Navy and Air Force Need to More Fully Apply Best Practices to Enhance Development and Management of Combat Skills Training
GAO-09-220R, Jan 28, 2009
- Accessible Text:
Since September 11, 2001, U.S. military forces have sought to adapt to an expanded battlefield--one in which rear areas are no longer considered safe and secure. As a result, both the Navy and the Air Force determined that, in order to prepare to operate more effectively in combat, servicemembers in specific occupations required additional standardized combat skills training in such areas as land navigation, first aid, and weapons qualification. The Navy has developed and implemented the Expeditionary Combat Skills (ECS) course for select Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) personnel. Through ECS, NECC intended to standardize the training curricula and eliminate inefficiencies and wide divergences in existing combat skills training. To provide similar training to designated enlisted personnel, the Air Force began planning the Common Battlefield Airmen Training (CBAT) program, but decided to cancel the program in August 2008, which was during the course of our work. Despite the Air Force's decision, we included in this report an analysis of CBAT to identify lessons learned applicable to ongoing and future Air Force efforts to establish new training programs.
The Navy has developed a mission statement and clear program goals for ECS, but it has not established an implementation strategy with a timeline for achieving these goals. Furthermore, Navy training development policies do not specifically require that commands establish implementation strategies with timelines when establishing new training programs. However, our prior work has shown that an effective management framework can be achieved by following best practices such as developing a mission statement, clear program goals, and an implementation strategy with timelines for achieving these goals. NECC has identified its mission for ECS: to provide basic combat skills training to NECC personnel. Further, NECC has established the goals of the program: (1) to provide standardized, basic, combat skills training to all personnel entering NECC communities; (2) to provide training for forces that lack formalized entrylevel, individual combat skills training; and (3) to establish a training pipeline for all expeditionary forces. However, NECC currently lacks an implementation strategy with a timeline for fully achieving these goals. NECC's goal is to train all personnel that enter the command--estimated to be about 4,800 each year. However, approximately 1,300 NECC personnel attended ECS in fiscal year 2008 and the course is scheduled to reach a maximum training capacity of 3,000 in fiscal year 2012. Further, reserve component personnel account for more than 40 percent of the annual new NECC personnel, but few reservists have attended ECS to date. While the Navy had considered ways to train over 5,000 personnel per year, officials stated that they did not pursue those approaches due to resource constraints, and NECC currently does not have capacity to reach its desired goal. While the Air Force developed a mission statement for CBAT before canceling the program, it did not establish clear goals and an implementation strategy with timelines, in accordance with management-framework best practices. It also did not tie the need for the expansion of CBAT training to an identified gap in combat skills training, knowledge, and abilities, which in part contributed to the program's cancellation when the program was reviewed after a change in leadership. In the course of planning for CBAT, the Air Force's original goals for the program changed radically. When the program was conceived in 2003, its goals were to (1) annually provide standardized training to approximately 1,400 airmen within seven "battlefield airmen" occupational specialties, and (2) assist in retaining airmen within these seven occupations. However, the program goals were not firmly established because the Air Force greatly expanded the program without formally identifying a training deficiency or validating the need for the expanded program. By 2007, Air Force plans called for approximately 16,000 airmen from more than 50 occupational specialties to attend CBAT training each year. While Air Force policy governing the development of training programs includes processes that require validation of training requirements, those processes were not followed with respect to CBAT.
- Review Pending
- Closed - implemented
- Closed - not implemented
Recommendations for Executive Action
Recommendation: To facilitate the development of training courses, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to (1) establish guidance that mandates creating an implementation strategy with a timeline to fully achieve program goals when developing new training programs, and (2) ensure in consultation with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations N1 (Navy Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education) and Fleet Forces Command, that the Naval Education and Training Command apply this guidance and establish milestones and identify resources needed to fully implement the ECS program goal of training active and reserve component personnel as required by NECC.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: (1) DOD did not concur with our recommendation that the Navy establish guidance that mandates creating an implementation strategy with a timeline to fully achieve program goals when developing new training programs. It noted that it had procedures in place for establishing new training programs. (2)DOD partially concurred with our recommendation that the Navy apply implementation strategy guidance and establish milestones and identify resources needed to fully implement the ECS program goal of training active and reserve component personnel. DOD suggested that we revise the language of our recommendation to reflect that the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations N1, has responsibilities related to ECS, in addition to the Naval Education and Training Command, Fleet Forces Command, and NECC.
Recommendation: To facilitate the development of training courses, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to develop guidance that requires clear goals to guide and monitor the development of new training programs; in addition, the Air Force should ensure that it validates the need for future training programs, such as the Battlefield Airmen Screening Course.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation that the Air Force develop guidance that requires clear goals to guide and monitor the development of new training programs. DOD also stated that the Air Force has made several notable improvements in the oversight and validation process for combat skills training programs, such as the use of service councils to validate current and future training.