Just before resigning, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel launched a “third offset” strategy whose purpose was to invite DoD and civilian resources to identify future technologies that would allow the US to maintain and renew its military technological superiority. Senior DoD officials such as Frank Kendall had been fretting for months about the challenge posed by rising technical savvy from the likes of China, whether developed locally or through spying. This is a legitimate concern, and continuity should be insured after Hagel’s departure by Defense Deputy Secretary Bob Work, who was named as the point man for this initiative.
Indeed by early December 2014 this strategy was couched into a Long Range Research and Development Plan (LRRDP) Request for Information (RFI). But this document lacks specifics or attractiveness for the type of organizations DoD would most like to hear from.
The main areas of interest within the scope of this initiative are:
3. Air Dominance and Strike
4. Air and Missile Defense
5. Other Technology-Driven Concepts
Apart from implying that land or cyber are less interesting domains, this list is conspicuous in its broad vagueness. Whereas requests issued by DARPA to pursue radically new technology usually include detailed technical and functional background on the current tradespace and challenges they are trying to break through, this document is solely focused on DoD’s broad and vague goals. It is, by its own admission, “loosely modeled” after precedent from the 1970s. Why would this work in today’s vastly different environment? The expectation that anyone outside of the defense industry will bother submitting a substantial proposal should be set rather low.
Conscious that innovation increasingly comes from outside military circles, the Pentagon professes that it would like to receive proposals from the private sector, especially from outside of the usual suspects in the defense industry. Again, left unsaid is how and why innovative companies or labs will find and pay attention to a request that is funneled through the federal government’s usual ponderous solicitation machine. Responses to the RFI should be submitted by January 14, 2015.
* Pentagon – Chuck Hagel’s memo [PDF]
* National Interest – Can America Maintain Its Military-Technology Edge?
* Heritage Foundation – The Third Offset: The “Fairy Dust” Strategy
Below is a video of Secretary Hagel’s speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum on Nov. 15/14 announcing his defense innovation initiative:
At an event organized by Defense One later in November 2014, Bob Work expressed concern that any innovation gap obtained by the US would be maintained for years rather than decades before strategic competitors would copy or catch up with these technology developments.