Abstract for: Dynamic Complexity in Military Planning: A Role for System Dynamics

Military strategists are increasingly recognizing that planned interventions sometimes fail to achieve their goals, especially in the long term, because planning is done with a limited view of possible outcomes rather than a whole-systems perspective. The systems modeling methodology of system dynamics is well-suited to address many of the dynamically complex problems that arise in the context of military planning issues. The purpose of this paper is to highlight key features of the system dynamics method as it might be applied to military planning. The paper develops an illustrative model of a stylized military planning situation and uses it to illustrate typical characteristics of system dynamics models and their use to understand system behavior. The example highlights basic structural features found in system dynamics models including stocks and flows, balancing and reinforcing feedback loops, nonlinearities, and time delays. The example shows how structure causes behavior and identifies several characteristic aspects of the behavior of dynamically complex systems, such as the basic dynamics of stocks and flows, dynamic equilibria, paradoxical patterns of behavior over time (e.g., better before worse), shifts in loop dominance, and tipping points. The paper closes with some thoughts on using system dynamics to improve military planning.