Military Training:

Better Planning and Funding Priority Needed to Improve Conditions of Military Training Ranges

GAO-05-534: Published: Jun 10, 2005. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 2005.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Brian J. Lepore
(202) 512-5581
contact@gao.gov

 

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

Military training ranges are important national assets and play a critical role in preparing military forces for their wartime mission. The Department of Defense (DOD) has reported for years that it faces increasing difficulties in carrying out realistic training at its ranges due to various constraints. While encroachment issues have had high visibility within DOD and the Congress, much less attention has been given to the overall conditions of training ranges, which can also have an adverse impact on training activities. This report, prepared under the Comptroller General's authority, discusses (1) the condition of military training ranges and their impact on training activities, and (2) what factors are affecting DOD's progress in improving training range conditions.

GAO's visits to eight training ranges, along with DOD's own assessments show that ranges are deteriorating and lack modernization. This adversely affects training activities and jeopardizes the safety of military personnel. To ensure readiness, servicemembers must have access to capable ranges--a key DOD transformation goal--that enables them to develop and maintain skills for wartime missions. However, GAO observed various degraded conditions at each training range visited, such as malfunctioning communication systems, impassable tank trails, overgrown areas, and outdated training areas and targets. Whenever possible, the services work around these conditions by modifying the timing, tempo, or location of training, but officials have expressed concern that workarounds are becoming increasingly difficult and costly and that they compromise the realism essential to effective training. Without adequate ranges, DOD compromises the opportunity to achieve its transformation goal and assumes the risk that its forces will be less prepared for missions and subjected to hazards. DOD's progress in improving training range conditions has been limited and is partially attributable to a lack of a comprehensive approach to ensure that ranges provide the proper setting for effectively preparing its forces for warfare. First, while the services have individually taken a varying number of key management improvement actions, such as developing range sustainment policies, these actions lack consistency across DOD or focus primarily on encroachment without including commensurate efforts on other issues, such as maintenance and modernization. Second, even though the services cannot precisely identify the funding required and used for their ranges, identified range requirements have historically been inadequately funded, as evidenced by conditions GAO saw, and inadequately addressed. Service officials identified a variety of factors that have exacerbated funding limitations, such as ranges having a lower priority in funding decisions. Third, although DOD policy, reports, and plans have either recommended or required specific actions, DOD has not fully implemented such actions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, noting that each of the services must develop and implement a comprehensive range sustainment program. In addition, DOD's Sustainable Ranges Integrated Product Team plans to undertake a detailed review of each service range sustainment program and would widen this review to include an assessment of whether each service has a web-based range information management system that allows training range officials at all levels to share information, such as range conditions and their impact on training; funding sources, requirements and expenditures; and local range initiatives. Based on the results of this review, the need for additional DOD guidance would be assessed and appropriate action taken. According to DOD documents all of the services have developed some type of web-based information management system to share information as of September 25, 2009.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Military Services to implement a comprehensive approach to managing their training ranges that includes a Web-based range information management system that allows training range officials at all levels to share information, such as range conditions and their impact on training; funding sources, requirements and expenditures; and local range initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, noting that each of the services must develop and implement a comprehensive range sustainment program. In addition, DOD's Sustainable Ranges Integrated Product Team plans to undertake a detailed review of each service range sustainment program and would widen this review to include an assessment of whether each service has defined training range requirements and developed a systematic process to annually assess the conditions of training ranges and their consequent impact on training, including whether the ranges are able to meet the specific training requirements of the service and combatant commanders. As of September 25, 2009: The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps have issued Range Capabilities Documents or other guidance on the development of range requirements. The Air Force had not issued any range requirements doctrine or guidance even though the service stated that it would in DOD's 2007 Section 366 report to the Congress. Also, OSD (Readiness) officials stated that the range assessments being completed to address each year's Section 366 report was its attempt to address the GAO-05-534 recommendation. While this does provide a mechanism to annually assess the condition of military ranges for the remainder of the Section 366 requirement, it does not institutionalize the process and thus DOD will lose the assessment once the Section 366 reporting mandate expires in the next few years.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Military Services to implement a comprehensive approach to managing their training ranges that includes defined training range requirements and a systematic process to annually assess the conditions of training ranges and their consequent impact on training, including whether the ranges are able to meet the specific training requirements of the service and combatant commanders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, noting that each of the services must develop and implement a comprehensive range sustainment program. It further noted that, while all four services are in some stage of developing such programs and plans, not all are fully formed or well described. In addition, DOD commented that the Sustainable Ranges Integrated Product Team plans to undertake a detailed review of each service range sustainment program and plans. As of September 25, 2009: None of the military services have issued a servicewide sustainable range implementation plan, which could guide the service's sustainable range initiative efforts and investment strategies. The Navy and Marine Corps, though, have completed a range complex management plan for each of their range complexes and the Army is in the process of developing the plans for their ranges. The Air Force has not developed any range management plans.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Military Services to implement a comprehensive approach to managing their training ranges that includes a servicewide sustainable range implementation plan that includes goals, specific actions to be taken, milestones, funding sources, and an investment strategy for managing their ranges.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, noting that each of the services must develop and implement a comprehensive range sustainment program. It further noted that, while all four services are in some stage of developing such programs, not all are fully formed or well described. In addition, DOD commented that the Sustainable Ranges Integrated Product Team plans to undertake a detailed review of each service range sustainment program and would widen this review to include an assessment of each service-wide sustainable range policy that implements DOD Directive 3200.15 and whether the policy clearly defines the maintenance and modernization roles and responsibilities of relevant service officials at all levels. As of September 25, 2009: The Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force had issued new sustainable range policies to address the findings of the report. Although the Navy had previously stated that it was going to issues a comprehensive sustainable range policy, it never did. Instead, the Navy issued policy narrowly focused on encroachment (i.e. external issues).

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Military Services to implement a comprehensive approach to managing their training ranges that includes a servicewide sustainable range policy that implements the updated DOD Directive 3200.15 and clearly defines the maintenance and modernization roles and responsibilities of relevant service officials at all levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, noting that the full breadth of sustainable range management needs to be addressed in its efforts to transform military training and establish a joint national training capability. In addition, it noted that would be a long-term effort given the time and resources required to make substantive changes. Also, it commented that the department would continue to work towards a more complete integration of the maintenance and sustainment factors associated with its infrastructure and the environmental and encroachment factors of range sustainment in future updates of DOD's Training Transformation Implementation Plan. On September 25, 2009, OSD (Readiness) provided a copy of the Training Transformation Strategic Plan (February 2009), which replaced the Training Transformation Implementation Plan. The updated Strategic Plan states that, "The Sustainable Ranges Integrated Product Team (SRIPT) will continue to coordinate and address DoD range sustainment efforts." According to OSD (Readiness), the Strategic Plan "also clearly points out that the role of the SRIPT involves more than encroachment to include 'live training capability assessment and sustainment efforts.' This more encompassing role can be seen in the annual Sustainable Ranges Report to Congress which assesses not only encroachment on ranges, but the capacity of ranges to support their various missions measured in terms of adequacy of capability factors (i.e. range resources) such as targets, threats, and infrastructure."

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to update DOD's training transformation plan to address all factors that could impact the sustainability of military training ranges and not just external encroachment issues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, noting that a broader-based, collaborative effort among its various components and agencies would better address the full range of sustainment issues. It further noted that the Sustainable Ranges Integrated Product Team would address whether to expand its membership or develop working relationships with existing groups in the department that already have those responsibilities for addressing issues that could affect the long-term viability of military training ranges.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to broaden the charter of the DOD-wide working group, the Sustainable Range Integrated Product Team, to address all issues that could affect the long-term viability of military training ranges; and include all DOD components that are impacted by range limitations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, noting that more articulation of the complimentary roles and responsibilities of primary OSD offices, the services, and combatant commands would better address the full range of management functions required to sustain DOD ranges. It further noted that the department intends to undertake a review of policies to ensure that scope of sustainable range issues to be addressed and the roles and responsibilities for addressing such issues are integrated and clearly articulated in existing, revised, or new policies.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to update DOD Directive 3200.15 to broaden the focus of the policy to clearly address all issues that affect the long-term viability of military training ranges; and clearly define the maintenance and modernization roles and responsibilities of all relevant DOD components, including the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, Joint Forces Command, and Special Operations Command.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, noting that each of the services must develop and implement a comprehensive range sustainment program. In addition, DOD noted that the Sustainable Ranges Integrated Product Team plans to undertake a detailed review of each service range sustainment program and would widen this review to include an assessment of whether each service has implemented a process of periodically developed strategies to address factors contributing to funding shortages for ranges, including the reassessment of funding priorities for maintaining and modernizing ranges relative to other needs. Within the Navy, the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center elevated the training range office in its organizational structure so that the range commander reports directly to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center commander. This organizational realignment will allow the range commander to identify range requirements and deficiencies to the commander who prioritizes funding for the command. In addition, as part of this review, we visited the Navy's Southern California Offshore Range, California, which is a primary training site for west coast Navy ships before deploying. The range operations director told us that due to the GAO report that the range received funds to refurbish the underwater range, which were not expected. Also, the director stated that the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations made an unplanned visit to the range and asked about issues affecting the range shortly after the Navy received the GAO report. Again, the director attributed this increased management attention to the GAO report. As of September 25, 2009: GAO is considering this recommendation implemented based on actions that DOD stated that it has done and continues to do in its 2008 and 2009 Section 366 reports to Congress.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Military Services to implement a comprehensive approach to managing their training ranges that includes regularly developed strategies to address the factors contributing to funding shortages for ranges, including the reassessment of funding priorities for maintaining and modernizing ranges relative to other needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Dec 19, 2014

Dec 16, 2014

Dec 12, 2014

Dec 11, 2014

Dec 1, 2014

Nov 21, 2014

Nov 20, 2014

Nov 19, 2014

Nov 18, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here