Accession Number:



Learning to Adapt to Asymmetric Threats

Descriptive Note:

Final rept.

Corporate Author:


Report Date:


Pagination or Media Count:



This study explores the changes that might be called for in the Department of Defense DoD learning environment to meet the challenges facing the United States as it responds to the asymmetric threats of the 21st century. In DoD planning terms, the concept of an asymmetric threat can be included in the concept of irregular warfare. In addressing this question, the IDA study team concluded that the asymmetric or irregular threats in the 21st century were largely unpredictable. Given the uncertainty of the threats, the key skill that individuals, units, and teams of commanders and leaders need to learn is adaptability -- defined as the degree to which adjustments are possible in practices, processes, or structures of systems to projected or actual changes of situation. In this context, the changes of situation are created by an asymmetric threat. Given this conclusion about the nature of the threats facing the United States, the study team set out to determine the elements of adaptability, to determine the extent to which the DoD learning establishment might already be focusing on adaptability learning, and to identify ways in which the DoD could facilitate efforts to learn to be adaptable. The authors found evidence across the department that DoD excels in training individuals and units in the set of skills essential for defeating traditional, symmetric, 20th century threats. They also found evidence of successful efforts to adapt these training techniques to the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They found less evidence of a systemic effort to prepare individuals, units, and teams of commanders and leaders to defeat nontraditional, asymmetric, irregular threats. Accordingly, the authors conclude that the DoD needs to revise its learning paradigm to enhance its ability to learn to adapt to the new threats facing the United States.

Subject Categories:

  • Humanities and History
  • Psychology
  • Military Forces and Organizations

Distribution Statement: