Capabilities-based planning has become a central theme of defense planning. It is defined in broad terms in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, but opinions differ about its details and how to implement it. This book reviews and extends ideas developed over the last decade regarding capabilities-based planning. It puts capabilities-based planning in the larger context of defense activities generally, sketches an analytic architecture for carrying it out, and offers recommendations about how to proceed, including...

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Capabilities-based planning has become a central theme of defense planning. It is defined in broad terms in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, but opinions differ about its details and how to implement it. This book reviews and extends ideas developed over the last decade regarding capabilities-based planning. It puts capabilities-based planning in the larger context of defense activities generally, sketches an analytic architecture for carrying it out, and offers recommendations about how to proceed, including a suggested architecture that emphasizes mission-level work and such concepts as mission-system analysis, exploratory analysis, and hierarchical portfolio methods for integration and tradeoffs in an economical framework. Capabilities-based planning is related to the objective of transforming U.S. forces to deal effectively with the changes taking place in military affairs. The book also emphasizes that the new paradigm of capabilities-based planning is particularly apt given the objective of transforming U.S. forces to deal effectively with the changes taking place in military affairs.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780833031556
  • Publisher: Rand Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/1/2002
  • Pages: 74
  • Lexile: 1390L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.29 (d)

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Analytic Architecture for Capabilities-Based Planning, Mission-System Analysis, and Transformation

By Paul K. Davis

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2002 Paul K. Davis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780833031556

Chapter One



Capabilities-based planning has become a central theme of defense planning. It is defined in broad terms in the new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) (Rumsfeld, 2001b), but opinions differ about its details and how to implement it. This monograph offers one cut at the problem by reviewing and extending ideas developed over the last decade. Although the monograph is intended to be entirely consistent with the new QDR, its intention is to move one step deeper into details. It addresses the practical issue of how to approach capabilities-based planning analytically in a way that would serve the needs of the Secretary of Defense. The monograph provides a definition of capabilities-based planning, puts it in the larger context of defense activities generally, and then sketches an analytic architecture for carrying it out. Next, it relates capabilities-based planning to the objective of transforming U.S. forces to deal effectively with the changes taking place in military affairs. Finally, the monograph offers some conclusions and recommendations about how to proceed.


Capabilities-based planning is planning, under uncertainty, to provide capabilities suitable for a wide range of modern-day challenges and circumstances, while working within an economic framework.

This seemingly innocuous definition has three important features. First, the notion of planning under uncertainty appears in the very first clause: uncertainty is fundamental, not a mere annoyance to be swept under the rug. Second, the idea is to develop capabilities-i.e., the general potential or wherewithal-to deal effectively not just with a well-defined single problem, but with a host of potential challenges and circumstances-including the "new challenges" that were discussed by President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld even before they took office (see Bush, 1999; Rumsfeld, 2001a). Third, this is to be done not with the largesse of a blank-check policy (preparing for anything that might conceivably arise), but rather while working within an economic framework.

Which should come first when thinking about capabilities, strategy or budget? The answer is neither: Both are important and they are addressed iteratively. In a healthy defense-planning process, the full range of concerns are identified and estimates made of how they can be dealt with to various degrees of confidence-or, equivalently, with different types and degrees of risk. The issue of "How much is enough?" is then addressed and only then is a final budget established-one to which subsequent program building must adhere. This budget is always less than what defense planners would prefer, but greater than that preferred by competitors for the overall federal budget, as in the often heard complaint: More guns mean less money for education. The defense budget tends to go up or down on the basis of a broadly perceived sense of threat and a broadly perceived sense of what is needed to maintain the health of the armed services. Such matters are not deductive science.

In any case, capabilities-based planning has the virtue of encouraging prudent worrying about potential needs that go well beyond currently obvious threats. At the same time, it imposes the requirement for responsibility and choice.


Capabilities-based planning is only part of defense planning more generally, which can be seen as an exercise in portfolio management. The marginal dollar may be spent, for example, to increase or improve force structure, weapon platforms, homeland defense, overseas presence, leverage of allies, research and development (R&D), or transformation-related advanced prototyping. All are important, but tradeoffs must be made.

The portfolio of defense activities can be viewed in different ways. Figure 1.1 shows a particular depiction with purely illustrative allocations. It has major allocations for near- to mid-term capabilities and readiness; for environment shaping intended to increase the odds of favorable developments; and for a broadly construed version of R&D that includes prototypes and provisional forces, which largely determine options for future capabilities. Figure 1.1 indicates with shading where categories overlap. In particular, standing U.S. capabilities in the forms of force structure, posture, and global reach help shape the environment and underwrite general deterrence, thereby reassuring allies and dissuading aggression among other things. Also, U.S. R&D activities contribute to general deterrence by conveying the impression that U.S. forces are not only the most powerful today, but are likely to stay that way: That is, the price of entry for competitors would be very high. And, of course, many activities that are seen as environment shaping-such as overseas basing and naval presence-also contribute to capabilities and readiness for conflict. None of these are sufficient to prevent terrorist attacks. They are, however, important in pressuring the states who support terrorists and in mounting attacks on terrorist groupings when they can be located.

Despite the importance of the portfolio view and the value of all its components, the emphasis in this monograph is on capabilities analysis. Ultimately, assuring the existence of suitable capabilities for conflict remains the DoD's core responsibility. The exception to this focus is in Chapter 5, which discusses the difficult problem of integrating multiple considerations when it comes time to make choices and allocate resources.

Key Elements of Capabilities-Based Planning

The following are the key elements of capabilities-based planning:

A conceptual framework for planning under uncertainty by emphasizing flexibility, robustness, and adaptiveness of capability. An analytical framework with three components: * understanding capability needs * assessing capability options at the level of mission or operation * choosing capability levels and choosing among capability options in an integrative portfolio framework that considers other factors (e.g., force management), different types of risk, and economic limitations. A solution framework that emphasizes "building blocks."

The next chapters deal with these issues in turn.

Chapter Two

Conceptual Framework

The Role of the Secretary of Defense

A good starting point for the conceptual framework is reviewing the role of the Secretary of Defense (SecDef). Figure 2.1 sketches a view in which the SecDef's role is one of establishing objectives, directions, and requirements. It also includes developing appropriate management-forcing functions and measures by which to monitor progress and recognize the need for adjustments or special intervention. In this framework, the SecDef ordinarily looks to his "operating divisions" (the military services) for solution options and then chooses among the options as necessary.

To be sure, the process is less clear-cut in practice. For example, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a crucial role in advising the SecDef and the president. Further, he runs the Joint Staff, which influences the solutions pursued by the services. He also often acts on behalf of the commanders in chief (CINCs) of the many joint commands worldwide. The Office of the Secretary of Defense may do much to promote fresh thinking and even promote particular ideas. Working in the other direction, the service chiefs and secretaries influence what the SecDef concludes should be the objectives, requirements, and general direction. And, of course, on rare instances, the options chosen are not creations of the services, but rather top-down "national" decisions. Nonetheless, the idealization painted by Figure 2.1 is at the core of our defense system.

How, then, can the SecDef fulfill his role? What constructs and process would best serve his needs? Let us first review the old planning paradigm and then discuss how capabilities-based planning differs from it.

The Old Paradigm of Setting Requirements with Point Scenarios

The Bounding-Threat Method

Capabilities-based planning is nothing new. Indeed, the defense-planning system has always been intended to serve the function of assuring future capabilities that would prove versatile in circumstances not originally foreseen. However, for nearly four decades, starting with Robert McNamara's period as SecDef, the method for accomplishing defense planning was one of bounding threats. The idea was that using those bounding threats as requirements, as represented by one or two point scenarios, would lead to the appropriate capabilities. There were always other considerations, but the bounding threat was a core concept taught to and used by generations of planners.

The bounding-scenario method was ultimately a trick, a shortcut that served reasonably well for many years. There were few illusions in the minds of the secretaries, who understood full well that the forces developed would be used in a myriad of ways unlike those of the bounding scenarios. The trick worked because the Soviet Union was an immense and multifaceted threat-challenging us worldwide, and in the air, land, sea, and space. The trick no longer works. Indeed, it has not worked for more than a decade, but Secretary Aspin prolonged its life by substituting the bounding scenario with the concept of planning for two major regional contingencies (MRCs), later renamed major theater wars (MTWs). These were quickly interpreted-despite cautionary words in the Bottom-Up Review (BUR)-as merely substituting a new bounding-threat scenario such as that sketched in Figure 2.2. In the 1990s, the scenarios were beefed up for force-planning purposes by assuming larger versions of the Iraqi and North Korean threats than seemed likely to exist. Today it is apparent that the United States needs a large force structure, but not particularly because of the Iraqi and North Korean threats, and not necessarily built around the current units or those units as currently configured. Planning around such threat scenarios now seems antiquated.

A Red Herring: The Comparison to Threat-Based Planning

Before moving on, it is useful to comment explicitly on a common misconception related to the bounding-scenario approach. Capabilities-based planning is often contrasted in discussion and articles with "threat-based planning," which is confusing because capabilities-based planning is also very much concerned about threats. No one seriously proposes that the Department of Defense should spend nearly $400 billion per year for general insurance against the abstract possibility that some threat might conceivably arise somewhere, sometime-especially when threats currently exist and other potential challenges can be seen on the horizon. It follows that

The correct contrast is not with "threat-based planning" as that phrase is interpreted literally, but rather with dependence on a specific bounding threat as represented by one or a very few point scenarios.

Point-scenario planning is characterized by a fixation on particular enemies, particular wars, and particular assumptions about those wars-a fixation that comes at the expense of more flexible and adaptive planning. A symptom of the problem can be seen in the extraordinary attention paid, until recently, to the notorious two-MTW scenario involving Iraq and North Korea.

A problem in moving away from such fixations is that serious capabilities planning and operations planning require the concreteness that comes with considering specific scenarios-either real or credibly constructed. Further, the enthusiasm and focus needed to generate good ideas or to worry about problems creatively are enhanced when the scenario being considered is either real or obviously a relevant surrogate. Using approximations of "real" scenarios has sometimes proven convenient. The price paid in suppressing uncertainty, however, has been great: The planning system was behaving as though the illustrative scenarios were "the" scenarios.

If point scenarios are inappropriate, then what should replace them? Is replacing them so hard and complex? To answer these questions, it is useful to step aside from the defense problem temporarily and consider more general matters that will perhaps change the baseline for thinking about what is "reasonable."

Force Planning as an Exercise in Design

A Broad View of Design

To establish a broad view before returning to defense planning, consider the process, familiar in many domains of everyday life, sketched in Figure 2.3. It shows the process of conceiving, designing, and building something-as that process might be seen by an engineer, architect, or systems designer. It begins (top left) with someone having a problem and an objective, as well as broad knowledge. This stimulates a broad concept for how to achieve the objective (i.e., what kind of house or airplane to build or what kind of organization to create). Broad concepts, however, only go so far. The next step is to start sharpening the concept by identifying values, concerns, and constraints in more detail. Once this preliminary design is done, then final design can proceed in earnest.

Different skills are required for preliminary design than for broad conceptualizing. The designer must understand and define (1) the "operating space," (2) metrics for assessing the goodness of a design along multiple dimensions, and (3) the tradeoffs that might be made. Once these matters are well understood, it is time to work with the client again-to ask the client to think about the tradeoffs identified and make more decisions about what is desired.

These desires often include flexibility. The house being built, for example, may need to be flexible enough to change character as children are born, grow up, and leave their parents in an empty nest. Perhaps the parents have vague hopes of someday adding a work studio, or of running a business from their home. And, of course, they want to have plenty of electrical sockets, phone lines, and possibly cable connections. Who knows where they will want to have equipment, or even what that equipment will be? They cannot evaluate the design solely in terms of their current needs. Other examples would require building in even greater flexibility. The designer of a new commercial aircraft would need to recognize that the aircraft might eventually be used anywhere in the world and for different types of load. Such a designer cannot usefully work with specifics, as can a homebuilder who knows where a house will be located. Instead, he must move to broader, more generic constructs. Indeed, aircraft designers frequently talk about matters such as the envelope of performance, rather than a detailed "scenario" for the aircraft's use. Note, however, that they may be very interested in knowing many plausible scenarios of use in order to help sharpen their sense of what the capability envelopes should be. For example, having been sensitized to a range of scenarios, a helicopter designer would be more likely than otherwise to build in requirements for operating in mountains and in deserts with blade-eroding dust storms.

Returning to Figure 2.3, after enough crucial decisions are made based on preliminary design and identification of tradeoffs, the process moves to "final" design, with quotes reminding us that changes will still be made along the way. When that final design is ready, a transition occurs and yet another set of skills come into play. Actually implementing the final design requires a builder, not just an architect. Indeed, it probably requires a general contractor and quite a number of subcontractors.


Excerpted from Analytic Architecture for Capabilities-Based Planning, Mission-System Analysis, and Transformation by Paul K. Davis Copyright © 2002 by Paul K. Davis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Acronyms and Abbreviations
1 Introduction 1
2 Conceptual Framework 5
3 Understanding Needs and Defining Potential "Requirements" 15
4 Mission-System Analysis for Assessing Capabilities: Concepts and Enablers 27
5 Dealing with Vertical and Horizontal Complexity of Capability 43
6 The Central and Multifaceted Role of Building Blocks 51
7 Implications for Force Transformation 59
8 Conclusions and Recommendations 65
App Some Historical Examples of Capabilities-Based Planning 67
Bibliography 71
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