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.

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