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Research Question

  1. How can the U.S. Air Force efficiently and effectively sustain its nuclear enterprise in the face of reduced funding and a smaller force structure?

The United States' nuclear deterrence is no more effective than its ability to carry out nuclear operations and other states' perceptions of this ability. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has prioritized the reinvigoration and strengthening of its nuclear enterprise. However, there are inherent challenges to sustaining the capabilities of nuclear systems of systems. Perhaps the most pressing challenge currently facing the Air Force nuclear enterprise is sustaining the mission in the face of budgetary constraints. This report proposes possibilities for addressing this challenge. Coordination is key to this approach. Individual platforms must work together seamlessly for the nuclear system of systems to perform successfully. Any slippage in one system may cause schedule delays and increased costs for all other systems working in concert. This report outlines a double-layered framework for managing nuclear sustainment. This framework consists first of a set of sustainment plans for each system that follow a common format. The second layer, an overarching Air Force Nuclear Architecture and Mission Sustainment Plan, pulls together salient information from the individual, system-level plans to compile a master schedule for long-term mission sustainment. This framework should strengthen future nuclear deterrence capabilities through better planning and programming for the sustainment of these missions in the present.

Key Findings

Integration is Key

  • Nuclear sustainment requires a mission-based planning view encompassing the various systems that must work together to successfully perform a mission; this extends to doctrine (and policy), organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF).
  • With the responsibilities for various nuclear systems falling under different organizations within the Air Force, and responsibility for the weapons themselves falling under the Department of Energy, it is important to facilitate coordination across organizational boundaries.

Some Major Gaps Exist

  • While some organization is responsible for the sustainment of nearly every nuclear system, there is no single organization that oversees the nuclear command, control, and communications systems (NC3).
  • No master integration plan lays out a calendar of sustainment activities for all nuclear systems in a way that monitors and documents the implications of schedule slips and other inconsistencies.

Recommendations

  • Consolidate responsibility for the architecture, systems engineering, and sustaining engineering for Air Force NC3 into a single organization.
  • Institute a double-layered framework for managing nuclear sustainment that consists of (1) a set of sustainment plans for each system that follow a common format, and (2) an overarching Air Force Nuclear Architecture and Mission Sustainment Plan that pulls together salient information from the individual, system-level plans to compile a master schedule for long-term mission sustainment.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    A Mission-Based View of Sustainment

  • Chapter Two

    Challenges and Policy Options to Meet Them

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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