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Research Questions

  1. What is AB, and what are its new ACS requirements?
  2. How should these new ACS requirements be modeled and estimated?
  3. What does the model tell us about the ACS footprint sizes?
  4. What obstacles would the ACS community face in fulfilling the requirements for AB?
  5. What should the ACS community and the Air Force do to overcome these obstacles?

In many potential operating environments, the U.S. Air Force faces adversaries that are increasingly capable of limiting where and how it projects combat power. Whether the environments are called anti-access/area denial environments or contested, degraded, and operationally limited (CDO) environments, they feature adversaries with larger numbers of more-precise missiles that have further reach than before and that threaten traditional U.S. air bases like never before. To persevere in CDO environments, the Air Force and regional warfighting commanders are exploring a variety of alternative force deployment and employment concepts under an umbrella initiative called adaptive basing (AB). Upon surveying the variety of concepts categorized as part of AB, the authors found that all of them—adaptive or not—can be characterized as survival strategies. Thus, AB is less about increasing the adaptiveness of aircraft and air forces than it is about extending their survivability through strategies that are both traditional and adaptive.

In this report, RAND researchers review the motivations for AB, describe a footprint model used for estimating the AB implications for Agile Combat Support (ACS), estimate the ACS requirements to perform three fundamental competencies that can enable AB concepts, consider the obstacles to supporting those requirements, and discuss the implications and recommendations for the ACS community and the Air Force at large.

Ultimately, it will take a more-concerted, deliberate, and organized effort to flesh out and refine AB concepts into useable warfighting tools. Some concepts might be discarded for reasons of feasibility, cost, or effectiveness, but if the threats perceived today are credible, AB ought to be tested and found wanting rather than declared to be too difficult without sufficient investigation.

Key Findings

The ACS community should make changes to force packages, competencies, and training and deployment practices to implement AB concepts

  • The design of current force packages is ill-suited for executing AB concepts. Most force packages are not designed for incrementally scaling capabilities up or down.
  • Implementing AB concepts would require the Air Force to develop new competencies, including those for operating integrated-basing networks, providing flightline maintenance at the integrated bases to support flexible operations, and scaling base capabilities rapidly.
  • Although changes to ACS organization, training, and deployment practices could enable the ACS community to implement AB concepts more efficiently, much work remains to be done to assess the investment, risk, and performance implications.

The Air Force will have to implement wide-ranging changes to implement AB concepts

  • AB represents a fundamental pivot in how the Air Force presents forces to warfighting commands. These changes in how the Air Force prepares and delivers forces to the warfighting commands would take time to implement.
  • Concurrence among planners and logisticians on the beneficial outcomes that AB concepts could offer combatant commanders would help all parties recognize which concepts should be pursued under which circumstances and, thus, which ACS activities would be most helpful.
  • The dynamics of AB would require a renewed focus on mastering the operational art of war, which would encompass contingency planning and execution, tactical command and control (C2) for ACS, and the tailoring of AB force deployment and employment concepts for each new contingency. These skills have atrophied over the years as a result of regular, rotational force deployments.


  • The ACS community should consider overhauling the force packages used for deploying and presenting forces to combatant commanders. The current design of Unit Type Codes would not permit the type of modular capabilities and incremental force buildups required by the AB concepts.
  • The ACS community should consider personnel skill design and personnel development activities that could help fulfill the ACS requirements for AB. There are two broad categories of personnel skill design worth noting. First is basic airmanship (i.e., the skills most airmen should have to deploy into an expeditionary environment). The second category of skill design is cross-utilization training, or having personnel trained and certified in areas outside their primary functions. These skills could reduce the footprint of a deployed force, increase its deployment speed and agility, alleviate constraints associated with operating from many small bases, and increase the resilience of the force when it suffers casualties.
  • The Air Force should consider an experimentation campaign to test various aspects of implementing AB concepts. The goals of this campaign would be threefold: expedite the pivot toward AB, cultivate a common view of the intended outcomes of AB, and revive the operational art of war. Experimentation campaigns customarily are designed to take an incremental approach to developing and practicing the elements of new concepts. Such campaigns are structured to accomplish short-term and long-term objectives through a variety of methods, such as workshops, brainstorming events, tabletop exercises, wargames, simulations, and field experiments. One benefit of such campaigns is that some activities could be accomplished in parallel, which would accelerate implementation.

Research conducted by

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

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