Cover: Estimating Air Force Deployment Requirements for Lean Force Packages

Estimating Air Force Deployment Requirements for Lean Force Packages

A Methodology and Decision Support Tool Prototype

Published Nov 15, 2017

by Patrick Mills, James A. Leftwich, Kristin Van Abel, Jason Mastbaum


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Research Questions

  1. How do agile, deployable, dispersible employment concepts affect the demand for installation and mission support (I&MS) resources?
  2. What are the costs, benefits, speed, and risk trade-offs in executing lean or dispersed operations?

The Air Force has been grappling for several years with how to survive and operate in contested, degraded, and operationally limited (CDO) environments, and one of its recent innovations has been the advancement of basing concepts that require significant resilience and mobility of combat forces. These concepts are still under development, and the need for mobility and agility place pressure on planners to reduce the military footprint and potentially take significant risks in the interest of speed. The Air Force does not currently have a comprehensive tool or methodology for integrated deployment planning that can rapidly explore trade-offs among capability (or risk), speed, and cost to achieve lean force packages for use in CDO environments. The purpose of this analysis is to describe and demonstrate a methodology and prototype tool for lean force package planning and analysis — called the Lean Strategic Tool for the Analysis of Required Transportation (Lean-START) — that does just that.

Using Lean-START, planners are able to quickly determine the combat support capabilities required for a specified operational scenario. By identifying such operational parameters as the number and types of aircraft, sortie rates for those aircraft, duration of operations, and types of missions being flown, Lean-START will generate information about the support resources required using traditional planning factors. It also provides planners with an opportunity to examine trade-offs and, as the Air Force conducts planning in support of a combatant commander's campaign, enables rapid iteration of courses of action that can be provided to the combatant commander's or air component's planning team.

Key Findings

Lean-START suggests some initial observations about breakpoints where deployment requirements increase significantly.

  • Breakpoints for maintenance are driven by the need for robust repair capability, as opposed to flightline launch and recovery.
  • Breakpoints for base operating support are driven by duration, with about one week as the limit for minimal footprint.

Lean-START is useful in illuminating the costs, benefits, speed, and risk trade-offs in executing lean or dispersed operations.

Lean-START cannot by itself quantify the risk attendant with a given deployment package, but it can be useful in bounding the problem of trading cost, speed, and risk. It can serve to narrow the terms of a debate and explore input parameters in a way that helps inform and calibrate human judgment, where the user lacks deep subject matter expertise in one area or another.

Emerging basing concepts require better understanding of the time and resources needed to set up bases, as well as coordination with host nations, contract support, and equipment prepositioning.


  • The Air Force should consider incorporating the Lean-START methodology into its deployment planning.
  • The Air Force should consider using the model to inform cost trade-offs among emerging concepts of operations (e.g., dispersal, operational maneuver).
  • The Air Force should consider using the prototype tool to direct investments in operational enablers, such as host-nation support; operational contract support; tactics, techniques, and procedures; and technologies that reduce the deployment footprint.
  • To improve the value of the outputs Lean-START can provide, timing issues associated with deployment activities covered in Lean-START (such as packing up and leaving a base) can be better fleshed out, as can those issues associated with setting up operations at a base that starts cold — or even warm, with some presence and prepositioned equipment.
  • Further improvements could stem from assessment of the cpacity of host-nation support and operational contract support to provide the deployable capabilities generated by Lean-START. The default in the model is for the Air Force to organically provide them. Future iterations of Lean-START could provide the option to identify those items known to be available through host-nation or contract support as part of the scenario creation.

Research conducted by

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

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