Defense Strategy: Revised Analytic Approach Needed to Support Force Structure Decision-Making
To adapt to growing threats, the Department of Defense says it must urgently change.
We looked at DOD's process for providing senior leaders with the information they need to adjust the size and capabilities of the U.S. military to meet top defense priorities.
Senior leaders are not getting the information they need to make these important decisions. Our recommendations address the following challenges:
It was difficult to develop a common "starting point" for force structure analysis
The military services' analyses largely supported the status quo
There was no way to compare options and identify tradeoffs across DOD
Cover of the Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America
What GAO Found
The Department of Defense's (DOD) analytic approach has not provided senior leaders with the support they need to evaluate and determine the force structure necessary to implement the National Defense Strategy. DOD's analytic approach—Support for Strategic Analysis (SSA)—is used by the services to evaluate their force structure needs and develop their budgets. However, GAO found that SSA has been hindered by three interrelated challenges:
- Products are cumbersome and inflexible. Although DOD guidance states that SSA products are to be common starting points for analysis on plausible threats, including threats identified in strategic guidance, DOD has not kept the products complete and up to date in part because they were highly detailed and complex and therefore cumbersome to develop and analyze.
- Analysis does not significantly deviate from services' programmed force structures or test key assumptions. Although DOD's guidance states that SSA should facilitate a broad range of analysis exploring innovative approaches to mitigate threats identified in the strategy, the services generally have not conducted this type of analysis because guidance has not specifically required the services to do so.
- DOD lacks joint analytic capabilities to assess force structure. Although DOD guidance states that SSA is intended to facilitate the comparison and evaluation of competing force structure options and cross-service tradeoffs, the department has not conducted this type of analysis because it lacks a body or process to do so.
DOD efforts to revise its analytic approach are in the early stages and have not yet identified solutions to these challenges. Moreover, DOD has attempted reforms in the past without success. Without a functioning analytic process that addresses the above challenges, senior leaders do not have the analytic support they need to prioritize force structure investments that would best manage risk and address the threats outlined in the National Defense Strategy.
Comparison of Support for Strategic Analysis Design and Implementation
Why GAO Did This Study
DOD's 2018 National Defense Strategy continues the department's shift toward focusing on the challenges posed by major powers—China and Russia. The strategy concludes that DOD must pursue urgent change at a significant scale and starkly warns that failure to properly implement the strategy will rapidly result in a force that is irrelevant to the threats it will face. To implement the change DOD envisions, senior leaders must have quality information.
Senate Report 115-125 includes a provision for GAO to review DOD's analytic approach for informing force structure decisions to implement the National Defense Strategy. This report assesses, among other things, whether DOD's analytic approach has provided senior leaders with the support needed. GAO reviewed DOD guidance, assessed whether DOD was meeting the objectives identified in its guidance, and interviewed agency officials. This is an unclassified version of a classified report issued in February 2019. Information that DOD deemed classified has been omitted.
GAO recommends that DOD (1) determine the analytic products needed and update them, (2) provide specific guidance requiring the services to explore a range of alternative approaches and force structures, and (3) establish an approach for conducting joint force structure analysis across the department. DOD concurred with the recommendations and noted the department has begun addressing them.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Defense||
Priority Rec.The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (OUSD (Policy)), the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Director, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation—in consultation with the services—determine the analytic products needed and the level of detail that is sufficient to serve as a common starting point but flexible to allow for variation of analysis to support senior leader decisions, and update these products to reflect current strategy and intelligence estimates, as well as the anticipated operational approaches needed to address future threats. (Recommendation 1)
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum for senior Pentagon leadership, Combatant Commanders, and other Defense Agency and DOD Field Activity Directors on Principles and Standards for Analysis Supporting Strategic Decisions. The memo states that a common starting point will be used as one of the standards for joint campaign analysis. The memo further notes that analysis should include at least one case based on the common starting point, but that additional cases that differ from the common starting point are expected. The memo does not explicitly require DOD to keep the analytic products updated; however, it states the need for credible data to support the analysis and states that the common starting point will include the Defense Planning Scenarios (DPS) approved by the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and other key data sets such as threat capabilities and intent. Further, DOD has updated key DPS to reflect the threats outlined in the 2018 National Defense Strategy and has published additional concepts and data sets associated with the updated DPS. Following the guidance provided in the memo to produce the analytic products and keep them updated will require sustained attention by the department. To this end, the memo notes that the Analysis Working Group is charged with working with analytic organizations to ensure the principles of quality strategic analysis and standards for joint campaign analysis are met so that it can inform strategic decisions by the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense.
|Department of Defense||
Priority Rec.The Secretary of Defense should ensure that OUSD (Policy) provide specific guidance requiring the services to explore a range of innovative force structure approaches relevant to the key threats identified in the National Defense Strategy, including identifying key assumptions on which the services must conduct sensitivity analyses. (Recommendation 2)
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum for senior Pentagon leadership, Combatant Commanders, and other Defense Agency and DOD Field Activity Directors on Principles and Standards for Analysis Supporting Strategic Decisions. The memo provides specific guidance to the services and other DOD components that analysis used for decision support will examine multiple excursions, will include multiple options rather than a single recommendation, and will explore alternatives in warfighting approaches and capabilities before recommending changes to strategic objectives. It further notes that, given inherent uncertainty in new technology, sensitivity analysis must be conducted to illuminate operational effectiveness under different performance levels. Finally, it notes that organizations seeking strategic decisions must provide the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense with options to consider and highlight key assumptions and limitations.
|Department of Defense||
Priority Rec.The Secretary of Defense should establish an approach for comparing competing analyses and conducting joint analyses for force structure to support senior leaders as they seek to implement the National Defense Strategy. This could include establishing a separate body with these capabilities and/or specifying the organizational responsibilities and processes for conducting these comparisons and analyses. (Recommendation 3)
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In April 2021, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum that directed the establishment of a separate body, the Analysis Working Group (AWG), to guide the Department's analytic capabilities. The memo also established the AWG's organizational responsibilities. In February 2022, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum that endorses principles and standards developed by the AWG to guide strategic analysis. This memo noted that the AWG is charged with working with analytic organizations to ensure principles of quality strategic analysis and standards for joint campaign analysis are met and has broad authority to provide independent assessments of any analysis that underpins decision products presented at Deputy's Management Action Group meetings or directly to the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of Defense. The memo also noted that greater transparency will make it easier to compare the results of separate efforts and provides standards to allow for comparison of studies across organizations .