hawaii and subjecting its logistics capabilities to an enormous effort. In addition, conditioned by the impossibility of introducing its aircraft carriers into the East China and South China seas, it would have to operate its fighter-bombers at the limit of its range…

So we have a situation where the United States, which has so far maintained costly permanent deployments in South Korea or Japan, as the basis of its forward presence strategy – and under the umbrella of its extended nuclear deterrent – is forced to withdraw not so much because of its inability to decisively defeat China, but because the number of casualties in the first hours of a hypothetical conflict could lead public opinion to call for an end to the war before its enormous military and industrial capacity had Had time to get into the game. That is, without a doubt, the raison d’être of China’s commitment both to missiles and to establishing a series of advanced bases in the first chain of islands that de facto convert its adjacent seas into authentic bastions, in the style that Russia did with the Okhotsk and White seas.

Be that as it may, the situation for the United States has become very complicated because after the time lost in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, without the possibility of strategic manoeuvre, it has seen how its rivals have gone on the offensive, approaching key areas and questioning its role as the leading global power.

Future evolutions of the Virginia-class SSN will allow the range of missions to be increased while reducing exposure. That is why the US plans to significantly increase the number of these platforms. Photo - General Dynamics
Future evolutions of the Virginia-class SSN will allow the range of missions to be increased while reducing exposure. That is why the US plans to significantly increase the number of these platforms. Source – General Dynamics.

Third Offset Strategy: The US response

The United States, despite having been surpassed by China in parameters such as GDP (PPP or Purchasing Power Parity), to threaten a return to its traditional isolationism – broken after World War II due to the need to respond to the Soviet threat – or having seen how their rivals incorporated or developed on their own many of the key technologies of the last RMA, they continue to be, without a doubt, the first military power on the planet.

Furthermore, they have the know-how, the industrial and economic capacity, the human capital and the necessary will to continue being so for decades and that is why, far from sitting idly by, they have launched the Third Offset Strategy to ensure their military supremacy for the coming decades, successfully achieving this way a freedom of action that right now is limited by the strategies of other actors. A strategy that, if consolidated, “would win [for the US] a new RMA that would provide it with a new period of military supremacy.”

Defined in the 2012 Defense Strategic Guide and in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Third Offset Strategy must respond to four major operational issues:

  • Facility Vulnerability: As we’ve noted for bases in South Korea, Japan, or even Guam, more and more US deployments abroad are susceptible to enemy saturation attacks.
  • Enemies have equipped themselves with increasingly powerful C4ISTAR means, which makes it possible, for example, to track US Navy units and therefore makes US deployments even more vulnerable.
  • The improvement of anti-aircraft defenses, which makes the fourth generation aircraft (F-15, F-16 and F-18) increasingly vulnerable, which are -and will continue to be for years- the bulk of the fleet.
  • The Chinese and Russian ASAT (anti-satellite) capabilities that make US satellites susceptible to being attacked both by physical means -anti-satellite missiles- and by cyber means, which would lead to a drastic reduction in the military capabilities of this country, very dependent on these.

Dealing with these problems forces us to innovate and for this reason, in the Pentagon, they are betting on the most promising technologies and, especially, on those in which the United States, today -and in the future, if its plans come true- hold a significant advantage. These technologies are related to the following fields:

  • Unmanned Operations: Let’s talk about aerial, terrestrial or marine systems, both surface and submerged, unmanned systems and, increasingly, autonomous, are the future.
  • Long-distance naval and air operations: Through floating expeditionary bases, such as the recently commissioned USS Lewis B. Muller (ESB 3), or through unmanned tanker planes that allow a significant increase in the radius of action of USAF aircraft or projection possibilities of the US Marine Corps, the US aims to be able to bring its military force to any scenario without depending on the current network of bases or unreliable allies.
  • Non-observable operations: The design of stealthy forms or stealth It is based on principles that have been known for decades. However, stealth technologies go far beyond radar “invisibility” based on this or that form. Aspects such as the composition of the material, the paint, the infrared emissions and many other factors complicate invisibility to unsuspected levels. Given that the United States is, by far, the country with the most tradition and know-how in this specific sector and that has taken advantage of its advantages with notable success, it intends to continue leading this race and apply its discoveries not only to traditional fighter-bombers, in the process of disappearing, but to the entire amalgam of weapons and systems, from cruise missiles such as the future LRSO that will replace the USAF’s AGM-86B to underwater drones.
  • Submarine warfare: Precisely, submarine combat is another field dominated by the United States. Its ability to design and manufacture submarines with the greatest stealth and the most complete array of weapons and sensors, and to do so in large series, thereby achieving great economies of scale, is unmatched. They are determined that this trend will continue the same and, in fact, they intend to complement all their new submarines and those already in service with different types of ROVs that allow the mother ship to increase its detection capacity without revealing its position, attack from these in instead of doing it from traditional torpedo tubes or inserting EO patrols, among many other things, wherever it is necessary. All this without detriment to continuing to fulfill the traditional missions of submarines, such as, for example, threatening enemy lines of communication or ensuring, in the case of SSBNs, traditional deterrence.
  • Systems engineering and integration: Perhaps the key to the entire US military edifice lies precisely in its ability to create a system of systems that goes far beyond the current one, taking inter-arms cooperation within each army to new levels. and inter-armies within the whole of its armed forces and that allows control over the battlefield like never before. A control, in fact, over a battlefield that has only expanded in recent decades, to include air, space and, increasingly, the Internet…

In short, the Third Offset Strategy is a strategy aimed precisely at compensating for Chinese advances and which emphasizes:

  • Do without the current costly deployments typical of the advanced presence, such as those that the United States maintains in the Korean Peninsula or in Europe.
  • Minimize the exposure of human combatants based on the use of remotely controlled and even autonomous unmanned aerial, naval and ground systems in such a way that the aversion to casualties typical of postmodern societies does not become a limitation when it comes to to use military power.
  • The development of A2/D2 networks that protect US partners once their troops have left the scenarios in which they are currently positioned and make it possible to dissuade any enemy from carrying out an attack, even though they no longer there are US troops on site.
  • In the ability, above all, to strike anywhere and at any time based on the development of a global observation and attack network. Such a network should make it possible to attack with intelligent weapons such as cruise missiles or UCAVs wherever necessary and without relying on expensive fixed bases or even satellites, which are increasingly vulnerable.

All this with the intention of squaring the circle, by pursuing these objectives in a framework of predictable budgetary moderation, weighed down as military spending is by the numerous internal political problems in the US that prevent its political parties from reaching long-term agreements term on the volume of admissible debt and the spending ceiling.

It is intended, therefore, to be able to strike there and when necessary regardless of the A2/D2 assets deployed by the enemy, the distance from CONUS, the threats to forward bases or the type of enemy. In fact, it is intended to be able to provide an adequate response to each threat, be it conventional, nuclear, hybrid, asymmetric or of any other type that we can imagine, which, on paper, seems more like a wish than something feasible. However, the US insists on betting on the Third Offset Strategy, which forces us to explain in a little more detail both what it consists of, as well as the Military Revolution that it could give rise to.

3D printing will be one of the technologies that will revolutionize military logistics. The USMC is investing heavily in it. Photo - USMC
3D printing will be one of the technologies that will revolutionize military logistics. The USMC is investing heavily in it. Source – USMC

Does the Third Offset Strategy as a prelude to a Military Revolution?

If the forecasts come true and the United States manages to bring its initiative to fruition, the new technologies associated with the Third Offset Strategy may give rise not to an RMA, but to an RM in the broadest sense of the concept. The generalization of robotic systems both controlled by an operator and autonomous, the increasing importance of the cybernetic battlefield, in opposition to the other four physical battlefields or the significant reduction of the human component, threaten to change not only the way of waging war, but the very face of war. It is not, as some suggest, that war ceases to be cruel or that casualties become non-existent, that no one is deceived, but that the relationship between citizens, the military and the war phenomenon itself remains altered forever.

Think of an extremely high-tech conflict in which a multitude of drones acting in a swarm and led by a single human located thousands of kilometers away knock out enemy anti-aircraft defenses by saturation or attack independent targets with a precision that even today would surprise. A conflict in which hundreds of specialists would be scattered throughout the national territory, taking advantage of the possibilities of Wi-Fi connections that are everywhere, fighting from their computers to gain control of enemy weapons systems, sabotage their power plants or sink their markets. A war in which autonomous robots would act in the manner of traditional infantry, reconnoitering and cleaning up disputed areas, programmed to distinguish friend from foe and to minimize non-combatant casualties. A war in which hypersonic missiles could be launched from the security of the national territory to practically any part of the world in a matter of minutes and in which it would be possible to monitor in real time the status and position of each robot, human, ship, plane or anything else that comes to mind, while among them they share absolutely all the information that each one collects and the system itself is in charge, monitored by humans -or not-, of deciding how to use it in the most advantageous way.

It sounds like science fiction, in the same way that some of the technologies proposed by the Reagan Administration might have done so to the ears of their contemporaries. Now, although many of them were parked for various reasons, it cannot be denied that a large part have been developed and implemented, in some cases beyond what was originally planned, since they have adapted to the reality of the conflicts much better than others in most promising start. The difficult thing, in view of how different the maturation of the technologies that were born at the mercy of the Second Compensation Strategy and the Strategic Defense Initiative has been, is to discern, based on the lines of research and development that are open what the battlefield of the future will look like today. However, there are indications to make predictions with a certain basis and glimpse some of the main changes that will star in the next RM.

At the grand strategy level, if the Third Offset Strategy succeeds, the US will have far greater leeway than it now has to use its military power. On the one hand, the US will be able to carry out large-scale military operations against any enemy and at any distance, even in theaters defended by complex A2/D2 networks, such as the Black Sea or the China Sea. On the other hand, the significant reduction in the number of casualties, by using a much higher proportion of robotic systems, could facilitate the approval of military operations by overcoming the resistance of the civilian population to carrying out this type of practice. This will have obvious consequences for US grand strategy, since to achieve the same thing for which it now needs bases around the world and advanced defense, it will require considerably less spending, as well as fewer allies and therefore charges.

Nuclear war, beyond problems such as proliferation, which has its greatest exponent in North Korea, is at a historic turning point. For the first time in a very long time, the option of a first strike (first attack) decapitation, at least in the near future, seems feasible for the US, provided that it decides to advance a series of technologies that are in the design phase and that depend on political decision to develop and implement. The use of hypersonic missiles, which can follow much flatter and more unpredictable trajectories than ICBMs -which would make them practically undetectable and very difficult to shoot down, given their speed-, threatens to destroy the strategic balance. In fact, if one of these attacks takes place, Russia or China – currently the only rivals with significant response capacity – could not predict the type of attack or the assigned targets in sufficient time, so given the illogicality of launching a retaliation without data, they should wait for an assessment before issuing any orders and thus risk destroying their ability to respond. The combination of this technology, with the introduction of new fuzes that improve the ratio of nuclear warheads to be used to destroy each enemy silo and improvements in anti-missile systems, such as the use of the SM-3 Block IIB missile, can tip the balance very favor of the USA, yes, at the cost of making the world a more insecure place…

On the other hand, the US will be able to maintain the initiative in any theater of operations. They will be able not only to choose their own strategy, but also to make it succeed, no matter how complex the enemy’s, regardless of whether he opts for a guerrilla, asymmetric, hybrid or conventional war. The thought of authors such as Clausewitz, and Liddell Hart, Lenin and Mao, or more recently Beaufre or Luttwak must give way to new theoretical frameworks that integrate cybernetics and robotics, among others. Advances have been made in recent years and a whole series of new concepts and approaches have emerged, but no one has yet succeeded in synthesizing all the possibilities of new conflicts in a single theory.

Stepping down to the operational level, without the current threat of incapacitating missile hail, when it doesn’t completely destroy forward bases, and with less reliance on multipliers like satellites or supply lines, the upside to the US is They are obvious. Thanks to floating bases, 3D printers or the use of strategic drones as communications nodes or GPS substitutes, the US will be able to conduct military operations in any environment, without fear of the destruction of its network of satellites or a cyber attack knock out their command centers and render their armed forces useless. The resilience of the systems, together with the appearance of a decentralized network that is less dependent on strategic nodes, as well as the development of ASAT weapons that allow it to maintain deterrence in this environment, together with a reinforced logistical capacity, will ensure for the US. continuity of operations, whatever the conditions.

The tactic will change more than it has in recent decades. The use of devices such as exoskeletons, augmented reality devices, semi-rigid protections, guided munitions for infantry or autonomous combat robots, which will take on the most dangerous tasks, will relegate traditional infantry. Instead, the infantrymen will continue to exist, either as part of the Special Operations groups -acquiring a strategic sense-, or dedicated to support, patrol and logistics tasks. The disappearance of the infantry as we know it will begin – it has already done so – with the elimination of the large mountain units and paratroopers, increasingly difficult to justify, and later it will catch up with the rest.

The substitution of human combatants for robotic warriors goes far beyond what the end of mass armies meant thanks to the professionalization from the 70s and represents a historical disruption that, although it will not eliminate the victims in conflicts , if it will change the relationship of many societies with the war, knowing that civilians are safe from the responsibility of going to the front.

Of course, every revolution brings both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, ending entire professions, such as combat pilot, will generate resistance of all kinds within the armies themselves and will affect the esprit de corps, eliminating, day by day, the military character of these institutions. occupied by civilians from different areas. On the other hand, the adoption of autonomous weapons systems will provoke a growing debate around moral questions that, while fascinating, will certainly be set aside by the evidence of their military usefulness despite the probable failures of youth that , by the way, will be measured in many human lives cut down by mistake.

On a technical level, advances will occur faster than we imagined: swarms of drones, electromagnetic and directed energy weapons, research and development of new electronic warfare equipment or cyber weapons, new on-board aerial refueling drones , observation and reconnaissance or attack, the hybridization of vehicles and ships, with the development of high-intensity batteries or improved AIP systems, the massive introduction of ground attack weapons in submarines are advances that are already there, but that pale before what could come.

Nanotechnology, which ranges from molecular biology to the manufacture of microscopic machines and components, is a field as unknown to the general public as it is promising for military planners and will make it possible not only to introduce lethal mini-robots on the battlefield , but the manufacture of more resistant materials or much more effective medicines than the current ones. All while dealing with the danger that self-replicating machines could pose, should they get out of control.

3D printing is also likely to become a revolution, given the possibility that increasingly complex equipment will allow everything from printing complex spare parts by laser sintering or stereolithography to printing food. In fact, the US Army already has several dozen of these devices in service among its units, with which it is capable of manufacturing spare parts for all kinds of unforeseen events. Naturally, this requires changes of all kinds, from doctrinal to organic and industrial. In fact, to implement solutions based on 3D printing in the future, the units in the field will have to be able to download the drawings of all kinds of parts, which will change, for example, the relationship with the manufacturers, with whom they will have to have a much closer and more direct contact. In any case, the possibilities for expeditionary units, such as the US Marine Corps, are, at least on paper, limitless.

Cybernetics, that is, the actions of a state to penetrate the computers or networks of another nation will go far beyond what we know. The fifth dimension is already a reality that will only gain importance, marking the prelude to any conflict with actions aimed at nullifying defense systems, altering the economy or simply promoting social discontent in close relation to what until now was psychological warfare and propaganda.

If today the robots support the infantry, in the future they are expected to monopolize the bulk of the missions, operating autonomously and minimizing the number of their own casualties. Photo - US DoD
If today the robots support the infantry, in the future they are expected to monopolize the bulk of the missions, operating autonomously and minimizing the number of their own casualties. Source – US DoD.


There are many more changes and it is not worth studying each of them, since there will be time to dedicate articles in future issues to specific aspects of the Third Offset Strategy or its consequences. However, the reader should keep several ideas, which are what explain that what is to come is an authentic RM and not a simple RMA:

  • The new advances will suppose a revolution in the way in which the societies that can apply it – in the first place the USA – will relate to the phenomenon of war and this will have social, political and economic consequences.
  • Among the technologies that are being investigated in the context of the Third Compensation Strategy, there are several that, more than an improvement, could be a disruption, such as autonomous weapons or supersonic aircraft and missiles, and will have strategic, operational, tactical and doctrinal consequences .
  • The differentiation between armies, navies, air forces or strategic and space forces will be increasingly blurred, since real integration, much more than the current collaboration between them, will mark the future.
  • There will be a clear upheaval at the theoretical level, thanks to a reversal of roles, with virtually every weapon, system or unit capable of having a strategic effect rather than just a tactical or operational one – think of a Russian corvette armed with the Kaliber system or a a hacker capable of taking down another nation’s entire air defense system or sinking their purse.
  • This will take the war anywhere. Although until now civilians have “only” suffered famine or even bombardments, more subtle forms of attack, such as cyber attacks, will be likely to end the lives of thousands or even millions of people by causing accidents in sewage treatment plants, electrical, sanitary networks, etc. In this way, if on the one hand civilians will be freed from serving in the armies except anecdotally, the truth is that they will be more part of the battlefield than ever, since their suffering will not depend on the presence of troops nearby, but it will be daily and universal.

All these changes will come. Some of them are already being produced, but they are only the prelude to what is to come and they are still too little developed to know their future effect. Think of the early arquebuses, which were no match for the English longbow in range or lethality at all, and now think of the effect of machine guns in the First World War. Something similar will happen with the technologies that the US is developing right now to free itself from the strategic corset that oppresses it. If it finally achieves the necessary budgetary stability and its politicians are capable of complying with what the Pentagon and some of the think tanks related demand, the next RM will be a fact. ■


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