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Research Questions

  1. What are the gaps in U.S. Air Force readiness assessment?
  2. How can training infrastructure provide better information for decisionmaking?
  3. What investments in the training infrastructure would help fill gaps in the current readiness assessment system?

Senior Department of the Air Force leadership is increasingly concerned that the current readiness assessment system is not providing sufficient insight into the capability of the force to meet future mission requirements because of the shortcomings of outcome measurements. Concurrently, the U.S. Air Force is evolving its training infrastructure in response to the prospect of operations in contested and denied environments, an increased pace of warfare, and the potential loss of superiority across multiple domains in a conflict with near-peer adversaries. 

Advances in the technological capabilities of training infrastructure can help fill gaps in current readiness assessments to provide senior leaders with better insight into the readiness of the force for future contingencies. To understand how such investments might do so, the authors used a multimethod approach that featured interviews with senior leaders in Air Force major commands and technical experts and included reviews of readiness reporting data and technical documentation. The report identifies current readiness assessment gaps and explores ways to address them through investments in training assets. One finding was that legacy metrics tend to focus on individual units, but the force must be able to integrate well to conduct the full spectrum of possible operations against a near-peer adversary. This requires adjusting training and how readiness is measured to assess how personnel from different units function as teams at various levels.

Key Findings

Leaders across the Department of Defense need readiness assessments that consider the ability of disparate military units to integrate and conduct the operations against a near-peer adversary

  • Adjustments are needed to align resource and capability readiness with the needs of Department of Defense leaders.

The Air Force is not measuring the most useful things to gain insight on the readiness of the force.

  • Legacy metrics focus on the ability of individual units to conduct individual missions. But most National Defense Strategy missions require an integrated approach.
  • Both training requirements and how training is achieved need to change to capture more-meaningful readiness metrics.

The current readiness assessment process has gaps

  • The factors that come into play only when forces are integrated need to be measured.
  • Readiness reporting and aggregation do not match force presentation.
  • Unit commanders are asked to report readiness on threat environments and scenarios they cannot or rarely train against.

Senior leaders identified investments in training assets can help address these gaps

  • In particular, the leaders highlighted the value of distributed mission operations training and the needs for more simulators in general; for new synthetic threat environments; for aggregated force readiness measurement; and for adaptive, proficiency-driven training.


  • Further differentiate capability readiness and align new dimensions with supporting inputs from appropriate functions (e.g., intelligence, logistics) at headquarters and major commands.
  • Consider a process mechanism to bring information into readiness reporting from more-appropriate sources when unit commanders lack information.
  • Consider adding a field in Defense Readiness Reporting System–Strategic to capture the quality of information used as inputs for subjective assessments.
  • Create a working group focused on data and measurement to guide synthetic environment design decisions.
  • Factor readiness assessment gaps into operational test and training infrastructure priorities.

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the Department of the Air Force and conducted within the Workforce, Development, and Health Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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