Capabilities for Joint Analysis in the Department of Defense

Rethinking Support for Strategic Analysis

by Paul K. Davis


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Research Questions

  1. What are DoD's capabilities for joint analysis and how can they be improved?
  2. Should DoD revise SSA?

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has long had broad capabilities for joint analysis, whether for planning future forces or supporting field commanders during current challenges. DoD is envied by other government agencies for its analytic capabilities and processes. Nonetheless, issues have arisen. This report stems from a congressional request for an independent report about DoD's capabilities for joint analysis and ways to improve them. Congressional concerns largely involved the activity called support for strategic analysis (SSA). In 2011, the director of the Office of the Secretary of Defense's (OSD's) Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) disbanded campaign-modeling and reduced CAPE's participation in the SSA activity, weakening SSA significantly. This report is largely about SSA and how and whether to revise it.

The author drew on previous research and conducted new interviewees with present and past DoD officials and working analysts. The concerns expressed by interviewees fell into in two groups: those seeing great value in various aspects of the SSA, including the campaign-modeling and analysis for which capability is seen to have plummeted, and those giving low marks to the SSA processes and some products. The research concluded that, rather than making on-the-margin tweaks to SSA, DoD should make fundamental revisions to the overall planning construct to which SSA contributes. Doing so will lead naturally to changes in functions, organization, process, methods and tools, and staffing. The author recommends creating a new activity to assist in mid- and longer-term planning, called analytic support for strategic planning.

Key Findings

The problems with DoD's capabilities for joint analysis are substantial, strong differences of opinion exist, and the root problems run deep

  • OSD and the Joint Staff no longer have much internal ability to conduct detailed model-based walk-throughs of joint operations and combat in planning scenarios at the campaign level. This degraded capability hampered development of the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review in 2014.
  • The preexisting campaign-modeling capability, however, also had serious problems. The SSA process and its particular use of models has undercut the intent of successive defense Secretaries to seek broad and adaptive capabilities to address the range of potential needs, rather than planning for specific cases as though we could foresee their details.
  • The level of strategic analysis has been too detailed, precluding more far-reaching analysis addressing uncertainty and, at the same time, overly specifying operational details that should be addressed contextually by the military. Whereas strategic planning generates rich scenario challenges, the process narrows to much more specific cases, dependent on myriad assumptions.
  • Also, in effect, the SSA process uncritically accepts the services' programs of record and traditional concepts and operations, rather than encouraging innovations seen as essential by DoD leadership because of numerous adverse military trends over the past decade.
  • DoD should rethink its needs and replace SSA rather than attempt to patch it on the margins.


  • DoD should adopt a new planning construct. It might be called analytic support for strategic planning (ASSP).
  • The ASSP process should support initial, interim decisions on defense strategy and budgets with explicit, understandable, and therefore relatively simple analysis; emphasize planning for flexibility, adaptiveness, and robustness (FARness) and deemphasize detailed analytic baselines; include options that incorporate emerging technology and innovative concepts; and help OSD focus on strategic considerations and relatively low-resolution analysis when establishing planning scenarios or studying mission-level issues, with the Joint Staff having the primary role for the next level of detail that is especially important to the services.
  • DoD should assign the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to co-lead front-end ASSP work.
  • The Joint Staff should be more active in reviewing and critiquing service programs and requirement estimates.
  • DoD should increase the role of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to advocate a technology push and related innovation.
  • DoD should change the mix of analytic methods, increasing the emphasis on lower-resolution analysis with relatively simple qualitative models, quantitative models, and human wargaming.
  • DoD should rebalance the mix of staff and use of partner organizations, such as federally funded research and development centers, accordingly.
  • DoD should invest continuously in research to support analyses with a broad range of qualitative and quantitative information and develop and disseminate new or refreshed methods and tools, also both qualitative and quantitative.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Functions of Joint Analysis and Attributes of Related Infrastructure

  • Chapter Three

    Evaluation and Diagnosis

  • Chapter Four


  • Chapter Five


  • Appendix A

    Congressional Request

  • Appendix B

    Support for Strategic Analysis

  • Appendix C

    The Varied Backgrounds of Senior Department of Defense Analysts

  • Appendix D

    Options for Model Development, Maintenance, and Usage

The research for this report was conducted for the Office of the Secretary of Defense within 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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