Chemical And Biological Defense:

Army and Marine Corps Need to Establish Minimum Training Tasks and Improve Reporting for Combat Training Centers

GAO-05-8: Published: Jan 28, 2005. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 2005.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) believes that it is increasingly likely that an adversary will use nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) weapons against U.S. forces. Consequently, DOD doctrine calls for U.S. forces to be sufficiently trained to continue their missions in an NBC-contaminated environment. Given longstanding concerns about the preparedness of DOD's servicemembers in this critical area, GAO has undertaken a body of work covering NBC protective equipment and training. For this review, GAO was asked to determine the following: (1) To what extent do Army and Marine Corps units and personnel attending combat training centers participate in NBC training, and to what extent do these units and personnel perform NBC tasks at the centers to service standards? (2) Do the Army and the Marine Corps report NBC training at the centers in a standardized format that allows the services to identify lessons learned and to do cross-unit and cross-center comparisons?

Army and Marine Corps combat training centers provide a unique opportunity for units to perform advanced training under conditions that approximate actual combat, thereby enabling units to assess and build upon skills learned at home stations. Although DOD and both services have stressed the importance of including NBC defense in all types of training, they have not established minimum NBC-related tasks for units attending the centers. Commanders sometimes reduce NBC training to focus on other priority areas. As a result, the extent of NBC training actually conducted at these centers varies widely, and some units receive little or none at all. For example, officials at two Army training centers estimated that during fiscal years 2002 and 2003, a typical unit training rotation for a brigade-sized unit--which may include up to 4,000 soldiers--experienced NBC events that required only about 5 percent of these troops to train in full NBC protective clothing for a total of 18 hours or more. For the Marine Corps, no NBC training was conducted during combined arms exercises at its training center for at least 5 years prior to January 2004. The Marine Corps began to introduce NBC training into its combined arms exercises in two rotations that occurred in January and February 2004 but suspended it because of other priorities related to preparing units for ongoing operations. Without minimum NBC tasks, the services often miss the opportunity to use the centers' unique environment to improve units' proficiency in NBC defense. When Army units did undergo NBC training, observers noted that many units did not perform basic NBC tasks to Army standards. For example, during fiscal years 2002 and 2003, most brigades attending one center did not meet standards for basic NBC tasks such as donning protective gear, seeking overhead shelter, and conducting unmasking procedures. Observers at the Army centers often cited inadequate home-station training as the reason units were not performing basic NBC tasks to standards. Skills in these basic tasks are normally acquired during training at home stations and lay the foundation for acquiring more complex skills associated with large-unit NBC training. When units arrive at the centers with inadequate basic NBC skills, they may not be able to take full advantage of the unique and more complex large-unit NBC training opportunities offered at these centers. The Army and the Marine Corps do not always report lessons learned on NBC training at the centers in a way that can be used to identify trends over time and allow for cross-unit and cross-center comparisons. Army and Marine Corps doctrine stresses the importance of identifying lessons learned during training to enable tailored training at home stations and elsewhere to reduce the likelihood that similar problems will occur during operations. Because service guidance does not require standardized reporting formats, the training centers submit different types of after-action reports that might or might not mention NBC training. This lack of standardized reporting represents opportunities lost to the services to collect comparable data to identify NBC training trends and lessons learned.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to the report recommendation, as of 8/01/2006, the Marine Corps confirmed that a Marine officer with an NBC occupational specialty/background and training had been assigned to Twenty-nine Palms to help design, execute, and critique NBC training conducted there. Although the Marine Corps has chosen not to establish a pre-set list of NBC training activities to be conducted by all visiting units, the assigned chemical officer has developed the equivalent of a master list of potential NBC training events and assists unit commanders in designing the NBC training needed for particular operations or meeting commanders' operational training needs. The Marine Corps has therefore set in place a system designed to standardize the manner in which minimum NBC tasks are incorporated in combined arms exercises at Twenty-nine Palms, although full implementation is on hold until current missions, threats, and operating conditions allow.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to direct the Commandant of the Marine Corps to establish the minimum NBC tasks for units attending the combined arms exercise at Twentynine Palms.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Army stated that it will standardize the training unit after action report formats for CTC rotations in the next published revisions to specifically include NBC training. It linked the timing of this action with its previous response that the scope and focus of current CTC rotations is on ongoing operations and not NBC-specific missions. Further, it stated that it will implement the recommendation as soon as the current operational environment allows.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the NBC training opportunities offered to Army and Marine Corps units from training at their combat training centers are maximized and that NBC lessons learned at these centers are uniformly recorded and archived, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to standardize reporting formats to capture NBC training that occurs at the CTCs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Army stated that all current CTC rotations are Mission Rehearsal Exercises for units deploying in support of current operations, which involve scenarios, tasks, and conditions that are designed to replicate those anticipated in the theater of operation. Ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan dominate the current Army force rotations and are characterized by a low NBC threat. The Army further stated that it expects this to be the case for the foreseeable future but that it will implement the recommendations as soon as the current operational environment allows. The Army is transitioning to a force generation model(ARFORGEN) that will determine the Mission Essential Task to be trained before deploying, based on assigned mission or planned contingency. The Army is planning to implement the recommendations as soon as the current operational environment permits and units are conducting full spectrum CTC rotations or the assigned mission requires training on NBC tasks. The new force generation model will allow the Army to incorporate specific NBC tasks for units designated and conducting training for those missions at combat training centers.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the NBC training opportunities offered to Army and Marine Corps units from training at their combat training centers are maximized and that NBC lessons learned at these centers are uniformly recorded and archived, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to establish the minimum NBC tasks for units attending training exercises at combat training centers (CTC).

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Marine Corps reported that while it is prepared to integrate NBC training in their Combined Arms Exercises on short notice, full implementation has been delayed due to focus of training on preparing units for current operations and threats. The NBC training will be fully implemented when missions, threats, and operating conditions allow. However, in response to the recommendation, on August 1, 2006, the Marine Corps confirmed that a Marine Officer with an NBC occupational specialty background had been assigned to Twenty-nine Palms and tasked with operating a standardized system for ensuring that combined arms exercise after action reports and records contain NBC training information, just like it does for all other training conducted during a combined arms exercise. This will permit the Marine Corps to capture NBC training during combined arms exercises when its operational demands allow.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to direct the Commandant of the Marine Corps to standardize reporting formats to capture NBC training that occurs during a combined arms exercise at Twentynine Palms.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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