Former Navy undersecretary and current senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Robert Martinage crafted a response to the Pentagon’s development of a third offset strategy, arguing that a shift toward longer-range and more survivable platforms would be necessary for future conflicts.

In his report, “Toward a New Offset Strategy: Exploiting U.S. Long-Term Advantages to Restore U.S. Global Power Projection Capability,” Martinage identifies five key enduring sources of advantage for the United States military: unmanned systems, extended-range air operations, low-observable air operations, undersea operations and industry’s competence in engineering complex systems.

“What I suggest as one concept for a new offset strategy would be to take those five areas of enduring advantage and link them together into a Joint Global Surveillance Strike Network,” he said in a presentation at the Capitol on Tuesday. “The network would be balanced…It would be a mix of legacy systems and new systems, of low systems and high systems to give us presence around the world. It would be resilient [in anti-access/area-denial environments] and it would be more tolerant of disruptions to space-based capabilities.”

Northrop Grumman's B-2 bomber. Photo: Air Force.
Robert Martinage argues in his recent report on the third offset strategy that long-range assets, including the B-2 bomber above and its Long-Range Strike Bomber replacement are key to a balanced future force. Photo: Air Force.

The network would also be responsive and scalable, allowing the appropriate and immediate response to any event around the world, he said.

And all this is achievable by the mid- to late-2020s if the Defense Department starts investing in the right research and development and writing the right platform requirements now, he added.

In the joint services’ unmanned portfolio, Martinage said most air systems are medium range, with the RQ-4B Global Hawk and MQ-4C Triton being the exceptions. They are also non-stealthy, except for the RQ-170 Sentinel and potentially the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system. And none so far are air-refuelable. Martinage argued that the portfolio needs to shift towards one that is longer-range, more survivable and support aerial refueling.

In particular, he advocates for a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) unmanned aerial vehicle, as well as a duo of land-based and carrier-based combat UAV systems. The HALE ISR UAV would hedge against the loss of space-based ISR, and the combat systems would bring better endurance to the fighter fleet.

“One of the potential synergies going forward is the combination of aerial refueling and air-refuelable UAVs, because unlike manned aircraft they don’t get tired, there’s no pilot to get tired, so they potentially have very very long mission endurances–potentially 20, 40, 60, 80 hours they could remain aloft. And that just opens the door to a range of new operational concepts about how we use air power,” Martinage said.

He also said that the joint fleet is made up of mostly manned planes and mostly shorter-range attack aircraft instead of longer-range bombers. He wants to see a shift to long-range and unmanned to improve the balance of capabilities.

As for the low-observable capability, Martinage said the Pentagon is not investing in this enabling capability right now but should be.

“When you look at the portfolio, an area that really is a key enduring advantage for us, we’re not really investing very heavily in this,” he said. “You can see most of the inventory is in the nonstealthy category–whether it’s long-range or short-range it’s nonstealthy.”

What the Pentagon should be doing, he said, is staying ahead by harnessing the synergy between low-passive radar cross section reduction and advanced electronic attack, as well as by focusing research and development money on infrared signature management.

And in the undersea domain, Martinage said the Navy will increasingly become a surface fleet in the coming years, letting its submarine capacity drop even as it should be increasing to address future threats.

“By 2028, the amount of undersea capacity we have will drop by about 60 percent when we really should probably be going the other direction. So the question is, how do we stop that decline in undersea capacity in a cost-effective way?” he said.

In addition to investment in the Virginia Payload Module and a family of unmanned underwater vehicles for littoral operations, Martinage said the Navy should develop a wider array of undersea weapons.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a longer-range anti-surface and anti-submarine weapon, a surface-to-air or missile defense weapon, new ground attack options, electronic warfare decoys,” he said. “The ability of the attack submarine to get in under the adversary’s anti-access/area-denial umbrella is very significant, and the question is what’s the highest-leverage payloads you can carry on the submarine to take advantage of that access?”

All told, these changes in the military’s priorities in the coming decade would result in a portfolio of platforms that shift towards longer range and higher survivability.

“The vast majority of our defense investment portfolio, both in terms of current force structure and modernization, is either in sort of the low- to medium-threat environment, or in the regional capabilities. Where we really have a gap, an imbalance in the portfolio, is in the global reach capabilities that are effective in a medium- to high-threat environment,” he said, encouraging officials to take note and change course as they consider their new offset strategy.