Military Readiness:

Lingering Training and Equipment Issues Hamper Air Support of Ground Forces

GAO-03-505: Published: May 2, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 2, 2003.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Sharon L. Pickup
(757) 552-8100
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Recent operations in Afghanistan demonstrated the dangers of providing air support close to troops on the ground. Such close air support requires timely, well-practiced procedures and communication between ground and air elements. While most close air support operations in Afghanistan were successful, "friendly fire" incidents have resulted from mistakes made while conducting the mission. At the request of the Ranking Minority Members of the Subcommittees on Total Force and Readiness, House Committee on Armed Services, GAO reviewed Department of Defense (DOD) efforts to provide adequate close air support training, as well as efforts to enhance the equipment used to support this mission.

The Department of Defense has had limited success in overcoming the barriers that prevent troops from receiving the realistic, standardized close air support training necessary to prepare them for joint operations. This is the result of four interrelated factors: (1) ground and air forces have limited opportunities to train together in a joint environment; (2) home station training is often restricted and thus does not always provide realistic training to prepare troops to perform the mission; (3) the services use different training standards and certification requirements for personnel responsible for coordinating close air support; and (4) within the individual services, joint close air support training is often a lower priority than other missions. While the department recognizes the need to improve the training for the mission, progress has been slow on many of the issues because the services have been unable to agree on joint solutions. In the interim, U.S. troops engaged in joint close air support missions are forced to conduct last-minute training or create ad hoc procedures on the battlefield. Efforts to enhance the capabilities of the equipment used to perform the joint close air support mission have not kept pace with precision weapons capabilities and as a result do not achieve DOD's goals for interoperability and cost-effectiveness. Advanced systems improve the accuracy of battlefield information and can speed the transmission of information from the troops on the ground to attacking aircraft. However, the services have acquired equipment that is not able to communicate across the services, a key requirement in joint operations. Moreover, the services are procuring equipment independently to meet individual service needs, thereby missing opportunities to achieve cost benefits from joint service purchases.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Because of the long-standing nature of training and equipment issues associated with the joint close air support mission, Congress may wish to consider requiring the Secretary of Defense to report on the progress the department has made toward resolving the identified issues. Congress needs this information to ensure that U.S. forces are adequately prepared to perform the mission and that the department is making cost-effective decisions in procuring equipment to enhance joint performance on the battlefield.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No congressional action taken.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense, through the Joint Forces Command or other appropriate organizational entity, should review the services' plans for procuring advanced close air support equipment to ensure that it is interoperable and meets valid joint requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Confirmed the the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force are procuring three separate sets of equipment for the close air support mission and that the programs are not coordinated, standardized, or interoperable.

    Recommendation: To resolve the lingering training and equipment close air support issues, the Secretary of Defense should give close air support priority when implementing the department's training transportation initiatives. Specifically, the Secretary should provide the Commander of the Joint Forces Command with the authority and resources, if necessary, to resolve the issues identified in the joint close air support action plan. The Command's actions should include preparing aircraft controllers to perform in a joint environment by standardizing training and certifications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) standardized procedures for joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) in Joint Publication 3-09.3, which was signed in September 2003.

    Recommendation: To resolve the lingering training and equipment close air support issues, the Secretary of Defense should give close air support priority when implementing the department's training transformation initiatives. Specifically, the Secretary should provide the Commander of the Joint Forces Command with the authority and resources, if necessary, to resolve the issues identified in the joint close air support action plan. The Command's actions should include seeking ways to mitigate home station training limitations, including the use of simulation to augment live training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Confirmed the services have not used simulators to augment live-fire training exercises for the joint close air support mission.

    Recommendation: To resolve the lingering training and equipment close air support issues, the Secretary of Defense should give close air support priority when implementing the department's training transformation initiatives. Specifically, the Secretary should provide the Commander of the Joint Forces Command with the authority and resources, if necessary, to resolve the issues identified in the joint close air support action plan. The Command's actions should include emphasizing close air support as part of the department's new Joint National Training Capability to ensure that units receive realistic joint training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although the Department of Defense has not resolved all of the issues identified on the Joint Close Air Support Action Plan, the Joint Forces Command did incorporate joint close air support training as part of the department's Joint National Training Capability to ensure participating units received realistic joint training for the joint close air support mission.

    Jul 31, 2014

    Jul 30, 2014

    Jul 28, 2014

    Jul 17, 2014

    Jul 14, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here