Military Readiness:

Navy's Fleet Response Plan Would Benefit from a Comprehensive Management Approach and Rigorous Testing

GAO-06-84: Published: Nov 22, 2005. Publicly Released: Nov 22, 2005.

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The Navy has been transforming itself to better meet 21st century needs. Since 2000, the Congress has appropriated about $50 billion annually for the Navy to operate and maintain its forces and support around 376,000 military personnel. In recognizing that the Navy faces affordability issues in sustaining readiness within its historical share of the defense budget, the Chief of Naval Operations announced a concept called the Fleet Response Plan to enhance its deployment readiness status. The Fleet Response Plan is designed to more rapidly prepare and sustain readiness in ships and squadrons. GAO evaluated the extent to which the Navy has (1) employed a sound management approach in implementing the Fleet Response Plan and (2) tested and evaluated the effectiveness of the plan and shared results to improve implementation.

In establishing the Fleet Response Plan, the Navy has embraced a major change in the way it manages its forces. However, the Navy's management approach in implementing the Fleet Response Plan has not fully incorporated sound management practices needed to guide and assess implementation. These practices include (1) establishing a coherent mission and strategic goals, including resource commitments; (2) setting implementation goals and a timeline; and (3) establishing a communication strategy. While the Navy has taken a number of positive actions to implement the plan, it has not provided readiness goals for units other than carrier strike groups; resource and maintenance goals; performance measures and timelines; or a communications strategy. Sound management practices were not fully developed because senior leaders wanted to quickly implement the plan in response to changes in the security environment. However, without an overall management plan containing all of these elements, it may be difficult for the Navy to determine whether its efforts to improve the fleet's readiness are achieving the desired results, adequately measuring overall progress, or identifying what resources are needed to implement the Fleet Response Plan. The Navy has not fully tested and evaluated the Fleet Response Plan or developed lessons learned to identify the effectiveness of its implementation and success over time. Systematic testing and evaluation of new concepts is an established practice to gain insight into how systems and capabilities will perform in actual operations. However, instead of methodically conducting realistic tests to evaluate the Fleet Response Plan, the Navy has tried to demonstrate the viability of the plan by relying on loosely linked events that were not part of an overall test and evaluation strategy. This approach could impair the Navy's ability to validate the plan and evaluate its success over time. In addition, the Navy has not used its lessons learned system to share the results of its Fleet Response Plan events or as an analytical tool to evaluate the progress of the plan and improve implementation, which limits the Navy's ability to identify and correct weaknesses across the fleet.

Status Legend:

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  • 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

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To facilitate successful implementation of the Fleet Response Plan and enhance readiness and ensure the Navy can determine whether the plan has been successful in increasing readiness and is able to identify and correct performance weaknesses and trends across the fleet, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a comprehensive plan for methodical and realistic testing and evaluation of the Fleet Response Plan including how data will be collected and analyzed for these events and synthesized to evaluate program success and improvements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our November 2005 report, we recommended that the Navy develop a comprehensive plan for determining how the data will be collected and analyzed for testing events and synthesized to evaluate program success. We noted in our report that the Navy has tried to demonstrate the viability of the plan by relying on loosely linked events that were not part of an overall test and evaluation strategy, which provides for data collection and analysis. Subsequently, the Navy has developed the necessary implementing guidance for the Fleet Response Plan (FRP) which defines and collects metrics that measure the effectiveness of the FRP in achieving required readiness. Specifically, on August 31, 2006 the Navy issued the Fleet Response Plan Instruction (OPNAVINST 3000.15) which set policy and responsibility for the execution of FRP, and on July 20, 2009, the Navy issued the Fleet Training Continuum Instruction (COMUSFLTFORCOM/COMPACFLTINST 3501.3B) which provides Navy commanders and commander staffs with implementing guidance to successfully execute the training for the Fleet Response Plan. These instructions, in conjunction with the Navy's established Mission Essential Tasks (NMETs)-measurements of its capability based requirements- for FRP, provide for the evaluation and execution of FRP for Carrier Strike Groups, Expeditionary Strike Groups, and Amphibious Ready Groups. According to the Navy Instructions, the Navy defines and collects metrics -NMETs-that measure the effectiveness of FRP in achieving its required readiness. This collection of metrics can be accomplished through exercises, such as the Navy Warfare Training System. The NWTS allows commanders to develop NMETs through its requirement phase and after the execution of the training leaders gather, analyze, and assess the collective results to determine readiness. The Navy states that a key objective of FRP is the continual evaluation and re-evaluation of mission essential tasks, in response to Combatant Commander demands, to create an adaptive capability. By the Navy's alignment of key training milestones in accordance with national strategy, and Component and Combatant Commander feedback/lessons learned, the naval forces are able to maintain a high state of readiness.

    Recommendation: To facilitate successful implementation of the Fleet Response Plan and enhance readiness and ensure the Navy can determine whether the plan has been successful in increasing readiness and is able to identify and correct performance weaknesses and trends across the fleet, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a comprehensive plan for methodical and realistic testing and evaluation of the Fleet Response Plan including how operational tests, exercises, war games, experiments, deployments, and other similar events will be used to show the performance of the new readiness plan under a variety of conditions, including no-notice surges.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our report we noted, "Because six ships are expected to be ready to deploy with as little as 30 days' notice under the plan and two additional carriers within 90 days, a more realistic test of the Fleet Response Plan (FRP)would include no-notice or short-notice exercises. Such exercises conducted without advance notification to the participants would provide the highest degree of challenge and realism. Without such exercises, the Navy might not be able to realistically practice and coordinate a full surge deployment." Subsequently, the Navy has developed the necessary implementing guidance for FRP which identifies scalable-capabilities based training processes that allow commanders to execute and monitor training events and assess their results to improve readiness. Specifically, on July 20, 2009, the Navy issued the Fleet Training Continuum Instruction (COMUSFLTFORCOM/COMPACFLTINST 3501.3B) which provides Navy commanders and commander staffs with implementing guidance to successfully execute the training for the Fleet Response Plan. This instruction outlines the process by which Navy training is conducted more effectively and efficiently through the use of the Navy Warfare Training System (NWTS). According to the Navy Instruction, the NWTS generates end-to-end audit capability and feedback focused on fleet warfare training for the Navy and represents a common approach from which to execute an interlocking series of disciplined, logical, and repeatable processes designed to improve Fleet readiness. The NWTS has four phases which include the Requirements Phase--when Navy Mission Essential Task Lists are developed, the Planning Phase, the Execution Phase, and the Assessment Phase--when leaders gather, analyze and assess the collective results of the training and performance to determine readiness, validate investments, and develop solutions. Therefore, through the Navy's implementation of FRP instructions that focus on capabilities based training approach of NWTS, it is better able to determine whether the Fleet Response Plan has been successful in increasing readiness and to identify and correct problem areas across the fleet.

    Recommendation: To facilitate successful implementation of the Fleet Response Plan and enhance readiness and ensure the Navy can determine whether the plan has been successful in increasing readiness and is able to identify and correct performance weaknesses and trends across the fleet, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a comprehensive overarching management plan based on sound management practices that will clearly define goals, measures, guidance, and resources needed for implementation of the Fleet Response Plan, to include communicating this information throughout the Navy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a strategy for communicating information on the Fleet Response Plan throughout the Navy. Subsequent to issuance of our report, the Navy has taken several actions to improve its communications on the Fleet Response Plan. For example, the Navy has established a strategy and process team as part of its Fleet Readiness Enterprise. The team's charter includes establishing a communication process that conveys the fleet readiness enterprise strategy clearly and effectively to all internal and external stakeholders. Recently issued fleet guidance also contains a specific section on strategic communication of the Fleet Response Plan's objectives. Additionally, the Fleet Forces Command has developed a Fleet Response Plan strategy and message recognizing that better communications are required to provide mission clarity and stability for Navy personnel and families and to inform and influence U.S. decision makers and the public, foreign leaders, militaries, and potential adversaries.

    Recommendation: To facilitate successful implementation of the Fleet Response Plan and enhance readiness and ensure the Navy can determine whether the plan has been successful in increasing readiness and is able to identify and correct performance weaknesses and trends across the fleet, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a comprehensive overarching management plan based on sound management practices that will clearly define goals, measures, guidance, and resources needed for implementation of the Fleet Response Plan, to include identifying the costs and resources needed to achieve each performance goal.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a plan based on sound management practices that will clearly define the resources needed for implementation of the Fleet Response Plan, to include identifying the costs and resources needed to achieve each performance goal. Subsequent to issuance of our report, the Navy has taken several actions to improve its ability to relate resources to readiness to understand the cost impact on Fleet Response Plan goals. For example, the Navy has established a strategy and process team as part of its Fleet Readiness Enterprise. The team's charter includes working with the readiness and cost management team to validate readiness and their related costs. Additionally, the Fleet Forces Command has initiated a "resources to readiness" initiative to define the link between cost and unit readiness levels. The Command is also developing the Fleet Training Capability Cost System, an activity-based costing and management system, designed to trace fleet resource utilization and costs.

    Recommendation: To facilitate successful implementation of the Fleet Response Plan and enhance readiness and ensure the Navy can determine whether the plan has been successful in increasing readiness and is able to identify and correct performance weaknesses and trends across the fleet, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a comprehensive overarching management plan based on sound management practices that will clearly define goals, measures, guidance, and resources needed for implementation of the Fleet Response Plan, to include developing implementing guidance and performance measures based on these goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop implementing guidance and performance measures based on established goals. Subsequent to issuance of our report, the U.S. Fleet Forces Command and the U.S. Pacific Fleet promulgated an Instruction, "Fleet Response Plan (FRP)," that implemented fleet-wide guidance and execution of the fleet response plan; assigned responsibilities for program implementation and execution; directed continuous evaluation of fleet response plan inputs, processes and outputs to assess effectiveness; established common deployment definitions from which to measure performance; and established measurable constructs for surging forces and common performance measures.

    Recommendation: To facilitate successful implementation of the Fleet Response Plan and enhance readiness and ensure the Navy can determine whether the plan has been successful in increasing readiness and is able to identify and correct performance weaknesses and trends across the fleet, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a comprehensive overarching management plan based on sound management practices that will clearly define goals, measures, guidance, and resources needed for implementation of the Fleet Response Plan, to include establishing or revising Fleet Response Plan goals that identify what Fleet Response Plan results are to be expected and milestones for achieving these results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a management plan based on sound management practices that would clearly define the Fleet Response Plan. Subsequent to issuance of our report, the Navy promulgated a Chief of Naval Operations Instruction, "Fleet Response Plan (FRP)," that sets policy and oversight responsibility; provides common definitions and a framework for implementation; assigns responsibility for program implementation and execution; and directs that metrics be defined and collected.

    Recommendation: To facilitate successful implementation of the Fleet Response Plan and enhance readiness and ensure the Navy can determine whether the plan has been successful in increasing readiness and is able to identify and correct performance weaknesses and trends across the fleet, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a comprehensive plan for methodical and realistic testing and evaluation of the Fleet Response Plan including how the Navy Lessons Learned System will collect and synthesize lessons from these events to avoid repeating mistakes and improve future operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Navy to systematically collect, record, and disseminate lessons learned pertaining to the fleet response plan in the Navy Lessons Learned System to enhance knowledge sharing. DOD concurred with our recommendation. The Navy has taken several actions. First, over sixty-one Fleet Response Plan lessons learned have been logged into the Navy Lessons Learned System, many of which were flagged as remedial action items the Remedial Action Program. The remedial action program identifies and tracks actions to correct deficiencies or shortcomings in existing doctrine, tactics, techniques, procedures, policy, organization, training, education, equipment or systems. Secondly, the Navy's Fleet Forces Command has established a program of action and milestones to improve the fleet's capture, input and action tracking of lessons learned for the Navy Lessons Learned System and to glean lessons learned from strike group post deployment briefings.

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