In a Nov. 15 speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the creation of a Pentagon initiative to develop new military technologies and operational concepts to counter growing threats to U.S. military supremacy. He noted that potential American adversaries are increasingly able to field advanced weaponry that rivals U.S. capabilities at a time when the Pentagon finds itself in a severely constrained fiscal environment. According to Hagel, the new initiative will seek to produce breakthrough innovations and eventually “develop into a game-changing third ‘offset’ strategy” that will allow the United States to remain the world’s dominant military power in an increasingly challenging security environment.
The two previous U.S. offset strategies were implemented during the Cold War. The first, adopted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration during the 1950s, relied on the vast size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to offset the Soviet Union’s enormous numerical superiority in conventional forces. The second offset strategy began to emerge two decades later. By the mid-1970s, the Soviets were approaching nuclear parity with the United States, a development that appeared to undermine the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Having downsized considerably after the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. military continued to find itself heavily outnumbered by Soviet forces. American defense planners turned to advanced technology as a way to even the playing field.
Beginning in the second half of the 1970s, the Pentagon embarked on a number of research and development projects that sought to exploit the U.S. lead in the emerging fields of electronics and information technology. The payoffs from these efforts were impressive, coming in the form of enhanced communications and information networking, improved battlefield intelligence and surveillance, stealth aircraft and “smart” weapons that could strike their targets with unprecedented accuracy, even when fired from long distances. While each innovation was significant in its own right, it was the integration of these new capabilities into new operational concepts that ultimately transformed the American way of war and ushered in an era of unprecedented military dominance.