Leveraging Complexity in Great-Power Competition and Warfare
Aug 26, 2021
The authors seek to provide an initial examination of how complex adaptive systems thinking can frame opportunities and challenges of complexity in warfare. They examine how complex adaptive systems thinking can be applied to great-power competition and warfare to aid in understanding how complexity might be exploited to U.S. advantage.
Volume I, An Initial Exploration of How Complex Adaptive Systems Thinking Can Frame Opportunities and Challenges
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The United States should aim to minimize the element of complexity for itself while maximizing it for its adversary in great-power competition and warfare. Multidomain actions are viewed as imposing complexity on the adversary's decision process. There is a current lack of understanding about how to impose complexity to maximize operational effects. Science and technology investments are not presently aligned to quantify complexity, measure its operational effects, or determine how to impose it and thus shape adversary behavior.
The research outlined in this report includes a literature review to ground the complexity characterization in warfare. Historical case studies of warfare and competition and workshops verify and validate the characterization. The complexity lens, developed by RAND Corporation researchers, can be applied to warfighting by leveraging emerging multidomain operations (MDO) concept of operations (CONOP) from recent wargames and surveying historical case studies. The authors also provide four concrete example vignettes to examine.
The U.S. Air Force should apply a complexity lens to review ongoing and future efforts to best leverage complexity to U.S. decision advantage. Efforts that can leverage complex adaptive systems thinking include the science and technology research agenda, MDOs planning, and MDO effectiveness evaluation. Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces in Europe should integrate complexity lens thinking into existing tabletop and command post exercises to help evaluate multidomain courses of action during operational planning.
Complexity Imposition: The Hypothesis
Complex Adaptive Systems
Application of the Complex Adaptive System Lens to a Mission Vignette
Conclusions and Recommendations
This research was commissioned by the Air Force Research Laboratory and conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.
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