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News | Feb. 7, 2017

Managing Military Readiness

By Laura J. Junor Strategic Perspectives 23

Executive Summary

Strategic Perspectives 23

Understanding the limits of the Nation’s ability to generate and deploy ready military forces is a basic element of national security. It is also the element most likely to be taken for granted or assumed away despite ample historical evidence of the human and operational costs imposed by such an error. As budgets shrink and threats grow more diverse, national security leaders need a specific accounting of the readiness limits of the force and the consequences of those limits as well as the insight to make timely and effective mitigation decisions. 

This paper presents an analytic framework that builds from previous work to yield the systematic and defendable readiness analysis that must underlie decisions ranging from budget allocation to force employment and even strategy development. To manage readiness, the Department of Defense (DOD) must balance the supply and demand of deployable forces around the world. The readiness of an individual unit is the result of a series of time-intensive force generation processes that ultimately combine qualified people, working equipment, and unit training to produce military capabilities suitable for executing the defense strategy. While this discussion is a basic tenet of production theory, it had not been commonly applied to readiness management until recently. The important point here is that understanding how the readiness of military capabilities is generated provides the clearest picture of the current readiness status and whether that status is likely to change over time. Furthermore, it provides the best shot at identifying effective management policies to ensure that DOD can generate the capabilities that the Nation asks of it. This paper argues that traditional unit-level readiness metrics are useful as part of a larger readiness management construct, but by themselves they do not provide enough information to proactively manage strategically. 

This approach provides a clear explanation of the causes of readiness degradations and options for how to mitigate them that can be traced to precise resource investments. The approach outlined here may seem impractically complex, and if we were starting out knowing very little about how ready forces are generated, that might be true. But we are not starting out with a blank sheet—DOD has been investing in analyses and production management schema for decades. Moreover, we are discussing a key strategic management function that oversees the value of billions of dollars in scarce defense resources. The effectiveness of the oversight and the validity of redirected funding during periods of such scarce resources must be based on a clear foundation. Dollars miscast on bad information undercuts the role of strategic managers and corrupts overall department readiness. This is why this subject is so vital.