There’s been a lot of talk about a Third Offset Strategy at the Defense Department lately. It’s part of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s plan to make sure the U.S. military remains the world’s finest fighting force.

The Third Offset Strategy has a number of parts to it, so at first glance, it may appear complicated. Lucky for you, my job was to break down some of the more technical aspects into layman’s terms.

Basically, an offset strategy is part of a long-term competitive strategy; a peacetime competition between rival defense establishments that aims to generate and sustain strategic advantage. Offset strategies are not about formulating a general unified theory for armed conflict. They instead aim to bolster and extend U.S. conventional deterrence against great powers able to produce or acquire technologically advanced weapons systems.

It’s how we strengthen our military’s competitive edge.  Offset strategies are not solely about technological approaches, although all offset strategies have a powerful technological component. They are about finding the right combination of technologies and operational and organizational constructs to achieve decisive operational advantage and thus bolster conventional deterrence.

It’s something we’ve done successfully twice before.

The First Offset began during the early 1950s at the start of the Cold War. The Soviet Union had a geographical advantage over the U.S. in Western Europe, so we exploited our nuclear superiority to overcome it, miniaturizing our nukes to about the size of a football. It was an effective strategy until the Soviets caught up to us in the nuke game. That’s when we moved into…

The Second Offset of the 1970s and ’80s, where we focused on conventional munitions with near-zero miss, precision-guided weapons and the joint battle networks that employed them. The key drivers to this strategy were information technologies and the digital microprocessor that changed the game in terms of sensors and the weapons carried by our platforms.