CBO Releases an Improved Interactive Tool for Analyzing the Military’s Forces and Resources

Posted by
Phill Swagel
May 17, 2022

Today, CBO released an enhanced version of its interactive tool for analyzing the force structure of the U.S. military and understanding how that structure influences defense spending.

What New Features Does the Tool Provide?

The enhanced tool allows users to alter the overall defense budget (annually or in total for 10 years) to see the possible effects on military forces; or to add or subtract brigades, ships, aircraft squadrons, and other units to see the effects on the defense budget; or to explore any combination of those approaches. It shows estimated effects on the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) costs and on the size of the military. (Learn more about CBO’s approach to calculating those costs.)

In addition, CBO now provides a tutorial to help users understand how to use the tool’s new functionality to explore different types of policy choices. The tutorial, combined with the ability to alter total defense spending, makes the tool more broadly accessible by reducing the amount of specialized knowledge that users need to have about the military or the defense budget.

How Can People Use the Tool?

The new features will let Congressional staff, defense researchers, members of the media, educators, and others use the interactive tool in a wide variety of ways.

For budgeting, the tool helps people explore alternative policy choices and generate results that include standard 10-year costs. They can do that by examining potential changes to the total size of the defense budget, altering phase-in time lines, and exporting detailed data files that show 10-year costs as well as the deflators needed to convert real dollars to nominal dollars for budgeting purposes.

For force structure analysis, the tool offers a way to analyze the effects of proposed changes to forces, considering cuts or expansions of various sizes and focusing, if desired, on particular types of units. The tool also provides information about the major combat units that currently make up the U.S. military, including their number, size, functions, and average costs.

For teaching, the tool—in conjunction with CBO’s periodic report The U.S. Military’s Force Structure: A Primer—can continue to help instructors at military academies, war colleges, and security studies programs provide an introduction to U.S. forces and engage in “what if” analysis of possible changes to those forces.

To be transparent, the enhanced tool follows CBO’s practice of showing the raw cost factors and quantities used in the agency’s cost model for the U.S. military, allowing other researchers to view, use, or alter that model. In addition, CBO will continue to update the cost factors and quantities in the tool as DoD releases new budget plans. The enhanced tool also includes the ability to export more detailed data files for users who want to conduct more in-depth analysis than the tool itself permits. Those data files include documentation of all the cost factors and default settings of CBO’s cost model, as well as technical factors such as phase-in rates, deflators, and the military’s projected costs over the next decade.

Phillip L. Swagel is CBO’s Director.