A half century of expertise offers Center for Army Analysis a view over the horizon

By Paul LaraApril 28, 2023

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Tactically, the ability to peer over the horizon has changed how the U.S. Army delivers its lethal response to the enemy. The fog of war has been dispersed, with a clearer picture of the battlespace that allows for more rapid decisions. Headquartered at Fort Belvoir, the Center for Army Analysis (CAA) is intently focused on a distant horizon: the Army of 2030. That’s according to center director, Dr. Steven Stoddard, who said his team’s work is routinely focused on envisioning the Army eight years out.

“That’s where my focus is, right around 2030, because the Army submits a five-year plan to the Secretary of Defense for what we’re going to invest in … so what I need to do is plan about eight years in the future,” Stoddard said. “I can test various options and say, ‘we need this much artillery. We need this much cyber capability.’ Working that far ahead enables the Chief of Staff and the Secretary to decide upon a point at which we’ll aim and start changing, piece by piece.”

The CAA informs critical senior-level decisions for current and future national security issues and conducts analysis of Army forces and systems in the context of joint and combined warfighting, as well as providing analytical studies of Army-wide processes. That provides required Army forces and systems to address programming, budgeting and operational issues. CAA was created in 1973 by the combination of the Strategy and Tactics Analysis Group with elements of the Army Staff.

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Dr. Steven A. Stoddard, Director, Center for Army Analysis

Blending Science and Operational Art
Stoddard said his analysts generate models, and they realized that whenever they would get odd results out of the model, it was usually because the person programming the model was making assumptions that may not have been appropriate, because of a failure to understand the operational art.

“Over the last six years, the CAA has reorganized to stand up two wargaming divisions. They run wargames so they can ensure that whatever we put in the model is appropriately employing the operational arts,” adding that there is even a wargaming model built just for logistics. “We hold logistics-oriented events, and one of our modeling divisions has built up an expertise on the sustainment warfighting function.”

People First

Stoddard said he recognizes the challenge the Army faces in keeping units ready for the fight, as CAA creates a set of rules to choose who goes where, and when. He said every unit goes through a life cycle, dedicating time to modernization and training.

“You can only sustain that level of edge-readiness for so long and you'll need to go back. Then it'll be your turn to modernize again,” Stoddard said. “So, there's a model associated with that.

“While these units are flowing through their cycles, soldiers are flowing in and out as they go through their career paths. We help ensure that there is a logical set of people policies that can map to the force generation process and enable units to be ready,” he said.

Working hand-in-glove alongside Army Futures Command (AFC), which focuses on Army capabilities and needs, Stoddard said his teams take the AFC design of what kind of cannon to use, for example, and determines how many of them to fit in the Army and how to align them against the National Defense Strategy.

“[Army Futures Command] will help the Army become more effective. We will help the Army figure out when and where to put all that effectiveness. ‘Now you need this much ammunition.’ We are the quantifiers,” said Stoddard.

E.B. Vandiver III, who wrote the plans for the creation of CAA in 1972 and later served as CAA director for 28 years, told the Belvoir Eagle that one reason for the center’s success comes from growing its people.

“I had been in places in the Army where training was treated as a reward. I made people go to courses, and I made them go to courses they didn’t want to,” Vandiver said. “Because of that, even when people left, they kept coming back here. I know what a high-performing organization looks like, and one characteristic is continuity.”

Vandiver said CAA, in calculating the Army’s requirements, takes the defense planning guidance, wargames it, then calculates all the support forces needed.

“We do that for multiple scenarios and then combine it and come up with the force structure for the whole Army. It’s fiendishly complex,” Vandiver said. “Over the years we have put that on a very sound foundation, whereby we can take any unit in the army and track it back and tell you why we need this unit. We can defend our requirements. Just being able to explain your results is huge, and it’s something we insist on.”

Prioritizing Expenditures
Stoddard said that CAA support in prioritizing expenditures is crucial.

“It’s the lifeblood of what we do,” he said, adding that in order to execute the National Defense Strategy, his team has to identify where the Army can accept risk and where the Army can afford to tighten the belt.

“CAA is focused on the size of the Army, the end strength – how many soldiers you have in uniform – because frankly, that's the Army's biggest expenditure,” said Stoddard.

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In addition to the wargaming that CAA conducts for its sponsors, CAA analysts also keep the skills honed by conducting a professional development wargame.

 As one of the newest analysts at CAA, Katie Smith joined through the Presidential Management Fellowship program. With a PhD in neuroscience and a dual master’s in international relations and public administration, her recruitment helped her realize new career possibilities.

“I’ve really loved my experience at CAA,” Smith said. “It feels like a small family. It is really rewarding work, seeing the bigger picture and understanding how operations analysis can fit into helping Soldiers out in the real world.

“Before joining CAA, I figured I'd be in foreign policy. I was looking at State Department rotations and something more along those lines. I wasn't even thinking about doing this and so I'm really happy I'm here because I would have never thought of it, but I'm really enjoying it.”

Artificial Intelligence changes modeling
Dr. Stoddard said the use of artificial intelligence is “absolutely changing statistical modeling,” and that it will enable CAA to better understand where data may be incomplete. He said they observed a wargame with the bad guys played by AI instead of using his usual threat experts, with surprising results.

“The AI went to a place where we completely did not expect. I don't know in retrospect if the threat would actually have gone that way,” Stoddard said. “It was a high-risk maneuver that they took. They went around a flank that we didn't think was attainable, but sure enough, they were able to do it. It told us we needed to close that approach.”

Stoddard predicts that AI will allow CAA to expand the scope of its wargaming and modeling.

“I think of AI as a way to throw out the really bad ideas or offer an idea we didn’t consider. AI will help us examine options more rapidly, and a broader set of potential ways of achieving an operation. We have a handful of folks who are experts in coding AI,” Stoddard said. “We're building that capability across the Army, and it’s pretty exciting.”

Vandiver, now 84, still volunteers with CAA and is compiling historical data on the agency’s benchmark 50 years of work. He estimated that in that time, CAA has conducted more than 3,000 major studies to help the Army align their capacity with their mission.

Every day, CAA analysts are hard at work building the Army of the future, ensuring that it will be properly staffed and equipped to deal with future threats that loom – over the horizon.