Invisibility cloaks? Mako anti-antisubmarine drones? Robotic “lobsters”? Stims? F-40 Shrike fighters? Imaginative science fiction or harbingers of the future?
If timing is everything, Singer and Cole have hit the proverbial jackpot.Ghost Fleet arrives just as the Office of the Secretary of Defense is pushing to implement former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s “third offset strategy,” intended to “sustain and advance America’s military dominance for the 21st century.” Along these lines, Secretary Hagel announced the Defense Innovation Initiative. Our current secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, as well as Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work are now pushing the Pentagon’s bureaucracies to bring Hagel’s vision to reality.
Even if these initiatives are successful, however, the third offset strategy may not achieve its intended effects. China is a formidable commercial competitor, the American economy’s ability to support a technological arms race is in doubt, and the nation’s allies may not be able to keep up.
Which technologies will underpin the third offset remains mired in the Pentagon’s planning, programming, and budgeting processes. Everything from robotics, autonomous systems, cyber capabilities, resilient basing, counter-sensor weapons, and more have been floated. Whether subsequent technological innovations, new warfighting concepts, advanced gaming techniques, and defense reforms follow the long-standing concepts associated with AirSea Battle global precision strike, or another yet-to-be-invented overarching idea, it is important to begin considering how the third offset strategy will affect the strategic dynamics in the Asia-Pacific.
Why the Asia-Pacific? Because, the Asian littoral out to the so-called first island chain is the first and most significant area of operations for peacetime military competition between China and the United States as well as the most likely flashpoint for direct conflict between the two. If the third offset strategy is successful, it will help the United States to remain a net security provider in the region while thwarting China’s effort to assert its primacy from the East China Sea to Southeast Asia and beyond to the Indian Ocean.
Chinese military modernization
Modern China, unlike most post-Cold War American adversaries, is technologically advanced and someday relatively soon may even approach or exceed American capabilities in select modern military systems — missiles, space-based, and undersea systems, for example. The trend line for China’s own military technological progress is positive, despite significant but well-known weakness and failures. Where China cannot match American capabilities in the short to intermediate term, it has invested heavily in asymmetric technologies and doctrines intended to counter existing American capabilities.
Many analysts believe that China has developed sophisticated anti-access/area denial strategies (A2/AD) intended to prevent the U.S. Navy and other forces from operating close to China’s territorial waters. Using a wide variety of approaches, from threat of long-range precision strike to mine warfare systems, China hopes to limit American freedom of action in the littorals and perhaps beyond the second island chain. If Chinese efforts are successful, American joint and combined military forces may not reach their full combat potential or incur great losses for trying.