Cover: Modeling, Simulation, and Operations Analysis in Afghanistan and Iraq

Modeling, Simulation, and Operations Analysis in Afghanistan and Iraq

Operational Vignettes, Lessons Learned, and a Survey of Selected Efforts

Published Feb 10, 2014

by Ben Connable, Walter L. Perry, Abby Doll, Natasha Lander, Dan Madden


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Research Questions

  1. How did military and civilian analysts support decisionmaking in these large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns?
  2. How effective were these efforts in improving the quality of commanders' decisions, thereby supporting U.S. strategic goals?
  3. How could modeling, simulations, and operations analysis be improved to better support future counterinsurgency and, more broadly, irregular warfare operations?

RAND conducted a lessons learned examination of operations analysis, modeling, and simulation in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. This report identifies ways in which analysts have attempted to support commanders' decisions in counterinsurgency and irregular warfare, describes many of the models and tools they employed, provides insight into the challenges they faced, and suggests ways in which the application of modeling, simulation, and analysis might be improved for current and future operations. RAND identified four broad categories of decisions: force protection, logistics, campaign assessment, and force structuring. Modeling, simulation, and analysis were most effective in supporting force protection and logistics decisions, and least effective in supporting campaign assessment and force structuring.

Key Findings

Effective Modeling and Support Depends on Good Data and Good Understanding Between Analysts and Commanders

  • While our research addressed irregular warfare in general, our findings explicitly reflect counterinsurgency experience in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. These two campaigns reflect a subset of irregular warfare, but that encompasses a broad spectrum of operations.
  • Tactical, logistics, and force protection support has often been effective.
  • There is little evidence that strategic, campaign assessment, and force-structuring analyses have been successful.
  • It is not clear that operations research or systems analysis are applicable for all irregular warfare analytic problems.
  • Most decision support derives from simple analyses, not complex modeling.
  • Reachback support is useful, but its usefulness is limited by a number of factors.
  • Some commanders are insufficiently prepared to use analysts or to use analyses.
  • Commanders have trouble articulating their needs, but analysts tend to be self-motivated.
  • Many recurring, periodic reports had little value and sapped analytic capacity.
  • Data quality is generally poor and inconsistent.
  • There is no clear understanding of what is meant by analysis or assessment in counterinsurgency.
  • Simulation, or wargaming, is useful for decision support but has limits.


  • The Department of Defense should modify counterinsurgency and irregular warfare doctrine to include the provision that the execution of campaign and strategic assessment be included in the planning process.
  • New doctrine should more clearly acknowledge the challenges of irregular warfare force structuring and should offer a range of approaches and methods from which commanders and analysts can choose to fit specific situations.
  • Modelers and analysts should consider identifying the limits of various approaches, methods and tools.
  • Analysts should continue to seek ways to incorporate qualitative data into analyses and assessments, and also to find new and innovative ways to situate their analyses within the holistic context of the overall campaign.
  • The analytic community should continue to press the Department of Defense to incorporate those innovations that have proven so successful for tactical, logistics, and force protection problems into technical manuals, doctrine, and organic capabilities.
  • All commanders should familiarize themselves with the capabilities and limitations of their analysts and of the methods and tools they employ.
  • Commanders should make every effort to provide analysts with clear articulations of their key decisions. While this kind of clear articulation is often elusive in IW, any effort to communicate needs will be helpful.
  • Commanders should encourage initiative-based analyses and assessments, and also periodically revisit the requirements for recurring reports.
  • Commanders should make use of reachback support, but should tailor their requirements and expectations in accordance with our findings.
  • Commanders should avoid including the desired answer in the questions posed to their analysts and insist on objectivity in their assessments.

This research was sponsored by OSD-CAPE and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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