Guided by National Defense Strategy, Defense Department Increases Force Lethality

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 05, 2020) -- The best way the United States can avoid war is for everyone to know it would win. That means having the best, most modern equipment, a highly trained, ready, and well-organized force, and a demonstrated ability to rapidly deploy anywhere, across all domains, to defend its interests and to help defend the interests of allies and partners. The U.S. military must be the most lethal combat force on the planet.

Building a more lethal force is one of three lines of effort central to the National Defense Strategy laid out in 2018. It's something Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper has been focused on since he took office last year.

Esper said the department must modernize the force, to include investing in "game-changing" technologies to transition from a legacy military to a capable force of the future.

"This will allow us to maintain our long-held battlefield overmatch, which is more important than ever, as China and Russia continue to modernize their militaries and pursue advantages in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and 5G," Esper said.

In the last year, the department has also requested the largest research and development budget in its history, and has secured funding for its 11 modernization initiatives, including hypersonics and artificial intelligence.

Within hypersonics, the department is accelerating development of weapons with plans to start fielding systems in 2023. The department has also ramped up flight testing of hypersonic systems with 40 tests planned in the next five years.

On the AI front, the department is accelerating the fielding of AI capabilities to meet warfighter needs through the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. The department also announced its "AI Ethics Principles" to ensure the U.S. is the global leader in the responsible development and use of AI.

Also a priority is the modernization of all three legs of the nuclear triad, including air-launched systems, ground-based systems and sea-launched systems. Coupled with that is modernization of the nuclear command, control, and communications infrastructure.

Over the past year, the department has fielded the new W76-2 submarine-launched, low-yield ballistic missile warhead. The department is also now developing next-generation interceptor and ballistic missile defense systems to keep pace with adversary missile systems and ensure layered defense of the homeland.

In cyber, a relatively new domain, U.S. Cyber Command is supporting the department's "defend forward" strategy. This ensures the U.S. is persistently engaged with cyber actors to defeat them online, improve the lethality of combatant commands, and support a whole-of-government effort to deliver a safe, secure and legitimate election.

Space, an even newer domain, has received a boost as well since Esper took office. In December, the department stood up the U.S. Space Force, an entirely new military service under the Department of the Air Force. Earlier in 2019, the department also stood up U.S. Space Command. With both of these new activations, the department recognizes the growing importance of space as a warfighting domain.