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Every few years, the Air Force develops the Strategic Environment Assessment (AFSEA). The 2016 AFSEA is a 30-year look into the future for Air Force planning. As part of this process, Air Force asked RAND researchers to identify plausible futures based on nine trends in the categories of Geopolitical, Military & Warfare, and Human & Workforce to assist Air Force strategic planning in developing the AFSEA. The RAND team generated a range of future projections based on each of these trends and then convened a collaborative structured workshop to identify important interactions between these trends and to develop a set of future worlds during a 30-year time frame to assist the Air Force during the AFSEA.

The workshop was a two-day event during which the RAND trend experts (1) presented their trend assessments and plausible futures; (2) conducted a cross-consistency analysis to look for any combinations of futures that they felt would be inconsistent with each other; (3) identified "interesting pairings" of futures; and (4) developed future worlds using different combinations of trend futures. The purpose of the workshop was to create a set of future worlds that represented diverse contexts and potential challenges for the Air Force to consider. This report presents the results of that workshop.

Key Findings

Future worlds provide a diverse set of backdrops for planning purposes

  • The report identified a set of diverse, plausible futures to illustrate the complex ways in which different trends (provided by the Air Force) may play out to explore different environments where the Air Force might operate in 30 years.
  • The seven future worlds represent an effort to provide the Air Force with ideas on how these different trends could evolve and could interact with one another in ways that might result in vastly different situations for the Air Force.

Improvements to the workshop would help in facing complex, challenging problems

  • A slightly smaller set of trends, with less overlap between them in some cases, might have led to a more efficient process without any loss in the quality of the worlds created.
  • Developing ubiquity of information and changing culture and workforce capabilities futures as discrete alternatives rather than as a continuum might have led to a better assessment of these trends during the workshop.
  • Running this exercise with different groups would have been informative to see differences in futures generated by different groups.

Recommendations

  • The General Morphological Analysis approach allows the Air Force to test different force structures across a range of potential and diverse future scenarios to identify insights into what shortfalls might exist under specific circumstances. This approach allows development of a wide range of diverse scenarios.
  • This process could also be used to achieve even broader futures than the ones identified in this report.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Discussion of Trend Areas

  • Chapter Three

    Workshop Methodology

  • Chapter Four

    Seven Worlds

  • Chapter Five

    Concluding Thoughts

  • Appendix A

    Trends and Descriptions Provided by the Air Force

  • Appendix B

    Cross-Consistency Matrixes

Research conducted by

The research described in this document was sponsored by Maj Gen John F. Newell III, director of Strategy, Concepts and Assessments, deputy chief of staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements and by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation 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.

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