Cover: Analysis of Global Management of Air Force War Reserve Materiel to Support Operations in Contested and Degraded Environments

Analysis of Global Management of Air Force War Reserve Materiel to Support Operations in Contested and Degraded Environments

Published Jan 14, 2021

by Kristin F. Lynch, Anthony DeCicco, Bart E. Bennett, John G. Drew, Amanda Kadlec, Vikram Kilambi, Kurt Klein, James A. Leftwich, Miriam E. Marlier, Ronald G. McGarvey, et al.


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Research Questions

  1. What do case studies and the literature reveal about the trade-offs and best practices for a centralized versus decentralized management approach?
  2. Could the Air Force benefit from transitioning to a global management strategy for prepositioning WRM?
  3. What processes, analytic capabilities, tools, and systems could the Air Force employ to improve global management of WRM?

Because adversaries have developed capabilities that may restrict or deny U.S. forces' access to a given area, the operational environment of the future may be different from the environment that the U.S. military has been accustomed to over the past 30 years. Prepositioning select war reserve materiel (WRM) may help mitigate vulnerabilities associated with operating in a contested, degraded, or operationally limited environment. In this report, RAND researchers evaluate management approaches and global prepositioning strategies for WRM postures in such environments. They describe conditions under which global management practices are advantageous and then propose methods that a global manager of WRM could employ to improve support of air component operational warfighting demands. Specifically, the authors demonstrate ways to standardize and validate determination processes for WRM requirements, establish a WRM prioritization schema, relate WRM priority to positioning postures, analyze trade-offs through modeling, and assess partner-nation risk.

Key Findings

The Air Force's current system of WRM management is positioned more for efficiency than effectiveness

  • A decentralized management strategy facilitates a rapid response to changes in demand but can generate informational distortions, lead to cost inefficiencies, and promote organizational fragmentation. A more centralized management strategy promotes information-sharing, process standardization, and resilience of the supply chain to potential disruptions at the expense of time and a tailored solution.
  • The harsher environments expected in the future will likely create new risks and uncertainty for U.S. forces, and such environments may be better served through a centralized (global) management approach.
  • An Air Force global manager of WRM should globally manage capabilities, moving away from focusing on individual items (for example, generators, tents, and trucks) and toward discussing WRM capabilities (such as WRM needed to support the ability to receive forces at a base, project force, and recover the base) with a view toward effectiveness.
  • RAND researchers have developed several tools that could help a global manager of WRM better support strategic resiliency and responsiveness goals. These tools include the Lean Strategic Tool for the Analysis of Required Transportation, the Prepositioning Requirements Planning Optimization model, and the Strategic and Political Risk Assessment Tool.


  • A global manager of WRM should standardize and validate warfighter demands.
  • The Air Force should move away from inventory management and toward capability management for mission support assets.
  • The Air Force should develop a method to determine priority for WRM prepositioning.
  • The Air Force should optimize its WRM prepositioning posture.
  • The Air Force should consider political factors when analyzing WRM prepositioning strategies.
  • The Air Force should adopt tools and metrics to measure readiness for mission support assets.

Research conducted by

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

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