Models, Data, and War:

A Critique of the Foundation for Defense Analyses

PAD-80-21: Published: Mar 12, 1980. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 1982.

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The executive branch of the Government has institutionalized quantitative methodology as a tool for budgeting and logistical decisionmaking. While quantitative analysis has considerable potential in both objective and subjective applications, the recognition of whether a specific application is based on scientific fact or quantified judgment is of great importance in the context of decisionmaking. GAO examined the nature of quantitative methods such as cost-effectiveness analysis, defense logistics, and computer modeling, and some of the problems involved in their use for the analysis of public policy issues. The study focused on efforts by the Department of Defense (DOD) to analyze conventional ground and tactical air force requirements by mathematical-statistical means through combat models, expert judgment, empirical data, and a quantitative theory of combat.

From a scientific point of view, the present understanding of war is in a relatively primitive state. While basic research aimed at understanding the fundamentals of combat is needed, quantitative or numerical techniques have not been systematically applied toward this end. Thus, the full potential of quantitative analysis for the improvement of DOD decisionmaking has not been realized. To realize this potential, DOD decisionmakers must act on the premises that (1) quantitative decisionmaking is beneficial only when it embodies, rather than replaces, expert judgment and objective fact; (2) analyses may give the appearance of scientific work but may not have been subjected to the normal evaluative standards of science; (3) the theory and supporting data employed in a particular study may not equal the quality of the analytic tool; and (4) the assumptions and limitations of the analysis must be made a part of any study report.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The findings of this study pertain to mission budgeting, risk assessment, the evaluation of social programs, and related issues, as well as defense decisionmaking. When reviewing quantitative studies or exercising its oversight authority, Congress should require an open, explicit understanding of the assumptions underlying a study's conclusions or knowledge of the identity of the decisionmaker involved in the study and their background experience and institutional affiliation and should determine the extent to which the model used in the study have been appraised. Agencies and departments should be required to report on how current decisionmaking tools are being managed and what is being done to improve the tools and provide better answers to difficult public policy questions in the future. When considering defense acquisition requests and cost-effectiveness analyses, the Congress should inquire how a particular program or weapon system contributes to the overall force level analyses.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reassess the adequacy of current practices in the management and use of policy-assisting models employed in DOD decisionmaking. This should include identifying needed corrective measures and insuring that such models are used to enhance and extend decisionmakers' judgments. The Secretary should also develop procedures to enhance the contribution of policy-assisting models to open explicit analysis in key areas of policy, strategy, and force planning. Further, the Secretary should require the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review current procedures for safeguarding and strengthening the empirical-theoretical foundation underlying the representation of combat in DOD studies. As warranted by that review, the Chairman should be required to prepare plans and recommendations which would enable the Joint Chiefs of Staff to serve as the defense establishment's principal analytic adviser on matters pertaining to the phenomenology of combat.

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