The use of Scenarios in Long Term Defence Planning

One of the key characteristics that distinguishes long-term defence planning from shorter-term planning is the degree to which uncertainty pervades the process.



1.1. Long Term Planning

1.1.1. Long term planning is also often referred to as strategic planning. It is equally applicable and employed in the business world as well as for defence. It is the process of contemplating the potential nature of the operating environment in the distant future and developing a plan to adapt the organization, business or defence, to maximize the likelihood of surviving and successfully attaining high-level goals. While there is no universally accepted time period associated with long term planning, it generally involves exploring 10 to 30 years, or more, in the future.

1.1.2. As with the lack of a specific time period consistently associated with long term planning, there is also no universally accepted method to perform the activity. Academics studying corporate planning have devised a variety of methods for long term planning. Many methods have gained prominence for a time, only to be over-taken by the next fad. Many of the long term planning methods employed for defence have been adapted from the commercial sector. Some methods, too, have been specifically developed for defence planning.

1.2. Methods for Long Term Defence Planning

1.2.1. Long term planning, in defence and business, has challenged managers and analysts for as long as it has been attempted. Most practitioners agree that it is as much an art as a science. That said, many different analytical approaches have been applied to this complex area over the years. Each of these different approaches originates from a specific perspective on the problem. Some of the more prominent approaches presently used in long term defence planning are:

  • Incremental Planning. This approach seeks in an evolutionary manner to improve the existing inventory of military capabilities. This method focuses on the assured enhancement of current capabilities and, as such, tends to concentrate on the near-term developments and options. Incremental improvements to existing equipment are often the result of this method.
  • Risk Avoidance. Proven concepts and structures are extrapolated and extended. This conservative approach perpetuates doing things as they are done them today, until explicitly proven wrong. Force Development adheres to current strategy, doctrine, tactics and structure and incorporates new technology, when proven, as available and appropriate. This method seeks to maintain the status quo in defence capability in a relative sense.
  • Technology-Driven Solutions. The driver for policy and decision making is to keep pace with the state of the art in technology as much as possible. The goal is to attain technological superiority. Technology developments are monitored closely. New technology is obtained and integrated into the military force as soon as available.
  • Historical Extension. The basic premise is that what worked in the past will work again in the future. Study the past to find out what worked. Past operations, battles, campaigns and wars are evaluated to identify the factors that most significantly contributed to success and/or failure. The military force is then adapted to take greatest advantage of the positive factors while avoiding the negative ones.
  • Capability-Based Planning. This method involves a functional analysis of force requirements. Capabilities are identified based on the mission(s) the forces are given. This is performed in the absence of specific threats or conditions. Once the required capability inventory is defined, the most cost effective and efficient options to satisfy the requirements are sought.
  • Threat-Based Planning. The threat-based approach involves identifying potential adversaries and evaluating their capabilities. Capability requirements are based on the criterion of defeating the enemy. Quantitative and qualitative solutions are explored. This was a common planning method employed during the Cold War.
  • Top-Down Planning. This is a “strategy to tasks” approach to defence planning. The process begins with the specification of national policy, interests and objectives. National security and defence strategies are developed that support the national policy and objectives. The hierarchy continues through roles and tasks to concepts and force elements. The process examines capability requirements from a conceptual basis linked through the framework to national goals.
  • Budget-Based Planning. The objective of this planning approach is to provide a military force that is sustainable within the provided budget. It attempts to maximize defence capability and value for the funds available.
  • Scenario-Based Planning. This approach utilizes a set of hypothetical situations for the employment of military forces. The situations are specified in terms of geographic, military and civil parameters. Military capability requirements are determined from assessments of the ability to achieve mission objectives.

1.2.2. The defence planning approaches described above have been portrayed as independent methods for clarity. Each method has strengths and weaknesses. It is rare for defence planning to be conducted using one method exclusively. In practice, long term defence planning is more commonly conducted employing a combination of these planning approaches.

1.3. Planning Scenarios

1.3.1. There is one method that seems to be prevalent throughout the defence planning community: scenarios. Scenarios appear to be the single common element present in most national long term defence planning frameworks and processes. As the most common element in long term defence planning, it is fitting that scenarios be focussed upon as a key approach in long term defence planning.

1.3.2. What then is the use of scenarios – in particular applied to long term defence planning? In principle there is a wide range of policy problems that might benefit from the scenario method, ranging from defining future defence tasks and missions, via overall force structure planning and doctrine development, to future system requirement definition. Another possibility is the elaboration of ‘new’ concepts (such as network centric warfare) or strategically important themes (how to operate effectively in urban terrain) using scenarios. Whatever the exact problem domain, the scenario method is principally used to gain insight into the problem context, to explore alternative ways to shape and use one’s own resources, and to highlight critical factors that determine which alternative solutions are sensible and ‘robust’ against the uncertainties of tomorrow.

1.3.3. Scenarios provide focus and detail against which issues can be explored and assessed. They provide a basis, unavailable in other analytical techniques, to support detailed evaluations of proposed concepts. Scenarios are explicitly not intended to predict. While prediction is aimed at forecasting a specific result that will occur in the future, the scenario method emphasises the process that leads to certain results . The scenario method therefore doesn’t stop with the creation of a scenario or a number of scenarios. It is more accurate to say that it in fact begins there. Its power is the way in which a (large) number of variables and their – possibly dynamic – relations are integrated in a tangible and comprehensible picture. Thought processes and creative ideas can be expressed and shared by using the ‘language’ of the scenario as a basis.

1.3.4. Scenarios are often organized in groups: in most applications a set of scenarios is used, covering (or ‘representative of’) a range of perceived possibilities (part of that multi-dimensional model of imaginable future situations called scenario space). In general terms, the scenario method can be quite successful if used with the following functions in mind:

  • Evaluation and comparison of alternative options (strategies) against the background of possible future developments.
  • Integration of developments and events in one or more consistent images of the future.
  • Identification of relevant circumstances, events and developments that might become important in the future.
  • Stimulation of creativity and anticipation to change of policy makers and managers.
  • Provision of a common ‘language’ and structure to express and discuss different ideas about the future and how to deal with it. o Reduction of the impact of uncertainty through the notion of ‘robustness’.
  • Exploration and understanding of the relationship and influence of the various forces involved in shaping the situation.
  • Expression of opinions in the context of a shared ‘framework’. This opens the way for a discourse on the basis of rational, commonly understood arguments.

1.3.5. Of course the scenario method has its disadvantages. Criticism centres on the following points:

  • Labour and time intensive. It may take quite some time to create a scenario, and even more so to arrive at a comprehensive set of scenarios. Also, it can be quite time consuming to analyse various policy options within the context of one or more scenarios, especially since this is usually a group process.
  • Complex. Instead of chopping a problem into manageable parts, a scenario presents a large part of the problem context in one integrated construct.
  • Questionable credibility. A scenario is a thought construct, reflecting the mental quirks of its creator(s). The scenario will contain assumptions and details of the results of hypothetical events, the realism of which will be debatable. This is not always acceptable for the intended audience and obtaining consensus can be difficult.
  • Sometimes too appealing. A scenario may appeal to such an extent that the premise that it is an illustration of a possible future and not a factual description is overlooked.
  • Sometimes threatening. A scenario may describe a situation that is considered unfavourable or unwanted by (a part of) the intended audience. This may undermine its acceptance and therefore its use.

1.4. Participants in the Scenario Method

1.4.1. The observation that the value of the scenario method is not so much in the scenarios themselves but in the (mental) process of ‘thinking them through’ gives a clue as to who should be involved. Not just operational analysis (OA) analysts and subject matter experts, not just officers in planning cells, but, ideally, the senior and executive management as well. Although part of the creativity that is generated in developing scenarios and discussing their implications may be written down in an ‘audit trail’, there is no substitute for ‘being there’ as an integral part of the process. So, the following roles could be discerned in a typical instance of using the scenario method:

  • OA-analysts facilitate in structuring the process and ensuring than all information required for analysis is provided.
  • Subject matter experts, such as security analysts, bring in ideas and opinions to explore the range of possibilities and to stimulate discussion.
  • Defence concept planners present the options and highlight the critical factors.
  • Senior policy makers ensure that the strategic decision points, the alternative options for each of these decision points and the critical factors for judging the alternatives are clear and consistent with defence policy (current or feasible in the applicable timeframe).


2.1. What is a Scenario

2.1.1. Insight into what will or might happen in the future is essential for policy making. Since a great many different situations might happen in the future, and a number of situations will actually occur, looking into the future is essentially an exercise in dealing with uncertainty. A powerful method of doing so is the so called scenario method: creating and using different scenarios as models for possible – plausible, interesting, thought provoking – future situations and developments, with the aim of gaining insight into policy problems, alternative options and critical factors. In general terms, a scenario might be defined as a context-dependent description of a possible future (fictitious) situation (start state), a hypothetical chain of events (the scenario dynamics) leading to this state and the details of a desired final situation (end state) . A scenario in a narrow sense may only define either the start or the end state. Such a scenario might be referred to as a ‘planning situation’, a ‘static scenario’ or a ‘snapshot’.

2.1.2. Restricting discussion to long term defence planning, a scenario portrays a possible future situation in which military units are or might be employed in an operational sense. Which characteristics of that situation at what level of detail are described depends on the problem context: the type of planning or policy questions that are to be addressed using the scenario. Again depending on the intended use, the description might by highly stylised, e.g. dealing with a crisis between Blue Land and Red Land, but could also be quite realistic, e.g. placed in one of the crisis-prone regions of the world, actually – in the reality of the scenario – turned ‘hot’. Some scenarios explore alternative futures that are considered plausible. These could be different paths that could be taken from a major decision point, possible states of affairs between nations or different conditions that could characterize the world as a whole.

2.1.3. In practical terms, a defence scenario might be anything from a one page text document to a multi-page, multi-media presentation. The time horizon could range from 5 to 25 years or more into the future.

2.2. Scenario Classes

2.2.1. There are two main types of scenarios: developmental scenarios and situational scenarios or images.

2.2.2. Developmental scenarios take the present situation as the point of departure describing the way developmental processes may lead to one or several future situations. In this lies an implicit assumption of certain cause and effect relationships between different stages in the process, where events in one stage cause effects in the next and so on. Developmental scenarios resemble prognoses in that the focus is on development over time, on relationships between events and between different stages in the process.

2.2.3. Situational scenarios or images on the other hand take one or several future situations as points of departure. The focus in these cases is not primarily on development over time, but on the future situation itself, more like a “snapshot”. Situational scenarios are well suited in cases where the analyst’s interest is on studying possible consequences of different options in set of different future situations, but the way to get to these situations is of less concern. For instance, situational scenarios may be used to explore a range of possible future situations within which the actual future is expected to lie.

2.3. Specific and Generic Scenarios

2.3.1. Scenarios are often described as either being “specific” or “generic”. The dictionary defines “specific” as: “Specific: (1) having a real or fixed relationship to and usually constituting a characteristic of being peculiar to the thing or relation in question; (2) restricted by nature to a particular individual situation, relation or effect; (3) characterised by precise formulation or accurate restrictions: free from ambiguity.”

2.3.2. From this definition it follows that scenarios can be specific in the sense of referring to the real forces and capabilities of a particular opposing nation for a given timeframe and geography; or it can be specific in having a specified level of detail. The usual term for the latter is “detailed”; and “specific” is reserved for the former sense. The term “detailed” will be dealt with later in this paper.

2.3.3. The dictionary definition of “generic” is: “Generic: relating or applied to or descriptive of all members of a genus, species, class or group: common to or characteristic of a whole group or class: typifying or subsuming: not specific or individual; general.”

2.3.4. Obviously the term “generic” applied to a scenario only has a meaning if it is clear as to which aspect of the scenario is not specific or generalised. If the scenario were to be generalised in all aspects the analyst would be restricted to model based upon an abstract game like Checkers or Go. For a “generic” scenarios of use to the defence analyst will need to be specific in terms of the types of forces and capabilities of an opposing force.

2.3.5. For the purposes of this paper, the following will be used as definitions:

  • Specific: having a fixed relationship to particular nation and geography
  • Generic: having generalised characteristics that representative of a class of opposition or a geographical region.

2.3.6. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. Specific Scenarios have the following advantages:

  1. The capabilities and forces of an opposition have relevance to defence planning.
  2. The scenarios are easily linked to defence policy.
  3. There is a wealth of data, including historical data, available to the analyst.
  4. The scenario is more likely to be credible or plausible.
  5. Validation is easier.
  6. Scenarios are easier to create (due to the wealth of available data).
  7. Linkages between scenarios are more obvious.

2.3.7. Specific Scenarios have the following advantages:

  1. The scenarios are more politically sensitive.
  2. The scenario approval process is more difficult or time consuming.
  3. Historical events may limit thinking.

2.3.8 Generic scenarios also have advantages and disadvantages. Their advantages are:

  1. The scenarios are more politically acceptable.
  2. The analyst has more freedom in creating the scenario.
  3. Generic scenarios may be more sensible for some cases, such as tactical situations, where it is desirable that the results are applicable to an entire class of circumstances.

2.3.9 The disadvantages of generic scenarios are:

  1. Generic scenarios are time consuming to create in providing sufficiently detailed information.
  2. Limited creativity on the part of the analyst can limit the scenario space.
  3. The scenarios are more difficult to relate to defence planning and policy.

2.3.10 Actual scenarios used in defence planning are likely to be a mixture of specific and generic as the analyst will have to balance political acceptability with, for the most part, the analytically preferable specific scenarios.

2.4 Detailed or Framework Scenarios

2.4.1 As approval processes are likely difficult, it will not usually be possible or desirable to modify approved scenarios for individual studies. However, it is also not likely that the initial framers of approved scenarios will have the prescience to provide all of the required scenario detail for a specific study. Therefore the approved scenarios should provide sufficient flexibility that the users of the scenario have the freedom to adapt to the specifics of their study. Excessive prescription of scenario detail will not likely fit a study and hence increase the probability of erroneous results. However, the approved scenarios must also have sufficient information to ensure the coherency of studies that use the scenarios and to avoid vagueness. Thus approved scenarios should be “framework” scenarios that ensure coherence and provide sufficient information for the their elaboration into the “detailed” scenarios required of specific studies.

2.5 Robustness

2.5.1 Each approved scenario should address a particular plausible issue of concern for defence planning. The entire portfolio of scenarios will address the full range of possible problems foreseen by defence policy. The probability of a specific scenario’s occurrence is not usually an issue within a study, as the analyst will usually prefer that the study’s results are robust across the range of possibilities. However, limited resources will often dictate that the selection of a more limited number of scenarios. The user will have to assess the likely impact of the scenario on the study’s results and the probability of occurrence. Of course high impact / high probability scenarios will be included and low impact / low probability ones will be ignored. Decisions on objective criteria will be needed if its is necessary to selected only some scenarios from the middle ground of low impact / high probability and high impact / low probability scenarios.

2.6 Uncertainty

2.6.1 One of the key characteristics that distinguishes long-term defence planning from shorter-term planning is the degree to which uncertainty pervades the process. As the planning period is pushed further into the future, the level of uncertainty increases at a geometric rate. This characteristic of long-term planning is a dominant factor that drives the nature of the analytical process.

2.6.2 Early efforts at long-term planning attempted to develop predictions of the nature of the future environment or situation for the timeframe of interest. Procedures to accomplish this usually relied on predictions from subject matter experts and/or some form of trend analysis. Hindsight reviews of these studies have found that point predictions about the nature of the distant future were always sorely inaccurate when compared to the true situation that ultimately unfolded. Also, the degree of inaccuracy increased with the magnitude of the span of time between the time of the study and the period of interest in the future. Discontinuities in trends were rarely proposed and less likely to be correctly predicted. These studies indicated the requirement for a systematic approach to dealing with uncertainty about the future.

2.6.3 The methodological consensus that appears to be emerging from current studies of long-term planning is the employment of the scenario method. The scenario method has been employed in numerous studies to deal with the difficulties imposed by uncertainty. In general terms, driving forces and trends are ranked according to their degree of uncertainty and combined in consistent ways to produce a variety of different scenarios. The scenarios within these portfolios incorporate the uncertainty associated with the future and provide a means to assess the implications.


3.1. General Points

3.1.1. A scenario, or a set of scenarios, serve as a model – or an image – of the future against which alternative choices, decisions or actions can be measured with respect to their “efficiency and effectiveness” in some sense. Constructing a scenario involves identifying the driving forces or the main dimensions and writing a story around a possible development of these forces that is sufficiently plausible and consistent to serve as a background for the decision problem to be examined.

3.1.2. The process of scenario development involves the following steps:

  • Framing,
  • Mechanics, and
  • Appraisal

3.1.3. The framing process comprises identifying the purpose or the focal issue for the scenario. The mechanics are a systematic process of identifying the key drivers of the scenario with corresponding values and corresponding dependencies and variations among them. The appraisal phase involves a review of the scenario to check whether it satisfies some necessary conditions; normally this would be a review of the purpose, completeness of the required information and an internal consistency check.

3.1.4. Experience from working with scenarios, indicates that the number of scenarios should be kept as low as possible. Scenarios are based on an appreciation of current circumstances, perceived trends and expectations of future developments. They are a reflection of circumstances, real or proposed, at some point in time. As time passes, global characteristics change (political relations, technology, the environment, demographics, societal values, military structures etc.) and so should planning scenarios. Scenarios will evolve over time. To maintain a relevant, validated, approved set of planning scenarios is an onerous task in direct proportion to the number of scenarios in the set. To minimise the burden and facilitate this management process, the number of scenarios in the planning set should be kept to a minimum. Each scenario should offer some unique view(s) that cannot be obtained from any other scenario in the set.

3.2. Framing

3.2.1. Normally, a scenario is considered to be an effective tool for communicating a possible future situation to decision makers and planners. An exact definition, or statement, of the problem to be solved will automatically reveal the important dimensions relevant for the study of that particular problem.

3.2.2. In military planing, the user could be at different levels:

  1. Strategic – political,
  2. Strategic – military,
  3. Operational, and/or
  4. Tactical.

3.2.3. A level 1 scenario focuses on the political challenges related to the situation of interest. Closely related to this is the level 2 scenario, which translates the political challenges into military strategic challenges. In NATO, these two levels have been merged into “planning situations”. At level 3 and 4, the military challenges are described in expanding detail.

3.3. Relevant Dimensions

3.3.1. A scenario can be considered to assemble a set of dimensions with corresponding values in a consistent way into a meaningful whole – a point in the problem (scenario) space. The number of dimensions will be determined by the purpose of the scenario.

3.3.2. For defence structuring, the following overall dimensions is normally considered to be necessary:

  1. General,
  2. Security Environment,
  3. Parties,
  4. Conflict, and
  5. Background Information

Within each of these dimensions there is a set of other, more deailed dimensions, called variables, with possible values. For example:

1. General

a. Timeframe

b. Conflict scale

2. Security Environment

a. Area of interest {Europe, Middle East, Africa, ..}

b. Type of situation {peace, crises, warfighting, information warfare}

c. International relations {confrontation, partnership, alliances, ..}

d. Alliances {NATO, COW, …}

3. Parties

a. Nations involved (nations, groups, …)

b. Political objectives

c. Strategic military objectives

4. Conflict

a. Military capacities

b. Technological level

c. Geography

d. Duration

5. Background Information – facts (relevant sources)

a. Concept of Operations

b. Doctrine

c. Technology

d. Time Dynamics

e. Trends

f. Threat Evolution and Sources (i.e. MC-161)

3.4. Mechanics

3.4.1. The construction of every scenario involves the identification of driving forces or main dimensions for the problem being addressed. A variety of techniques can be used to identify these dimensions; i.e. structured brainstorming techniques. This report will not go into details of the application of the technique to identify such dimensions, but rather assume a few, but relevant dimensions have been specified.

3.4.2. Before starting out to write a scenario, a systematic method can be applied to ensure consistency in the variation of the dimensions of the scenario. This method, the morphological method, was originally developed by the Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky and used for technological forecasting in World War II. Zwicky developed this method to study chemical energy engines. The essence of Zwicky’s approach was to identify a set of parameters (dimensions) that characterised chemical energy engines. Each dimension was defined according to a number of values. Together the set of dimensions and values produced a matrix where any combination of values across all dimensions represents one possible state, in this case, of the chemical energy engine.

3.4.3. The morphological method comprises a variety of techniques, or practical procedures. One common technique, which will be described in this report, is that of the morphological box.

3.4.4. Each dimension is characterised, or specified, in terms of a set of independent values. Together, all dimensions with their associated values constitute a multidimensional matrix, a morphological box (see Table I). The matrix contains within it all the possible states of the given problem. An individual state of the problem, or the exact definition of a situation, results from a specific combination of values across the whole set of dimensions.

3.4.5. Values for each dimension constitute a complete and mutually exclusive set of possibilities. The specification of all possible vectors of values of the dimensions is the next step in the morphological analysis. Each vector represents one possible point in the multidimensional state space.

3.4.6. The final step in the morphological process involves choices of alternative situations (vectors) that may be relevant for further study. If the aim is to develop a scenario, this stage of the process consists of identifying combinations of values across the whole set of dimensions that are internally consistent or possible and relevant to the frame of interest. Each vector of values that results from this final step provides the foundation for writing up a scenario.



Security environment Confrontation Partnership  

Nation 1 Involvement

Yes No  
Nation 2 Involvement Yes No  
Group A Involvement Yes No  
Conflict Small scale Medium Large

3.5. Data Management

3.5.1. The requirement for complete and accurate data, obtained from multiple sources, is essential to ensuring that valid comprehensive assessments can be conducted. Data requirements for scenario specification and analysis can be immense. Having a “data expert” in addition to operations research analysts, subject matter experts, conceptual planners, and senior policy makers is paramount in scenario development. The “data expert” is someone who understands in detail the huge databases required to “feed” the analysis process for the scenarios. They know what exists currently in these databases (including the flaws), what can be usefully extracted, and what is planned for the future. Moreover, the interaction with the “data expert” over time may lead to refinement of the data development process.

3.5.2. The majority of scenarios used in current defence planning are operations other than war (OOTW). In the OOTW scenario development, the “behind the front line” forces (the engineers, the hospitals, the military police, etc.) data can be immature, which may result in poor support for the analysis. Setting up scenarios may be premature if there is inadequate data to conduct the analysis. The results of scenario analysis are only as good as the input data.

3.6. Appraisal

3.6.1. Two criteria for scenarios stand out as essential: reasonability and relevance. Statements about events in a scenario must appear as reasonable. Reasonability, however, must not be confused with probability. Probability in itself, is not a criterion; on the contrary, scenarios often explicitly focus on outcomes other than those associated with high degrees of probability. Reasonability, however, means that a scenario must not depart radically from “common sense” or what is normally held to be “possible”. It would also include some consistency in the variation of the different dimensions and their corresponding values.

3.6.2. Relevance, in terms of a scenario, means that it should be useful for its specific purpose. In the case of a scenario for military planning purposes, it should deal with conflicts, or other situations, where military forces might be used. For this purpose, the scenario must contain enough relevant information to make it useful for the analyst or the decision-maker. This means usually that the scenario must not depart from assumptions that constitute a basis in terms of physical or political “realities” that have lasting relevance. For instance this can be the geographic parameters of a scenario, which military forces that are involved, threat perceptions, assumptions as to alliance postures etc.


4.1. Scenario Selection

4.1.1. Ideally the results of operational analyses should be scenario independent and be valid across an appropriate range of military situations. However, the complex nature of most operations involving military forces often does not allow empirical approaches. Hence, the important role of scenario-based analyses. In addition, any scenario-based analytical approach must also consider multiple scenarios as the complex nature of military missions can seldom be addressed with the assumptions of any single scenario. To ensure the broad validity of the analytical results, the problem must be fully addressed and avoid being dependent upon a single and potentially anomalous scenario. This implies that the nature of the problem will often require that the analyst balance limited resources with the need for a large scenario set. Therefore, scenario selection is a critical analytical activity. The NATO Research and Technology Organization Technical Report 9 lists three steps in the scenario specification and selection process, which are:

  1. The identification of the range of possible scenarios consistent with the problem under consideration;
  2. As the above identified set of scenarios will likely be too large for the available analytical resources, the selection of those scenarios which cover the range of key factors associated with the analyst’s problem; and
  3. The refinement of the selected scenario set to meet the specific demands of the problem at hand.

4.1.2. Finally, the portfolio should include background information on the use and selection of scenarios and on traceability. This information can include:

  • Assumptions on the driving analytic factors;
  • The selection of a representative set, including sampling of the security spectrum and the geographic interests;
  • Prior uses of the scenarios in studies, including the study purpose and scope; and
  • Verification, validation and approval information.

4.2. Scenario Linkages/Dependencies

4.2.1. The above scenario selection process for an analytical problem should not be carried out in isolation from the larger defence issues facing the nation and the Alliance. There should be common threads linking the scenarios across the spectrum of potential missions, the hierarchy of operations and the range of national and Alliance objectives and interests. Further, for the results of the analysis to be acceptable those scenarios must have the appropriate approval. To meet the scenario needs of the analysts within these constraints requires an approved set of identified scenarios or a scenario portfolio from which the analyst can specify an appropriate set for a particular study. The specific requirements of the portfolio are that:

  • It reflects political and military objectives within the national or Alliance hierarchy of operations (political, strategic and tactical);
  • It addresses the full spectrum of missions and potential capabilities of both threat and friendly forces;
  • It adequately addresses the uncertainty of threats in terms of nature and source;
  • It adequately addresses the potential environments in which national or Alliance forces may find themselves;
  • The scenarios contained within the portfolio are approved and credible;
  • The scenarios adequately span the range of users and the potential problems that might need to be considered;
  • The portfolio provides guidance on the use of specific scenarios;
  • The portfolio provides information on prior uses of specific scenarios; and
  • The portfolio provides assumptions on the concurrency of multiple scenarios and guidance for their use in studies addressing issues related to multiple missions.

4.2.2. The requirements listed above imply that scenarios appropriate for long-term defence planning must also be consistent with those used in other defence studies. Ideally a single scenario portfolio should exist within a nation or Alliance and it should address the needs of long-term defence planning. Therefore, it is important to consider the full range of potential types of defence studies when defining such a portfolio. These studies could be related to:

  • Defence planning, including long-term defence planning;
  • Force structures and organisation;
  • Mission analysis;
  • Doctrine and tactics development;
  • Cost benefit and effectiveness analysis;
  • Training and education;
  • Systems procurement; and
  • Capability balancing.

4.3. Representing the Security Spectrum

4.3.1. An issue to consider when addressing the needs of long term defence planning is the increasing uncertainty associated with the longer term. This applies to all aspects of the portfolio requirements, such as security interests, the situation (e.g. political, military and cultural), mission parameters (e.g. objectives, scope, constraints and rules of engagement), friendly and adversary capabilities, and the environment. This would suggest that a portfolio be defined with an unbounded scenario set that uses continua to define the range of interests. In contrast, many find it easier to manage complexity by specifying a particular scenario set. However, with the uncertainties associated with the longer term this latter approach would imply that an unreasonably large set of scenarios are required to adequately span the range of issues. The alternative, the unbounded scenario set, requires further research on scenario and scenario portfolio definitions, as well as guidance for users, such as specifying a scenario set for the analysis of a particular problem.

4.3.2. In general, scenarios include three basic types of information, which are external factors such as the situation and mission objectives, capabilities of the various actors and the environment in which the mission occurs. For long term defence planning these should be defined, where possible, through continua and associated ranges of values. Otherwise spanning the possibilities will potentially require the definition of an extensive parametric set. Examples of each are:

  • External factors: security interests, political / military / cultural situation, mission objectives, mission constraints and limitations, rules of engagement, military scope, intensity, joint / combined mission;
  • Capabilities of actors: organisation, order of battle, command and control, doctrine, resources, weapons equipment, logistics, skills and morale for friendly forces, adversary forces and non-combatants; and
  • Environment: Geography, region, terrain features, accessibility, vegetation, climate, weather and infrastructure (e.g. transportation, telecommunications and energy).

4.4. Scenario Flexibility

4.4.1. Since there is a wide variety of users, as well as uses, for scenarios, the scenarios of a portfolio should be flexible. This can be achieved by:

  • Allowing different mission types to be included in a single scenario as actual mission types are often not discrete and include elements of more than one type; and
  • Providing information for the decomposition into more detailed scenarios for specific uses (i.e. there should be a scenario hierarchy).

4.5. Concurrence

4.5.1. The post-Cold War era has seen Alliance-wide declines in defence budgets. This has increased demands for the efficient and economic uses of military forces. While the requirements of single scenarios can often be easily met, multiple scenarios frequently provide significant challenges. This includes not only the ability to meet the specific demands of mission combinations, but also the ability to manage multiple missions over extended time periods. Therefore, an adequate scenario portfolio must also contain information on multiple occurrence (activation) of scenarios. This information should include assumptions on:

  • The concurrence of operations, including issues such as synchronisation of activities;
  • The frequency and duration of various mission types;
  • Legal combinations (from a planning perspective);
  • The dependencies and linkages that might exist for particular combinations; and
  • Mission priorities, including the potential for redeployment.


5.1. Scenario Acceptance Process

5.1.1. The single most important decision for a study is the choice of its scenarios. Scenario selection is at the start of any audit trail or evaluation of the applicability or usefulness of study results or deductions. Scenario choice should be made through a carefully thought out process or procedure which generates acceptance and therefore ensures the scenarios will be authoritative. A correct scenario selection procedure is vital for the study’s proper management, subsequent usefulness and acceptability.

5.1.2. As with all procedures, a formally established process is good practice and can facilitate endorsement. Formal endorsement has implications and benefits beyond the immediate confines of a single study. The body recognized as the scenario authority is empowered to ensure that its products, outputs, rules or area of expertise are accepted and used in a consistent manner which typically will extend its area of influence. An added benefit of an established procedure is the ease with which changes, questions or explanations can be circulated among an identified set of offices or individuals thereby ensuring standardisation. If standardisation is in doubt then the identified user group permits easy observation to identify deficiencies. Thus control, standardisation, and acceptance are all encouraged by a well-developed scenario selection process. Such a carefully thought out process ensures the study sponsor’s work will be well on the way to endorsement and that delays from objections to deductions/assumptions, incorrect policy or other factors will be kept to a minimum.

5.1.3. A key aspect of any well-developed scenario selection procedure is to ensure that appropriate experts or offices are involved. Even the simplest of high level scenarios can contain information or assumptions from many different areas. It is essential that those with technical, policy, intelligence, budgetary or other appropriate expertise be involved. However, care should be taken not to permit the process to become unwieldy and unresponsive.

5.1.4. As with any process involving a large number of individuals or offices, work assignments must be clearly identified. Staff approving a scenario cannot be expected to cover all areas authoritatively and it must be possible for them to concentrate on their specific areas. They must know what is their responsibility and what exactly they are being asked to do. In some situations they will be asked to give advice rather than approve. It is not appropriate to pass a large complicated scenario to staff for action without clearly defining what is required of them in each aspect of the scenario. It must be clear:

  • Who is being asked to approve/review/provide advice on what?
  • For what purpose is approval/review/advice required?
  • A scenario may be valid for some aspects but not others so the staff will need enough information to understand the implications.
  • How long is the requested action expected to last?
  • Are you asking them to give approval etc. for a long or a short period? An approver may know of potential future changes that require caveats to the response during a particular period.
  • Procedures should make it clear who is responsible for ensuring approval is gained or when only approved scenarios are required.
  • The points of contact should be well defined.
  • What is the extent of the approval/review/or advice?
  • Will it be used to set precedence for all studies using the scenario, a limited range of studies or just one particular study?

5.1.5. A scenario selection process will work smoother if several practices are encouraged. Work by other offices will be greatly facilitated if scenario developers are as clear as possible about the purposes, assumptions, and decisions behind their scenario choices. Developers should be clear about:

  • Which parts of the scenario are believed to be consistent with approved or otherwise existing policy/data etc.;
  • Which parts are believed to be consistent with existing related areas or precedents; and
  • Which areas are completely new and require new policy or new data to be examined.

5.1.6. Current and future scenario selection can be facilitated by adopting the following criteria for the procedures, data and templates used:

  • They should facilitate the issues identified in the preceding paragraphs;
  • Minimum effort should be required by the approver(s),
  • It may be advantageous for the body seeking input to give their interpretation of the particular policies etc. on which the scenario draws;
  • The process should allow precedents to be set so the task of the approver is made easier in the future. This is especially true in the case of scenario data since widely accepted data dramatically speeds study completion and ensures comparability with other studies; and
  • Consistent interpretation of any rules should be obvious.

5.1.7. Scenario acceptance can also be assisted by ensuring staff understand the level of flexibility available to scenario users. It should be clear which scenario aspects can be changed by study leaders. For instance, although a scenario may be set at a particular time of the year it may be possible to change this without requiring approval of the modified scenario. In some instances, it may be permissible to explore issues that are strictly outside the approved boundaries of the scenario. It should be clear whether formal approval of such an approach is required.

47 thoughts on “The use of Scenarios in Long Term Defence Planning

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