Cover: Understanding Country Planning

Understanding Country Planning

A Guide for Air Force Component Planners

Published Aug 1, 2012

by Heather Peterson, Joe Hogler


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Research Questions

  1. What are the key steps in the current country planning process?
  2. What are the key elements of a country plan?
  3. What guidance is available to Air Force component planners as they develop their country plans and resource requests?
  4. What steps can the Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense take to ensure that Air Force and combatant command country planners have the guidance they need to properly and effectively develop, fund, execute, and assess their country plans?

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has placed a renewed emphasis on planning for security cooperation with foreign militaries, but it has yet to develop comprehensive guidance on how to conduct this type of planning. As a result, the combatant commands and their U.S. Air Force components have had to develop country plans with little guidance as to what these plans should look like and what purpose they should serve. This report synthesizes best practices in country planning and presents them using a simple five-step country planning cycle and a three-part country plan format. The country planning cycle begins with the issuance of strategic guidance, which informs the development of a country plan that is then resourced, executed, and, finally, assessed. The three-part country plan format is centered on the development of measurable objectives and the identification of the activities and resources needed to achieve the objectives. This report presents detailed information on each step in the country planning process to help combatant command and U.S. Air Force planners understand and leverage existing DoD processes. It concludes by recommending that the Air Force and DoD develop standard guidance for country planners and that they synchronize the resourcing process for their respective programs.

Key Findings

Air Force Country Plans Should Include Objectives That Are Coordinated with Broader U.S. Goals

  • U.S. Air Force component country plans should be aligned with what the government and the U.S. Department of Defense hope to achieve in the country.
  • Guidance about these broader goals currently comes in the form of various documents, such as the U.S. Department of State's Mission Strategic Resource Plan and combatant commanders' campaign and country plans.
  • Although the Air Force Campaign Support Plan attempts to capture all Air Force country guidance in one place, gaps remain.
  • In addition to aligning country plans with broader U.S. goals, planners must also consider partner-country objectives.

A Country Plan Is Nothing if It Is Not Resourced and Executed

  • There are two main types of resource requests for country plans: requests for forces and requests for funding. Requests for funding include many programs with their own processes and timelines, making the process unnecessarily complicated and frustrating for planners.
  • In executing the country plan, planners must prepare to make modifications to their plans to accommodate differences between the funding or force allocation levels requested and those received.


  • The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense should provide comprehensive guidance on country planning, including a standard format and lexicon for country planners to use. While this report fills a critical gap by providing an overview of the current country planning process, the lack of guidance makes it particularly difficult for the Air Force and Air Force components to develop a standard approach.
  • The resourcing process is unnecessarily complicated and frustrating for planners. Synchronizing this process for programs managed by the Air Force and the Department of Defense would make it easier for components and combatant commands to request the resources they need to support the execution of their campaign and country plans.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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