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Research Questions

  1. Could robust decision making be useful in dealing with a major challenge of defense planning under uncertainty: the munitions mix problem?
  2. How can the value and character of defense resource planning be improved in an era of growing uncertainty and complex strategic challenges?

Today's defense resource planners face unprecedented uncertainty. The planning processes currently used to determine what forces and capabilities will be needed to address future threats to our national security and interests may be vulnerable to predictive failure. To manage these risks, a new approach to planning is needed to identify strategies that perform well over a wide range of threat and funding futures and thus are better able to manage surprise. This report describes how robust decision making (RDM) may help address this need. RDM, a quantitative decision support methodology for informing decisions under conditions of deep uncertainty and complexity, has been applied to many policy areas in the last decade. This document provides a proof of concept application of RDM to defense planning, focusing on the air-launched munitions mix challenge. The study embeds a fast-running "weapons on targets" allocation model within a "scenario generator" that explores many thousands of plausible, future twenty-year series of military campaigns. The RDM analysis uses these simulation models to stress-test alternative munitions mix strategies against many plausible futures. The analysis then identifies a robust munitions mix strategy, which interestingly depends not only on the desired portfolio of alternative weapons types but also on the rules used to replenish depleted weapons stocks after each campaign. The study also suggests how RDM might best be integrated into current Department of Defense planning processes and some of the challenges that might be involved.

Key Findings

Application of RDM to the munitions mix challenge can provide useful inputs to defense planning

  • RDM can help identify and evaluate adaptive strategies -- ones designed to evolve over time.
  • RDM stress-tests plans over a wide range of plausible futures.
  • It identifies scenarios in which strategies do and do not meet their goals.
  • It helps decision makers use this information to develop more robust plans and evaluate the tradeoffs among them.
  • One strategy investigated was shown to be robust over a wide range of plausible futures.


  • RDM could be used initially to supplement current defense planning.
  • It could be integrated more and more into the defense planning process as it continues to be validated in the national security analytical realm.

This research was conducted under the sponsorship of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) Directorate within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) by the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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