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Research Question

  1. What is the best way to evaluate and compare advanced technologies that might have game-changing potential in civilian or military spheres?

The current economic and technological environment requires making difficult choices about technology investments. Technologies that could be critical to meeting the enduring challenges faced by the Department of the Air Force are proliferating and developing at an accelerating pace. In some cases, these technologies have dual-use applications that are the focus of commercial activity in the United States and abroad. Current and potential adversaries, especially those with near-peer capacity, are developing increasingly robust capabilities to challenge U.S. dominance. U.S. government and civilian organizations face budget constraints that will require choices to be made about which of the gamut of technologies to invest in to meet these challenges. A systematic method of comparing and evaluating technology options to ensure that limited resources are invested wisely is needed.

This report summarizes a framework and process to characterize and compare potential game-changing technologies (GCTs) based on the likely operational advantage given specific technological capabilities and concepts of operation or implementation. The objective of framework and process was to maximize the value of government or private-sector investments by providing a means for preliminary guidance on investments in technologies with the greatest consequence. Comparisons of GCTs in this framework are based on assessments of performance in validated analyses, modeling, or simulations in comparison with baseline technologies. However, comparisons go beyond performance to also consider the research, development, and implementation challenges, as well as costs associated with achieving, fielding, and sustaining the GCT capabilities that could lead to the greatest increase in operational advantage.

Key Findings

  • Focusing resources on technology applications that might have the greatest impact — and fewer resources in those that may not — could maximize the value of investments.
  • The Evaluation and Comparison Process (ECP) framework should be of use to U.S. government mission agencies and private-sector organizations confronted by the need to support missions and goals technologically but also many alternatives (and constrained budgets) for doing so.
  • The ECP framework selects and compares potential GCTs based on their importance in addressing enduring challenges faced by the Department of the Air Force or other organizations.
  • The ECP framework uses best available data and subject-matter expertise to estimate and compare individual GCTs and their synergistic combinations with respect to the three metrics needed for investment strategy development: benefit, as measured by operational advantage resulting from analysis, modeling, or simulation in realistic scenarios; feasibility of sustainable implementation, as measured by estimates of remaining technical and implementation problems and progress toward solving them; and estimates of likely life-cycle cost based on experience with existing and budgeted programs.
  • These three metrics for each GCT are visualized on an enduring challenge canvas that allows direct comparison of the absolute and relative benefits, difficulties, and likely cost of developing and implementing these technologies to address this challenge.
  • Canvases for different enduring challenges can be combined or rolled up to identify which technologies are most important in scenarios that involve these challenges in different ways.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Force Research Laboratory and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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