US Military Research Labs will take commercial technology for a constant game changing third offset innovation

The US Army, Navy and Air Force all have dedicated research labs

The military research labs are currently pursuing what is called the third military offset strategy.

First offset – nuclear weapons

In the Cold War, the U.S. and its NATO allies sought a series of competitive advantages over the Soviet Union, a means by which to offset their very, very great conventional strength. The United States actually pursued two offset strategies. The first came with President Eisenhower’s New Look Strategy in the early 1950s. When President Eisenhower came into office in 1953, the United States was heavily outnumbered by the Soviet conventional superiority on the European central front.

Eisenhower estimated it would take 92 U.S. and NATO divisions to have any chance of checking, at the time, 175 Soviet divisions. But a force that size, with Europe rebuilding itself after the Second World War, and with the United States starting to try to balance its budget for a long-term competition with the Soviet Union, it was neither politically or economically viable.

So to counter Soviet superiority without bankrupting the West, Eisenhower directed a top-level strategic review which resulted in what was called the New Look. And that said the U.S. would reduce military manpower and would rely instead on its nuclear arsenal, where we had a big advantage at the time, for deterrence. We had a very substantial lead at the time, and that technological advantage in nuclear weapons and their delivery systems provided the most effective offset to Soviet strength and their geographical advantage.

Second offset -precision weapons

Soviets built up their tactical and nuclear — strategic nuclear forces. By the 1970s, the dangers of nuclear escalation were just too high.

In the 1970s, the US developed a second offset strategy. In 1973, what became DARPA launched a project called the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program.

Precision conventional weapons were developed which had near zero miss.

Assault breakers were developed with aircraft using light area sensor cueing and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles that could dispense a blanket of anti-armor submunitions. And it culminated in a very successful demonstration in 1982 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The USA had actually picked a competitive advantage that the Soviets, could not duplicate, and therefore injected uncertainty in their minds, changing their war-fighting calculus.

The Assault Breaker Program was picked up by the joint force. Army and the Air Force started to talk about air-land battle.

Third offset – constant significant military innovation

There’s going to be three key differences between what is happening in this offset strategy and the earlier ones.

1. First, it’s going to have a much more trying temporal component. In 1975 and in the 1950s, we knew our adversary and we said, “We can pick something where we will have an enduring advantage.” We don’t think we’re in that type of environment right now.

Look for promising technologies that can be implemented in the FYDP, the future years defense program which is generally about five years out. Identify long-range advances that we can pull up and hopefully field in the ’20s, and then plant the seeds for R and D, which will give us an advantage for the ’30s.

The US will be constantly updating this strategy, rather than trying to pick the one single unitary field theory that’s going to make that work.

2. US face multiple potential competitors, from small regional states like North Korea and Iran, to large advanced states like Russia and China, to non-state adversaries and actors with advanced capabilities.

3. The third big difference is that in the 1950s and the 1970s, generally these advances were military capabilities that were brought along by military labs. But now with robotics, autonomous operating guidance and control systems, visualization, biotechnology, miniaturization, advanced computing and big data, and additive manufacturing like 3D printing, all those are being driven by the commercial sector.

Hypersonic weapons


Water purification

Air Force Research Lab

Air Force research lab (AFRL) budget in 2017 is about $2.5 billion, a 4.5-percent increase over 2016

“The [AFRL] budget request provides funding for the small advanced-capability missile; the low-cost delivery vehicle; the high-speed strike weapon demonstration; component weapons technology; and for position, navigation and timing technologies in direct support of the third offset,” McMurry said.

The Air Force Research Laboratory is investing heavily in basic, applied and advanced research, he added, and is continuing to focus on “game-changers” such as autonomous systems, unmanned systems, nanotechnology, hypersonics and directed energy.

Army Research Lab

ARL is part of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command, Perconti said, the Army’s lead agency for technology integration and the enabling command in the development and delivery of unprecedented capabilities for the warfighter.

The Army has spent about $6.6 to 8 billion per year on Research, test and evaluation and Development. R and D is about $5.3 to 6.8 billion of the budget.

The US Army research is focused on automation and integration.


The Army Engineer Research and Development Center, or ERDC, is the science and technology arm of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

In fiscal year 2016, ERDC is executing a $1 billion program, $500 million of which is associated with reimbursable projects from every military service.

Navy Research Lab

The Navy Research laboratory is making important contributions to laser weapons and railguns. NRL scientists were first to prepare and simulate the use of incoherently combined high-power fiber lasers as the architecture for the Navy’s new laser weapon system.

NRL’s research expenditures are approximately $1.1 billion per year


DARPA has a $3.5 to 4 billion budget.

In total the US military research budgets are about $13 to 16 billion per year.