2017 Budget Proposal to Include Billions for Next-Generation Weapons Research

By Jon Harper

The Obama administration's 2017 budget proposal will include up to $15 billion to advance the Defense Department's “third offset strategy,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said Dec. 14 in Washington, D.C.

The Pentagon’s new strategy, unveiled last year, is focused on developing new technologies and operating concepts that will offset the growing conventional military capabilities of potential adversaries such as Russia and China. 

“It’s going to rely initially on wargaming, experimentation and demonstrations,” Work said at a conference hosted by the Center for a New American Security. The Defense Department will likely spend $12 billion to $15 billion in fiscal year 2017 on these activities, he said.

The administration is set to release its fiscal year 2017 budget proposal the first week of February.

Defense Department leaders are hoping to lay the groundwork for future advances in the third offset strategy so it will survive after Obama administration officials leave office, Work said.

“A successful offset strategy will go from administration to administration, so for the next year we are focused on doing the intellectual underpinning and doing as much of the demonstration work as we possibly can so that Congress will help us keep this going,” Work said. “I will argue that when you look back between ’16 and ’17, there were a lot of technological bets that allow us” to push it forward.

A key focus of the work will be proving out the five “building blocks” of human-machine collaboration that the Pentagon hopes to exploit as the autonomy and artificial intelligence fields advance, he said.

One of those building blocks is autonomous “deep learning systems” that can analyze large amounts of data, improve indications and warning, and deal with incoming threats. For example, “You cannot have a human operator operating at human speed fighting back a determined cyber attack,” Work said. “You’re going to have to have a learning machine that does that.”

A second pillar is “human-machine collaboration” to improve decisionmaking. The cutting edge helmet for the F-35 joint strike fighter is an example of such teaming, because it provides “360 degrees of information” to pilots by piping images outside the plane to their advanced helmet displays, Work said.

A third area of interest is “assisted human operations.” One such tool could be exoskeletons similar to the “Iron Man suit” that U.S. Special Operations Command is developing to improve the physical capabilities of its commandos, Work said.

A fourth component being looked at is “human-machine combat teaming,” such as having a commander direct a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles against enemy forces, he said.

A fifth area of investment is “network enabled semi-autonomous weapons” that could continue to operate in the face of cyber and electronic warfare attacks on communication systems and technologies such as GPS, he said.

The Defense Department is preparing to flesh out these high tech concepts in fiscal year 2017, he said.

“What you’re probably going to see is closer to the order of [$12 billion to $15 billion spent] on wargaming, experimentation and demonstrations to verify that our hypothesis on these five components is sound,” Work said.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Robotics

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