Download eBook for Free

Full Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 4.7 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Research Synopsis

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.1 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback390 pages $75.00

Research Questions

  1. What are the trends among the most-recent four Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDRs)?
  2. How can the Army and Department of Defense senior leaders and planners improve the organization, process, and outcomes of future defense reviews?

This report presents a comparative historical analysis of the four Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDRs) conducted after 1997 (in 2001, 2006, 2010, and 2014) and identifies trends, implications, and recommendations for the Army and U.S. Department of Defense, in order to shape the conduct of and improve future reviews.

The study systematically compares these four QDRs — developed during a period of nearly a decade and a half of conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere — by examining them in the following areas: organization and process, strategy development, force planning, modernization and transformation, resources, defense reform and infrastructure, risk assessment, and reception. The analysis is based on reviews of QDR documentation and defense budget, force structure, and manpower data, as well as structured conversations with individuals involved in each QDR.

The authors find that the situation for U.S. defense strategy in the period under review ended much as it began, with an increasingly apparent gap among U.S. military strategy, forces, and resources, reflected in the changing defense strategies of each QDR. Most QDRs did not adequately address either the growing portfolio of demands on the force or risks associated with different end strengths and mixes of active- and reserve-component forces. To avoid a similar outcome, future defense reviews should focus on assessing the adequacy of U.S. forces to support the chosen strategy at an acceptable level of risk and on characterizing the budgets needed to support those forces in the near, mid-, and long terms. It will be left to leaders in the Department of Defense to estimate the funding levels needed to execute the stated defense strategy, and it will be left to the White House and Congress both to agree on the level of defense funding that keeps risk at an acceptable level and to determine how best to pay that bill.

Key Findings

Among the Key Trends for the Department of Defense:

  • The order of release of National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and National Military Strategy reports shows a lack of orderly, top-down strategy development, and this irregular timing may be further complicating an already complicated QDR process.
  • Force-planning constructs were adapted over the successive QDRs to better address an increasingly complex portfolio of threats and challenges that required forces and capability development. However, only the 2010 QDR addressed the steady-state requirements of planned or potential smaller-scale contingency operations, while none of the QDRs addressed the potentially large ground force requirements for operations to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
  • The "Analytic Agenda," developed between the 2006 and 2010 QDRs, resulted in an agreed-upon set of defense planning scenarios, models, and data that helped to ensure that the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the services had a common analytical picture during the conduct of a QDR. Use of this process fell off until the recent reinvigoration of Support for Strategic Analysis.

Among the Key Trends for the Army:

  • Critiques of the Total Army Analysis process suggest that the techniques and tools for assessing the requirements for other-than-conventional ground force missions and the generating force are underdeveloped. The credibility of Army analyses of other missions is accordingly not yet as high as it is for conventional missions.
  • End-strength and active-reserve mix issues were largely unexamined in the QDRs from 2001 to 2014. Our historical review suggests a recurring tendency toward a peacetime requirement for 480,000 or more active Army personnel, yet the Army has recently considered an active end strength of 440,000–450,000, or possibly even 420,000.


  • The Department of Defense and White House should consult with Congress on the current statutorily mandated deadlines for producing the National Security Strategy and QDR reports and consider whether a different schedule would better ensure that each future Defense Strategy Review is preceded or accompanied by a new National Security Strategy.
  • The Army should adapt the 2001 QDR's force-planning construct to address the growing portfolio of demands on the force capable of ensuring homeland defense; deterring aggression and coercion forward in four key regions; conducting two major campaigns of various types; achieving decisive victory (regime change) in one of these campaigns; and sustaining current ongoing, smaller-scale contingency operations (that is, the "1-4-2-1-n" construct).
  • The Army should promote and shape Department-wide efforts to reinvigorate the Support for Strategic Analysis process, including the organizational arrangements and processes and common analytic resources that can support the next Defense Strategy Review.
  • The Army should review its analytic capabilities and capacity to assess the full range of missions of contemporary concern; identify shortfalls and gaps that impede its ability to conduct equally credible assessments of nonconventional missions and the generating force; and identify doctrinal, organizational, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facility, and policy changes that will improve its analytic ability to address this fuller set of missions.
  • • The Army should press for fuller consideration of the risk associated with different end strengths and mixes of active- and reserve-component forces for the 2018 Defense Strategy Review, provide additional assessments of the active end strength required to support the defense strategy, and identify the risks accepted at different end strengths.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within RAND Arroyo Center.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.