Top defense officials have described the so-called third offset strategy as more of a notional imitative making measurement of progress and success somewhat elusive, evaluated on war gaming, simulation and analysis. In real-world terms, however, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, who has spearheaded the third offset, noted that the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) is the "first organizational construct of the third offset."

"It is designed to perform battle management and command and control of the space constellation under threat of attack. It has to fight through those attacks and provide the space support that the joint force relies upon," he said during a keynote presentation at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference on Wednesday. "We’ve never had something like that before because we’ve never needed something like that before, but it is the first step in the third offset to start to readdress and to extend our margin of operational superiority."

JICSpOC provides "a common space … across the U.S. government and interagency and intelligence community, a common place you could operate, talk, discuss common access levels," Rear Adm. Brian Brown, deputy commander at Joint Functional Component Command for Space at Strategic Command, told reporters at the conference. He added that JICSpOC will focus on space situational awareness, space defense, indications and warnings — things happening in space as it relates to attribution and intent — as well as operations and tactics that need defending.

The JICSpOC was stood up in October 2015. It has since conducted five experiments designed to help the force look forward to taking a defensive space-based posture to protect critical space assets from tactical and people-skills perspectives, Brown said. "We are moving the JICSpOC toward an operational posture as an operations center, which will be our primary focus area for defense of [Department of Defense] DoD and other critical assets for the military in the space joint operations area."

"The lessons that we’ve learned coming out of the experimental window is basically the shape of the organization, what it will look like" and what it will do, he added.

JICSpOC is also creating more seamless coordination across the government, Brown said. It will have components of the intelligence community built into it to include the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in its operations, allowing for greater interagency coordination with intelligence community space operations and DoD, he said. NRO assets, however, will still report through NRO and DoD components will report to DoD, Brown clarified.

JICSpOC is also redefining roles of other similar space situational awareness organizations such as the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), which detects, tracks and identifies all artificial objects in orbit.

Currently, Brown said, space situational awareness capabilities come out of JSpOC. At JICSpOC’s initial capability, DoD and the intelligence community will start to transition those space situational awareness capabilities to JICSpOC.

Brown was sure to clarify that JICSpOC’s initial operation is targeted for later this year and building through next year, but noted it’s operating now and really it’s just the manpower building up.

Elaborating on core mission sets for JICSpOC, Brown said it is imperative to have good situational awareness and discern attribution and intent of actions in that battle space in any domain when talking about defense. Routinely that’s what JICSpOC will do, he said. It will advance current space situational awareness capabilities from DoD capabilities and integrated intelligence-community and commercial capabilities into a more unified space situational awareness picture. It will also work with the intelligence community to bolster an understanding of threats to satellite systems and understanding adversary tactics, techniques and procedures to recognize indication and warnings of potential events.

As this relates to the third offset strategy, and offset strategies more generally, Work said offset strategies are not solely focused on technology.

"It drives me crazy when people say: ‘Oh, the third offset strategy is AI and autonomy.’ Wrong!," he said. "Offset strategies are about technologically enabled operational and organizational constructs that provide the joint force with an advantage … strengthening conventional deterrence.

"We’re starting to see examples of both."