Military Readiness:

DOD Needs to Reassess Program Strategy, Funding Priorities, and Risks for Selected Equipment

GAO-04-112: Published: Dec 19, 2003. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2003.

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William M. Solis
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GAO was asked to assess the condition of key equipment items and to determine if the services have adequate plans for sustaining, modernizing, or replacing them. To address these questions, we selected 25 major equipment items, and determined (1) their current condition, (2) whether the services have mapped out a program strategy for these items, (3) whether current and projected funding is consistent with these strategies, and (4) whether these equipment items are capable of fulfilling their wartime missions.

Many of our assessments of 25 judgmentally selected critical equipment items indicated that the problems or issues we identified were not severe enough to warrant action by the Department of Defense, military services, and/or the Congress within the next 5 years. The condition of the items we reviewed varies widely from very poor for some of the older equipment items like the Marine Corps CH-46E Sea Knight Helicopter to very good for some of the newer equipment items like the Army Stryker vehicle. The problems we identified were largely due to (1) maintenance problems caused by equipment age and a lack of trained and experienced technicians, and (2) spare parts shortages. Although the services have mapped out program strategies for sustaining, modernizing, or replacing most of the equipment items we reviewed, some gaps exist. In some cases, such as the KC-135 Stratotanker and the Tomahawk missile, the services have not fully developed or validated their plans for the sustainment, modernization, or replacement of the items. In other cases, the services' program strategies for sustaining the equipment are hampered by problems or delays in the fielding of replacement equipment or in the vulnerability of the programs to budget cuts. For 15 of the 25 equipment items we reviewed, there appears to be a disconnect between the funding requested by the Department of Defense or projected in the Future Years Defense Program and the services' program strategies to sustain or replace the equipment items. For example, we identified fiscal year 2003 unfunded requirements, as reported by the services, totaling $372.9 million for four major aircraft--the CH-47D helicopter, F-16 fighter aircraft, C-5 transport aircraft, and CH-46E transport helicopter. The 25 equipment items we reviewed appear to be capable of fulfilling their wartime missions. While we were unable to obtain sufficient data to definitively assess wartime capability because of ongoing operations in Iraq, the services, in general, will always ensure equipment is ready to go to war, often through surging their maintenance operations and overcoming other obstacles. Some of the equipment items we reviewed, however, have capability deficiencies that could degrade their wartime performance in the near term.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While the Congress has not specifically mandated that DOD report on the condition and status of key legacy systems, the key Defense committees and subcommittees are continuously monitoring the readiness, status, and condition of key military major equipment items that the services are using to support OIF and OEF. Thus, meeting the intent of this recommendation. GAO is also continuously monitoring the readiness, status, and condition of these key weapons systems through its ongoing work related to equipment and unit readiness.

    Matter: If the Congress wants a better understanding of the condition of major equipment items, the department's strategy to maintain or recapitalize these equipment items, and the associated funding requirements for certain key military equipment needed to meet the strategy outlined in the QDR, the Congress may wish to consider having a Secretary of Defense provide an annual report, in conjunction with its annual budget submissions, on (1) the extent to which key legacy equipment items, particularly those that are in a degraded condition, are being funded and sustained until replacement equipment items can be fielded; (2) the risks involved in sustaining key equipment items if adequate funding support is not requested; and (3) the steps the department is taking to address those risks.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Through the past Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS) and the more current Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) processes, the Department had and continues to have an annual procedure to reassess program strategies to ensure equipment maintenance modernization, and recapitalization funding supports the most recent Defense strategy. The PPBS/PPBE process ensures that, at the corporate Department of Defense level, the Future Years Defense Program developed each year balances operational, recapitalization/modernization, maintenance, manning, and facilities requirements in order to accomplish the national defense mission. While the overall strategy outlined in the September 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review may be unchanged, events over time may dictate changes in individual program priorities. This makes an annual reassessment a requirement in order to meet the most current threat.

    Recommendation: While our review was limited to 25 equipment items and represents a snapshot at a particular point in time, the department should reassess its current processes for reviewing the condition, program strategy, and funding for key legacy equipment items. Specifically the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Secretaries of the Army, Air Force, and the Navy, should reassess the program strategies for equipment modernization and recapitalization, and reconcile those strategies with the services' funding requests to ensure that key legacy equipment, especially those items needed to meet the strategy outlined in the September 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, are sustained until replacement equipment items can be fielded.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The annual Defense Budget represents a balanced program, within the resources available, as a result of the process described in the DoD response to Recommendation 1. The draft report refers to instances where projected Department of Defense funding is not consistent with the services' stated requirements to support their program strategies. It is important to note that a program manager's requirement is not always a valid requirement at the Service level. Likewise, a Service requirement may not be validated at the DoD level. If the requirement is validated, it is resolved at either the Service or OSD level before the next budget is submitted. The PPBE process results in a balanced program designed to accomplish the defense mission within the resources allocated. Therefore, the budget will request resources at an appropriate level for all programs, and all key equipment items will be funded within available resources.

    Recommendation: In reconciling these program strategies to funding requests, the Secretary of Defense should highlight for the Congress, in conjunction with the department's fiscal year 2005 budget submissions, the risks involved in sustaining key equipment items if adequate funding support is not requested and the steps the department is taking to address those risks. As part of this process the department should identify the key equipment items that, because of impaired conditions and their importance to meeting the department's military strategy, should be given the highest priority for sustainment, recapitalization, modernization, or replacement.

    Agency Affected: Congress


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