Military Readiness:

DOD Needs a Clear and Defined Process for Setting Aircraft Availability Goals in the New Security Environment

GAO-03-300: Published: Apr 7, 2003. Publicly Released: May 7, 2003.

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The attacks on September 11, 2001, show that threats to U.S. security can now come from any number of terrorist groups, at any number of locations, and in wholly unexpected ways. As a result, the Department of Defense (DOD) is shifting to a new defense strategy focused on dealing with uncertainty by acting quickly across a wide range of combat conditions. One key ingredient of the new strategy is the availability of aircraft to carry out their missions. Key measures of availability include the percentage of time an aircraft can perform at least one or all of its assigned missions, termed the "mission capable" (MC) and "full mission capable" (FMC) rates, respectively. GAO examined whether key DOD aircraft have been able to meet MC and FMC goals in recent years, and DOD's process for setting aircraft availability goals.

Less than one-half of the 49 key active-duty aircraft models that GAO reviewed met their MC or FMC goals during fiscal years 1998-2002. The levels of mission capability varied by military service and type of aircraft, and the levels at which the goals were set also varied widely, even among the same type of aircraft. However, the MC and FMC goals for each model changed little over time. Since 1998, only 11 of 49 aircraft models (22 percent) experienced a change to their goals. Seven of the changes were to raise the goals to higher levels. Difficulties in meeting the goals are caused by a complex combination of logistical and operational factors. Despite their importance, DOD does not have a clear and defined process for setting aircraft availability goals. The goal-setting process is largely undefined and undocumented, and there is widespread uncertainty among the military services over how the goals were established, who is responsible for setting them, and the continuing adequacy of MC and FMC goals as measures of aircraft availability. Uncertainty and the lack of documentation in setting the goals ultimately obscures basic perceptions of readiness and operational effectiveness, undermines congressional confidence in the basis for DOD's funding requests, and brings into question the appropriateness of those goals to the new defense strategy. DOD guidance does not define the availability goals that the services must establish or require any objective methodology for setting them. Nor does it require the services to identify one office as the coordinating agent for goal setting or to document the basis for the goals chosen. DOD officials told GAO that the guidance has not been updated since 1990 to reflect the new security environment of increased deployments and other changes since the end of the Cold War.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with GAO's recommendation. It did not agree with the part of GAO's recommendation calling for the Secretary of Defense to revise the instruction to establish a standard methodology identifying objective principles of analysis to be used in setting the goals. It believed that the services should establish the detailed analytical methodology because the types of goals and their basis may vary by service, and the services have a better understanding of the differences and complexities of their individual environments. GAO continues to believe that all services should adhere to a standardized set of overarching principles of analysis in order to safeguard objectivity and transparency in the goal setting process. The services could then develop detailed methodologies consistent with these principles, but tailored to their individual environments. No change to the recommendation is required. DOD revised Instruction 3110.5 to partially address this recommendation by specifying that the services are required to use the criteria set forth in the Instruction to review maintenance and supply effectiveness, including principles of analysis such as optimum system reliability and cycle time measures; and clarifying the definitions of analytical metrics such as full mission capable and mission capable.

    Recommendation: To ensure that aircraft availability goals and their performance measures are appropriate to the new defense strategy and based on a clear and defined process, the Secretary of Defense should revise DOD Instruction 3110.5 to establish a standard methodology identifying objective principles of analysis to be used by all services in setting the goals, including an identification of the readiness and cost implications of setting the goals at different levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. It did not agree with the part of GAO's recommendation calling for it to include the performance measures associated with the aircraft availability goals in the instruction. DOD believed that that requirement implied that those performance measures should be the sole or primary measure of the overall state of materiel readiness. That was not GAO's intent. The recommendation is meant to ensure that the goals and accompanying performance measures are clearly defined. This action will help avoid further uncertainty and disagreement over the level of basic aircraft performance, and does not preclude the consideration of other metrics in broader assessments of overall readiness. No change to the recommendation is needed. DOD has closed the case on this recommendation without revising DOD Instruction 3110.5 to identify specific aircraft availability goals.

    Recommendation: To ensure that aircraft availability goals and their performance measures are appropriate to the new defense strategy and based on a clear and defined process, the Secretary of Defense should revise DOD Instruction 3110.5 to clearly define the specific aircraft availability goals required to be established by the military services and their accompanying performance measures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and stated that the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness will validate the basis for the existing aircraft availability goals. This study will also explore alternative approaches to setting the goals, such as using a mission requirements-based methodology, a blend of the maximum availability and mission requirements-based methods, and the use of flexible goals. DOD and the services reviewed the basis for the existing aircraft availability goals and agreed to replace the existing basis in DOD Instruction 3110.5 with one based on operational requirements, and also allowed the use of flexible goals as recommended by GAO.

    Recommendation: To ensure that aircraft availability goals and their performance measures are appropriate to the new defense strategy and based on a clear and defined process, as appropriate, DOD and the services should validate the basis for the existing MC and FMC goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and stated that the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness, in coordination with the Services, will conduct a study of the need for different types of aircraft availability goals. The study will give consideration to goal categories tailored for unique Service and mission requirements. Furthermore, the study will also consider selected alternatives to aircraft availability goals, such as the potential use of a mission reliability goal for the Joint Strike Fighter. DOD and the services all conducted reviews of their performance metrics as GAO recommended, and confirmed the use of mission capable/full mission capable metrics and designated those measures as the sole Balanced Scorecard Level 2 equipment condition measure. In addition, the Navy is also exploring the potential for using a different measure--"ready for training"--as a performance metric, but no final decision has been reached.

    Recommendation: To ensure that aircraft availability goals and their performance measures are appropriate to the new defense strategy and based on a clear and defined process, DOD and the services should determine whether different types of aircraft availability goals are needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed with GAO's recommendation, and stated that the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness will revise appropriate policy document(s) to include the establishment of the requirement for the Services to designate focal points for the development, periodic review, and historical documentation of aircraft availability and/or mission requirement goals. DOD revised Instruction 3110.5 to require each of the services to designate one office to act as the focal point for reviewing the goals annually and for maintaining a documentary record of the basis for the goals chosen and other key decisions in the goal-setting process, as recommended by GAO.

    Recommendation: To ensure that aircraft availability goals and their performance measures are appropriate to the new defense strategy and based on a clear and defined process, the Secretary of Defense should revise DOD Instruction 3110.5 to require each service to identify one office to act as a focal point for coordinating the development of the goals and for maintaining a documentary record of the basis for the goals chosen and other key decisions in the goal-setting process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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