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Research Question

  1. What would be a practical approach to mapping and measuring readiness at the strategic level and across seven very different but interdependent dimensions?

For five years, RAND researchers have worked with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to explore a more expansive approach to readiness assessments—one that looks beyond the narrow lens of operational readiness more typical of readiness systems in use in the Department of Defense (DoD) and considers a broader set of dimensions that could have an impact on readiness outcomes. This more expansive perspective can lead to a better understanding of the root cause of readiness shortfalls—or, at a minimum, better insights into how to uncover the root cause—and, in turn, inform more-effective solutions to remedy them. Each research effort conducted over this period has built on the prior and culminated in this report's novel methodology that could be adopted by DoD to assess its strategic readiness.

In May 2019, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (OUSD [P&R]), asked RAND to provide a method and specific metrics to enable OUSD (P&R) and the entire defense community to more fully answer questions about the nation's readiness to execute the National Defense Strategy. In developing those methods and metrics, the research team was asked to focus on seven core dimensions of strategic readiness, as newly defined by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff, to assess whether those seven dimensions were sufficiently broad for effective evaluation of DoD's strategic readiness—and to define additional dimensions if needed.

Key Findings

  • The core strategic readiness dimensions encompass enough of the major elements of readiness to be useful in assessing the nation's overall ability to respond to conflicts at various levels.
  • Operational readiness is well measured and understood but can be misleading if not placed in a broader framework.
  • Military effectiveness would seem to be an "apex" dimension but is, in fact, only weakly associated with other dimensions.
  • Readiness dimensions persist in impact across time and must be connected to other departmental processes.
  • Although the proposed framework effectively captures enduring dimensions, scenario circumstances have a significant and variable impact.
  • The methodologies provide a mechanism for objective and reproducible reviews of readiness issues but still require subject-matter expert interpretation.


  • The Office of the Secretary of Defense's draft directive on strategic readiness, which defined the seven dimensions, or some close equivalent should be adopted as policy.
  • Depictions of readiness need to clearly specify what dimension(s) of readiness they are addressing and what time frames are included.
  • Service and agency program objective memorandum submissions should include an assessment of how well they support strategic readiness goals.
  • Program budget review should be explicitly connected to readiness deficiencies identified in the front-end assessment, with program budget review actions assessed in terms of impact across readiness dimensions (as described in this report).

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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