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Research Question

  1. How do USAF posture planners create a plan that (1) addresses near-term demands, (2) can evolve in response to changing conditions in full recognition of the uncertainties of future demands, and (3) is sufficiently robust to meet USAF demands when inevitable surprises and "posture shocks" occur?

Good posture planning must distinguish powerful long-term trends from headline-grabbing events, have sufficient breadth to capture a wide range of possible posture demands, and be robust in the face of the inevitable uncertainties about where, when, and how U.S. interests will be challenged. U.S. Air Force (USAF) planners must design a posture that can evolve to meet changing global demands over a multidecade period, while making immediate adaptations to meet the demands of today's crises and contingencies. Planning processes typically are based on assumptions, making judgments about the relative probability and importance of demands and other factors, but at least some of these assumptions are bound to be wrong. The planning process should seek to reduce the importance of assumptions by designing a posture that is robust across many alternative futures, including diverse assumptions and a wide range of demands. Massive scenario generation and contingent event analysis can test future posture options across a wide range of demands. Planners should also combine sufficient posture "stickiness" to maintain enduring access in key locations and sufficient agility to surge from these locations to meet out-of-area demands and shrink back as operational demands end.

Key Findings

  • Conflict trends are a limited guide for long-term posture planning.
  • Unforeseen crises or conflicts have been the primary agent of change in global posture.
  • Posture is characterized by long periods of stability, punctuated by rapid change.
  • Path aversion can constrain posture but effects tend to be fleeting.
  • Geography remains relevant to long-term posture planning.


  • Planners should test 30-year posture plans' robustness against the failure of key assumptions and across a large number of possible demands.
  • Planners should supplement operation plan–based posture analysis with broader consideration of future demands that current planners may consider implausible, unimportant, or both.
  • Planners should seek a balance between "stickiness" and agility in USAF posture.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Air Force conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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