Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work on Wednesday outlined the Pentagon’s plans for an advanced war-fighting strategy involving robot weapons and remote-controlled warfare.
In a speech to the Army War College Strategy Conference, Mr. Work said the “third offset strategy” will rely heavily on autonomous systems that will allow machines and U.S. technological superiority to win wars.
The strategy follows two earlier “offsets” — the use of asymmetric means to counter enemy advantages. During the Cold War, strategic deterrence and tactical nuclear arms were used to offset the Soviet Union’s ground force numerical advantages. In the 1970s, precision-guided conventional weapons were deployed to offset the quantitative shortcomings of foreign conventional forces.
Mr. Work said precision-guided warfare is reaching the end of its shelf life as foreign states have developed countermeasures.
The third offset will be designed to defeat states like China, which is developing niche, offset weapons such as anti-ship ballistic missiles and anti-satellite arms.
“The real essence of the third offset strategy is to find multiple different attacks against opponents across all domains so they can’t adapt, or they adjust to just one, and they died before they can adapt again,” he said.
Mr. Work said defense strategists are divided between those who seek to continue to focus on low-end conflict and those who say future wars will require high-end forces for use against competitor states with large militaries, like China and Russia. “We don’t have an answer right now” on which direction the Pentagon will go, he said.
The deputy defense secretary said the offset strategy calls for adapting “three-play chess” to modern warfare, in which U.S. military forces will employ highly skilled people operating advanced technological machines against less-capable forces.
Mr. Work said the “Air Sea Battle” concept, designed to break into Asia against Chinese missiles and submarines, has evolved into “Air Land Battle 2.0.”
“Air Sea Battle, in my view, kind of went wrong,” said Mr. Work, one of the concept’s architects.
The revised concept will involve avoiding being targeted by massive Chinese missile salvos or submarine attacks through “getting into their networks, blowing them up and keep them from seeing you,” he said.
Next, salvo attacks will be countered with defenses designed to hit missiles and destroy submarines and missile-carrying bombers before they fire. Last, after surviving the massed strikes, joint assault forces will be injected to make it an “air-land battle.”
“I believe that what the third offset strategy will revolve around will be three-play combat in each dimension,” Mr. Work said. “And three-play combat will be much different in each dimension [air, sea, land], and it will be up for the people who live and fight in that dimension to figure out the rules.”
“We will have autonomy at rest, our smart systems being able to go through big data to help at the campaign level and to be able to go through big data at the tactical level. So autonomy at rest and autonomy in motion,” he said.
The most difficult domain for robots is the ground.
“Just getting robots to move over terrain is one of the most difficult things you can imagine,” Mr. Work said.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s high-tech development center, is working on a program called Squad X that is focusing on human-machine interaction at the tactical level. The program includes ground robots, microdrones and squad-sized military units equipped with intelligence and super-lethal weapons that can cover large areas.
“And this is not as far away as you might think,” Mr. Work said, noting that the Army is conducting experiments with “manned and unmanned teaming” of Apache attack helicopters.
Robot-driven vehicles also are coming, along with human-sized robots used as porters, firefighters, countermine robots, and countersniper robots.