Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Robert O. Work spoke recently in San Diego about congressional spending caps known as sequestration and strategic decisions. This is adapted from that talk.

The tremendous margin of technological superiority that the U.S. has typically enjoyed since the end of World War II is eroding, and at what we consider to be an accelerated pace. 

We’re seeing levels of new weapons developments that we haven’t seen since the mid-’80s, near the peak of Soviet Cold War defense spending. Russia is modernizing its forces right now, and it was once in a very steep decline.

From 2011 to 2016, we estimate that China’s defense budget increased by 500%. Its military is rapidly fielding new weapons and systems. It is astonishing to see the number of programs that they are developing at a single point. 

Iran has built up an array of asymmetric capabilities, including mines, missile-firing small boats, ballistic missiles and advanced anti-ship missiles with advanced seekers.

North Korea’s conventional military power is imposing because of its size, but that worries us less than its growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and road-mobile ballistic missiles that put our allies and forces in the region at risk, as well as, potentially, the U.S.

We’re starting to try to reverse the years of underinvestment in new weapons and capabilities. We’re making much-needed investments in our nuclear enterprise. Because of the proliferation of guided munitions and other advanced technologies that threaten our ability to project power, we’re spending more on what we refer to as counter-anti-access/area-denial weapons. Our space constellation is under more threat now than it has been at any time, so we’ve increased money for both space resiliency and space control capabilities.

Trying to tackle this erosion of technical superiority was exactly what [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel had in mind when he announced the Defense Innovation Initiative in November. It’s a department-wide effort to identify a third offset strategy, or perhaps more accurately, offset strategies, in order to sustain and advance our military technological edge into the 21st century.

We will also seek to identify new concepts of operations, just like we did in the Cold War, with air-land battle and the maritime strategy. Now, doing this is going to be really difficult, again, for three big reasons:

•First, we no longer face a single implacable foe like we did in the Soviet Union. 

•Second, we find ourselves in a very different competitive environment. In the 1950s and 1960s, we were spending a lot of money on missiles, on nuclear weapons, the early computer age. In the ’60s and ’70s, we started putting money into space. It was all generally government-driven. But today, commercial adaptation and commercial innovation—robotics, autonomous operating guidance and control systems, new ways of visualization, biotechnology, miniaturization, advanced computing, big data and additive manufacturing like 3-D printing—all of those advances are being pushed primarily in the commercial sector.

•Third, technology diffusion is likely to impact the durability of the advantage. Our first offset strategy, which we started in the 1940s, lasted until 1975. Our second offset strategy extended from about 1975 to now. We are talking decades. Now, with the pace of change and with commercial technology changing so often, the third offset strategies will have a far more challenging temporal component in the competition.

So, you’ll see in the fiscal 2016 budget some really potentially game-changing technologies that we think can more quickly get to the forces. And you’ll see more long-range research efforts. For example, we’re investing more in unmanned underwater vehicles, high-speed strike weapons, railguns and high-energy lasers. 

Some of the time, some of the things we’re doing in our budget will not be readily apparent, but let me tell you, the things that we are doing are going to greatly complicate any adversary’s attempts to fight against U.S. forces.

Our job is very simple. That mission is to organize, train and equip a joint force that is built and ready for war and operated forward to preserve the peace. Everything else that we do, if it’s not focused on that mission, it’s a damn waste of time.

If you total up the amount of money in fiscal 2016-20 [that the Obama administration proposes to spend on defense] and compare it to the sequestration caps, our submission is about $150 billion higher than sequestration. But let me make clear, even though we’re about $150 billion above the sequestration caps in our request, maintaining the balance between personnel, readiness and modernization is extremely challenging.

Sequestration is a blunder that allows our fiscal problems, not our security needs, to determine our strategy. We [offer] a strategy-driven, resource-informed budget. But if you want a budget-driven strategy, go to sequestration.