Robert O. Work’s a Person of Interest because…he’s just been confirmed as Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon’s number two post. This is not like being Vice President. The Deputy Secretary of Defense is a COO with the ability to touch every program dollar and strategy objective. Expect the highly intellectual Robert Work to bring his own measure of smarts plus a future vision to one of Washington’s toughest management jobs. In the job, Work will take on serious choices to be made about the shape of American military power.
Work is a retired Marine Corps colonel who knows how to get things done. He’s also one of the top ten defense strategists in the country. As Undersecretary he prodded the Navy to move ahead on unmanned aircraft via UCAS-D and the new-bid UCLASS. Veteran reporter Tony Capaccio at Bloomberg correctly reported Senator John McCain wouldn’t block Work, despite Work’s support for the Littoral Combat Ship, which McCain doesn’t like.
The best insight into Work’s recent thinking is from his 20YY work with Shawn Brimley while running CNAS. This was his “debrief” after four years in the Pentagon so probably best represents the insights he accumulated in four years there. Like all his writings, there’s a strong historical foundation plus a stretch to the future.
Work and team laid out a future with a pause in major conflict where the US can take risk and jump toward a smaller, more lethal force emphasizing aerospace, naval forces, SOF and cyber. The shift is toward facing adversaries with “guided munitions battle-network parity” where cyber is integral and many new robotic and autonomous systems emerge. They say the bottom line is: “Prepare now for mature guided weapons and robotics.” Specific winners may include rail gun, nuclear submarine Ohio-class replacement SSBN (X), stealthy fighters, and high-power microwave weapons. The 20YY strategy accepts current risk, cuts leftover 20th Century-style forces, and moves ahead fast. Work won’t necessarily implement all of this thinking as DepSecDef, but his creative mind assures greater attention to future discussions and stringent evaluation of Pentagon priorities now that he’s confirmed.