The U.S. Military Has a Plan to Make Sure Russia and China Can't Win a Great Power War
The Pentagon is largely continuing these efforts under Secretary of Defense James Mattis, even if ‘third offset’ has been dropped from the official lexicon. New organizations like the Defense Innovation Board, headed by Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, continue to meet, and others, like the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), have increased their presence in Silicon Valley and are starting to see some successes. The Pentagon has continued to increase its research, development, testing and evaluation budget requests; appropriation increased by 11.2% in fiscal year 2018 compared to 2017. Another study has estimated that individual budget lines and projects for a range of third offset technologies increased by 43% between fiscal years 2015 and 2017, representing a ‘serious strategic uplift’.
While these individual budget increases are positive signs, there appears to be little consensus or movement to raise the Budget Control Act caps in an effort to move some third offset capabilities from prototype to production. One recent example is the US Navy’s electromagnetic railgun technology: resources started shifting away from it towards more conventional-powered artillery as it neared the final testing and evaluation stage.
For Australia, the third offset’s success or failure will have profound implications for the US’s future military posture in the Indo-Pacific. The third offset can’t replace Washington’s political will or national interest in maintaining the US alliance system, but it can provide a degree of reassurance for allies that worry about the effectiveness of US forces in a high-end conflict. As the third offset will benefit from an exchange of defense science information and coordination, as well as input from multiple allies on new operational concepts and innovation, Australia is well positioned to contribute in a meaningful way.
Brendan Thomas-Noone is a research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.