National Defense:

Improvement Continues in DOD's Reporting on Sustainable Ranges, but Opportunities Exist to Improve Its Range Assessments and Comprehensive Plan

GAO-09-128R: Published: Dec 15, 2008. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 2008.

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Recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world have highlighted the need for U.S. forces to train as they intend to fight. Department of Defense (DOD) training ranges and operating areas are required to be managed and operated to support their long-term viability and utility to meet the national defense mission. The use of military training ranges enhances training by providing realistic, hands-on experience. Sustainable training range management focuses on the practices that allow the military to manage its ranges in a way that ensures their usefulness well into the future. Because the military faces obstacles in acquiring new training lands, the preservation and sustainable management of its current lands must be priorities. New advances in technology, coupled with a shift in force posture, mean that DOD needs to continually update and maintain its training ranges. Military training ranges vary in size from a few acres--for small arms training--to over a million acres for large maneuver exercises and weapons testing, and include broad open ocean areas for offshore training and testing. These ranges face ever increasing limitations and restrictions on land, water, and airspace as residential, commercial, and industrial development continues to expand around and encroach upon once remote military training and testing installations. Section 366(d) of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 requires GAO to submit to Congress an evaluation of DOD's report regarding its training range comprehensive plan and its readiness reporting improvements within 90 days of receiving the report from DOD. We received the report and inventory on September 16, 2008. In 2007, we found that DOD had made improvements to its annual sustainable ranges report, but further improvements could be made. This is our fifth review in response to our mandate in section 366 of the act. It discusses (1) the extent to which DOD's 2008 sustainable ranges report and training range inventory address the elements of section 366 and (2) opportunities for DOD to further improve its sustainable ranges report.

DOD continues to make progress in addressing most of the elements of section 366. This year's report describes the progress DOD has made in implementing its range sustainment plan, as required by section 366. Further, DOD's 2008 sustainable ranges report has made progress in addressing the elements of section 366 required for DOD's original fiscal year 2004 report, but the report does not fully address three of these elements. The report updates improvements made in addressing four elements of the act required for DOD's fiscal year 2004 report: (1) the evaluation of the adequacy of resources to meet current and future requirements; (2) DOD's goals and milestones for tracking planned actions and measuring progress; (3) designation of offices within OSD and the military departments that are responsible for overseeing plans to improve its readiness reporting system. To address the adequacy of its current resources to meet current and future requirements, DOD established standardized criteria and identified common factors to assess range capabilities and encroachment, as we recommended in our 2007 report. DOD officials said that they worked closely with service officials to build a common set of capability attributes and encroachment factors and service-specific mission areas to evaluate them against. In addition, for the first time, DOD's sustainable ranges report also includes three elements of section 366 required to be included in DOD's fiscal year 2004 report: (1) an assessment of current and future training range requirements, (2) an evaluation of virtual and constructive8 assets to meet range requirements, and (3) projected funding requirements for implementing planned range sustainability actions. On the other hand, the report did not put forth any recommendations that the Secretary may have for legislative or regulatory changes to address training constraints, nor did it explain the omission. Additionally, while DOD did not identify training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace for each of its ranges, it included an assessment of such constraints on its major training ranges. As in prior years, DOD officials told us that the large volume of data required to identify capacities, capabilities, and constraints on all of its ranges makes doing so impractical. Finally, DOD did not provide proposals to enhance training range capabilities or address any shortfalls in its resources identified pursuant to the assessment and evaluation under Section 366(a)(2), although each of the services has assessed their current resources to meet current and future requirements, which has allowed them to determine their shortfalls in resources.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD's 2009 report includes a section that specifically addresses the four recommendations that we made in 2008. DOD agreed with three of the recommendations, and addressed them in its 2009 and 2010 reports. For example, to address our recommendation that DOD's report should include an explanation for why any ranges are excluded from its assessment, the rationale for excluding some range assessments was first added to the 2009 Sustainable Ranges Report. To address our recommendation that the Air Force should update its actions taken regarding the modernization and investment goal, the Air Force's updated submission was prepared and their input is now included in the services goals section of the current 2010 report. To address our recommendation that DOD should include additional information to better explain what is included in each of the four funding categories, DOD included table 4.7 in the 2009 Sustainable Ranges Report which provides specific examples for each of the four funding categories. Furthermore, even though DOD did not originally concur with the recommendations to have the Marine Corps modify its reports on training range capability to be consistent with the other services, the reports now provide greater explanatory comments for all services on impacts to training in the Special Interest section of Chapter 3 and Appendix C to respond to an increased emphasis on developing consistent measures for DOD readiness reporting, which was the point of our 2008 recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the range requirements and capabilities assessments and future comprehensive plans within the sustainable ranges reports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in consultation with the Secretaries of the military departments, to include four items in future sustainable ranges reports: (1) each service's rationale for excluding training ranges from its assessment of the adequacy of current resources to meet requirements, (2) the Marine Corps' individual combat training elements as the mission areas in the range capability and encroachment assessment, (3) an update on the actions taken by the Air Force to address DOD's modernization and investment goals for range sustainment, and (4) a detailed description of all funding data included in each funding category, for each of the military services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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