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Research Questions

  1. Is the existing RMF framework fundamentally sound, requiring only modest adjustments?
  2. Should the current framework be replaced by another agreement that would recast RMF assignments?
  3. Are narrowly defined responsibilities a hindrance to agility and innovation in the armed forces, and should they be scrapped entirely?

The formal decisions, documents, and events that established the roles, missions, and functions (RMF) of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the military services in the early postwar years are over 70 years old. Although the foundational documents and agreements have been modified, the original division of labor among the services remains largely unchanged, and a fundamental reassessment of RMF may be in order. At least two services—the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and the U.S. Army—envision themselves as the principal integrator of All-Domain Operations. Additionally, the creation of the U.S. Space Force (USSF) raises RMF issues both within the Department of the Air Force (DAF) and across the services.

In this report, the authors identify RMF disputes that have endured as problems for the USAF, some factors associated with major RMF events, and reasons why reform efforts have often failed. The authors have crafted a framework for analyzing the RMF implications of strategic-level guidance, such as the 2018 National Defense Strategy, emerging operational concepts, and the creation of the USSF. The key question for USAF leaders is whether the existing framework is fundamentally sound (requiring only modest adjustments), whether it should be replaced by another agreement that would recast RMF assignments, or whether narrowly defined responsibilities are a hindrance to agility and innovation and should be scrapped entirely. The authors present their findings and recommendations, considering how the vision that USAF leaders choose for the service's future will influence the relative attractiveness of possible courses of action.

Key Findings

  • The USAF's vision for its future must inform any alternative roles and mission courses of action that it seeks to pursue.
  • It remains unclear whether future DAF, USAF, and USSF visions, narratives, and concepts will be fully integrated or simply aligned.
  • In spite of Joint All-Domain Operations and Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the USAF lacks a narrative that clearly explains how it will generate airpower in a contested anti-access/area denial environment.
  • There is no single trigger for RMF disputes, but interservice tensions are most commonly associated with ownership of new capabilities or control of a major function.
  • Major DoD reorganization and RMF reform efforts have failed more often than not.
  • Defense agencies are not traditionally considered part of the RMF debates but compete with the services for equities and resources.


  • Consider RMF implications of alternative visions for the USAF.
  • Align or integrate the USAF public narrative, vision, concepts, organization, and force structure with DAF and USSF efforts.
  • Use the public narrative to explain how the USAF's desired roles, functions, and capabilities uniquely serve the nation.
  • Identify new technologies and capabilities that are priorities for the USAF.
  • Reconcile existing RMF frictions through cooperation and compromise with the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, the Joint Staff, and defense agencies.
  • Encourage DoD to include defense agencies in all RMF assessments.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by LeeAnn Borman, Deputy Director for Strategy, Concepts, and Assessments, Headquarters, USAF, and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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