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Research Questions

  1. Are basing decision criteria aligned with Air Force intentions?
  2. Are the data used in the Air Force's basing decisionmaking process authoritative, consistent, and auditable?
  3. Is there potential for broader Air Force strategic or portfolio-wide inputs to strengthen the basing decisionmaking process?

The U.S. Air Force manages any proposed significant changes and additions regarding the location of weapon systems and personnel through its strategic basing process. Because these decisions affect force posture, local economies, and public trust, it is imperative that the decisionmaking process be objective and reproducible. This report is an independent analysis of the Air Force's basing process and the quality of the underlying data. It seeks to inform decisionmakers on potential improvements to the data and assessment criteria used in making basing decisions.

The authors examined the data used in recent Air Force basing decisions and found them to be of sufficient quality, though their auditability is weak and should be targeted for improvement. To assess whether basing decision criteria are aligned with Air Force intentions, the authors used a mathematical process to compare the relative desired and actual impact of each of the criteria used in recent decisions; they found that a base's suitability for the mission in question is the main driver of basing decisions, and because of this the authors suggest that suitability-for-mission criteria be assessed earlier in the decisionmaking process. Finally, the authors identified challenges and potential improvements to the basing decisionmaking process, including the inclusion more strategic inputs in the process.

Key Findings

The Relative Influence of Basing Criteria

  • The Air Force makes basing decisions according to criteria that can generally be categorized into four categories: base attributes that affect the mission, whether the base has the current capacity to accommodate the proposed basing action, cost criteria that generally reflect regional economic factors, and environmental conditions that might inhibit accommodating the proposed mission.
  • The current basing process is designed so that installations with high mission scores are advanced toward site selection, but capacity scores largely influence the final candidate list.

Data Quality

  • Data used to make basing decisions are derived from authoritative sources.
  • Sources used to answer data call questions are consistent.
  • The auditability of underlying data used in the basing action process is weak. It is challenging to trace specific sources used to answer questions.
  • A majority of "data errors" may be unrelated to data quality and result from the data collection process or human error, or potentially both.

Role of Strategy in Basing Decisions

  • The Air Force and the U.S. government choose and maintain overseas bases principally for their strategic and diplomatic value, whereas decisions about domestic bases are driven by other criteria, such as access to training ranges, utilizing existing capacity, and satisfying political considerations.
  • The current domestic basing process does not include a portfolio-wide assessment of individual decisions or explicitly incorporate broader Air Force strategic concerns. The lack of strategic input is a post–Cold War phenomenon.


  • The Air Force should improve the auditability of the data used in basing decisions to allow for more efficient review by Headquarters Air Force. The combination of improved auditability and increased review should decrease the potential for human error in the basing decisionmaking process.
  • The Air Force should institute a process in which bases are initially screened for a basing action based on mission criteria, and then this smaller list of candidates is assessed on other criteria. This would save time and costs compared with the current process, in which all bases under consideration must provide data on all criteria.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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