Some Improvements Have Been Made in DOD's Annual Training Range Reporting but It Still Fails to Fully Address Congressional Requirements
GAO-06-29R: Published: Oct 25, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 2005.
A fundamental military readiness principle is that the military must train as it intends to fight, and military training ranges provide the primary means to accomplish this principle. To successfully accomplish today's missions, U.S. forces are conducting significantly more complex operations, requiring increased joint training and interoperability between and among the military services, combatant commands, and other Department of Defense (DOD) and non-DOD organizations. For some time, senior DOD and military service officials have reported that they face increasing difficulties in carrying out realistic training at military installations due to training constraints, such as those resulting from encroachment. In recent years, we have reported on these training constraints and identified the need for an integrated, readily accessible inventory of training ranges, capacities, and capabilities so that commanders across the services can schedule the best available resources to provide the required training; a comprehensive plan that includes goals, timelines, projected costs, and a clear assignment of responsibilities to address encroachment on military training ranges; and a more comprehensive approach for addressing deficiencies to ensure that ranges are adequately sustained and modernized in order to accomplish the department's transformation goals and ensure their long-term viability. Title III, section 366 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, required that the Secretary of Defense develop a comprehensive plan for the sustainment of military training ranges using existing authorities available to the Secretaries of Defense and the military departments to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace that are available in the United States and overseas for training. Among other items, section 366 also required the Secretary to submit to Congress a report containing the comprehensive training range sustainment plan, the results of an assessment and evaluation of current and future training range requirements, and any recommendations that the Secretary may have for legislative or regulatory changes to address training constraints. Section 366 also directed the Secretary of Defense to develop and maintain an inventory of training ranges for each of the armed forces, which identifies all training capacities, capabilities, and constraints at each training range, and it required the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on his plans to improve the system for reporting the impact that training restraints have on readiness. DOD was to submit both the report and the training range inventory to Congress at the same time the President submitted the budget for fiscal year 2004 and to provide status reports annually for fiscal years 2005 through 2008. Instead of issuing a report along with the President's fiscal year 2004 budget submission in 2003, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) submitted to Congress its first report--Implementation of the Department of Defense Training Range Comprehensive Plan--and its training range inventory on February 27, 2004. OSD submitted its second annual report, along with an updated inventory, to Congress on July 14, 2005. Section 366 also required GAO to provide Congress with an evaluation of OSD's annual reports. This is our second such report. In this report, we discuss the extent to which OSD's (1) 2005 training range inventory contains sufficient information to use as a baseline for developing the comprehensive sustainment plan mandated by section 366; and (2) 2005 training range report meets other requirements mandated by section 366 that could help guide OSD and the services in ensuring the long-term sustainability of their training ranges.
Similar to the inventory OSD submitted to Congress last year, the 2005 training range inventory does not contain sufficient information to use as a baseline for developing a comprehensive plan to address training constraints and help ensure range sustainability because it does not identify specific capacities, capabilities, and training constraints for ranges of all the services as required by section 366. Instead, it is a consolidated list of ranges provided by the individual services that lacks critical data and is not integrated or easily accessible by potential users. Both this year's and last year's inventories list the services' training ranges and provide general data on the size and type of range. Unlike last year's inventory, OSD's 2005 inventory also identifies specific routes pilots use to transit from a base to a training range and provides information on upper and lower altitudes for shared airspace near military installations for all the services. Still, neither inventory identifies specific capacities and capabilities for individual Army, Navy, or Marine Corps ranges or lists existing training constraints caused by encroachment or other factors, such as a lack of maintenance or modernization. In addition, OSD's 2005 inventory is not integrated or readily accessible to potential users. Therefore, this year's inventory is still not a tool that commanders across the services could use to identify range availability regardless of service ownership to schedule the best available resources to provide required training. In responding to similar findings in our 2004 report, OSD commented that it was a long-term goal to have an integrated management system to support joint use of training ranges. However, OSD does not identify this as one of its goals in this year's report. Instead, OSD's 2005 report identifies different service- and range-level information and inventory systems--some of which have been in place for years. We continue to believe as we did last year that, without a complete, integrated, and continuously updated training range inventory, it is difficult for potential users to identify the best available ranges to meet their required training and for OSD to frame a meaningful plan to address training constraints and help ensure range sustainability. OSD's 2005 training range report--similar to the one issued to Congress last year--fails to meet other requirements mandated by section 366 that could help guide OSD and the services in ensuring the long-term sustainability of their training ranges. Nevertheless, there is one noteworthy change: OSD's 2005 report includes some elements of a plan intended to address the long-term sustainability of training ranges while last year's report did not. The plan provides general goals, actions, and milestones but does not identify funding requirements for implementing planned actions, although specifically required to by section 366, and does not assign responsibility for implementation of specific actions or provide explicit performance metrics to measure progress--critical elements for a meaningful plan. Like last year's report, OSD's 2005 report does not include an assessment of current and future training range requirements; an evaluation of the adequacy of current resources, including virtual and constructive assets, to meet current and future training range requirements; or recommendations for legislative or regulatory changes to address training constraints--although specifically required to do so by section 366. In addition, OSD's 2005 report does not include its plans to improve the department's readiness reporting system, despite a specific mandate in section 366 that it do so no later than June 30, 2003. Although other OSD components have demonstrated that the department is capable of developing reports that contain information and comprehensive strategic plans similar to those specified by section 366, OSD's 2005 report is generally descriptive in nature.