Cover: Factoring Security Cooperation into Core U.S. Air Force Decisionmaking Processes

Factoring Security Cooperation into Core U.S. Air Force Decisionmaking Processes

Incorporating Impact in Planning, Programming, and Capability Development

Published Apr 19, 2018

by David E. Thaler, Beth Grill, Jefferson P. Marquis, Jennifer D. P. Moroney, Stephanie Pezard


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Research Questions

  1. To what extent does the U.S. Air Force factor security cooperation impact into decisions?
  2. How can the Air Force improve decisionmaking processes to render incorporation of security cooperation impact systematic and explicit?

Security cooperation (SC) is a key component of U.S. national security strategy, a high priority in U.S. Department of Defense guidance, and a key mission of the U.S. Air Force (USAF). USAF must explicitly factor SC into its plans and programs for organizing, training, and equipping the force. This report reviews two core USAF decisionmaking processes — the strategy, planning, and programming process and the concept development and acquisition process — to determine the extent to which decisionmakers consider SC impact and to recommend ways to make such considerations systematic and explicit.

The authors explored four case studies of SC-related programs and initiatives to draw lessons from their decision outcomes: (1) undergraduate pilot training, (2) the light-attack aircraft, (3) the C-17 Heavy Airlift Wing, and (4) the Air Advisor Academy. They tell a story of this key USAF activity that is underrepresented in core USAF decisionmaking processes and not systematically or explicitly factored into decisions that could affect USAF's capacity to engage with foreign partners.

The authors recommend that, regardless of any change in corporate planning structure, USAF factor SC impact into decisions and trade-offs in the early stages of organizing, training, and equipping processes and make these trade-offs explicit to top USAF decisionmakers.

Key Findings

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) Can More Systematically Take Security Cooperation (SC) into Account

  • Although SC is stated to be a high strategic priority, it is not systematically factored into processes at lower echelons and does not appear as a systematic, explicit component of trade-offs that inform decisions.
  • Important foundational analyses of USAF capabilities and gaps that help justify USAF programs often do not consider contributions of allies and partners.
  • At times, USAF develops SC initiatives ad hoc outside traditional decisionmaking processes.
  • SC as a mission lacks commonality with other mission and process structures in terms of metrics and differentiation of resources.
  • The later in a process SC impact is initially raised, the more challenging it is to ensure that decisions about USAF programs incorporate it successfully.
  • Although it is still new, the Security Cooperation Enterprise Governance Structure has had positive effects on socializing SC across USAF and synchronizing SC activities, but effects on core processes and on establishing SC priorities are not yet clear.


  • The authors make five recommendations for near-term actions: (1) Issue USAF-wide guidance declaring security cooperation's (SC's) alignment with other missions and activities in core processes; (2) provide detailed direction in the Strategic Planning Guidance and in the Program Planning Guidance on including SC impact assessments; (3) provide detailed direction through the Capability Development Working Group to factor SC impact into concept development deliberations and products; (4) develop and standardize SC risk matrices with impact areas and questions that USAF should address as an initial step to factor SC impact into deliberations and analyses of the strategy, planning, and programming process and the concept development and acquisition process; and (5) identify personnel in Strategic Plans, Programs, Requirements and Assessments who can serve as champions of SC issues in Air Staff processes and analyses supporting the corporate structure.
  • They make five recommendations for medium- to long-term actions: (1) Update USAF directives and instructions to mandate consideration of SC risks and opportunities, (2) develop mechanisms to factor partner capabilities into USAF operational and interdependency analyses, (3) identify resources for SC within USAF that are separable from other mission resources, (4) refine risk matrices and develop other assessment techniques to improve qualification and quantification of SC impact, and (5) develop dedicated SC professionals at the headquarters and major command levels to support assessment of SC impact and shepherd resulting deliberations and analyses within the core processes.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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