Military Training:

DOD's Report on the Sustainability of Training Ranges Addresses Most of the Congressional Reporting Requirements and Continues to Improve with Each Annual Update

GAO-10-103R: Published: Oct 27, 2009. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 2009.

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A fundamental principle of military readiness is that the military must train as it intends to fight. Military training ranges provide the primary means to accomplish this goal. The Department of Defense's (DOD) 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. New advances in military technology, coupled with the complexity of recent military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world, generate the need to continually update and maintain DOD's training ranges. Senior DOD and military service officials have reported for some time that they face increasing difficulties in carrying out realistic training at military installations due to outside influences. DOD has defined a number of factors--including competition for broadcast frequencies or airspace, air pollution, noise pollution, endangered species, critical habitats and other protected resources, unexploded ordinance and munitions, urban growth around installations, and civilian access--that it says encroach upon its training ranges and capabilities. Because the military faces obstacles in acquiring new training lands, the preservation and sustainment of its current lands is a priority. Sustainable training range management focuses on practices that allow the military to manage its ranges in a way that ensures their usefulness well into the future. As required by section 366(a) of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 (as amended), DOD was to submit a comprehensive plan for using existing authorities available to the department to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of worldwide military lands, marine areas, and airspace to Congress in fiscal year 2004 with annual progress reports beginning in fiscal year 2005 and extending through 2013. As part of the preparation of this plan, the Secretary of Defense was to conduct an assessment of current and future training range requirements and an evaluation of the adequacy of DOD's current range resources to meet those requirements. The plan was also to include: proposals to enhance training range capabilities and address any shortfalls in resources identified pursuant to that assessment and evaluation; goals and milestones for tracking planned actions and measuring progress; projected funding requirements to implement planned actions; and a designation of an office in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and in each of the military departments responsible for overseeing implementation of the plan. Section 366(a)(5) requires that DOD's annual reports describe the department's progress in implementing its comprehensive plan and any actions taken or to be taken to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace. This report discusses (1) DOD's progress to date to address the elements of section 366 and (2) improvements incorporated in DOD's 2009 annual sustainable ranges report as well as DOD's plans for its 2010 report submission. In accordance with the mandate, we are submitting this report to you within 90 days after having received DOD's 2009 sustainable ranges report on August 3, 2009.

Since 2004, DOD has shown progress in addressing the elements included in section 366 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, including the development of an inventory of military training ranges. DOD's 2009 sustainable ranges report and inventory are responsive to the element of 366 that requires DOD to describe the progress made in implementing its sustainable ranges plan and any additional action taken, or to be taken, to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace. DOD has also made progress in addressing elements of section 366 that were required as part of DOD's 2004 reporting requirements. For example, DOD has made strides to measure and report the impact that training constraints may have on readiness by developing approaches to incorporate ranges into DOD's readiness reporting system. As part of its comprehensive plan to address training constraints caused by limitations on its ranges, DOD has also developed and included in the 2009 report broad goals for this effort and has begun to include annual estimates of the funding required to meet these goals. However, while DOD has formulated some goals and milestones for tracking planned actions and measuring progress, as it was required to do as part of its 2004 comprehensive plan, it has yet to develop quantifiable goals, which we have previously recommended to better track planned actions and measure progress for implementing planned actions. Without quantifiable goals and time frames associated with achieving milestones, it is difficult to measure and track the extent of progress actually made over time. In addition, while DOD has included some projected funding data, as it was required to do as part of its 2004 comprehensive plan, DOD has not yet included projected funding requirements that will be needed to implement its planned actions, as we also recommended previously, so that decision makers have better information available to make budget decisions. In order to better track its progress to address training constraints caused by limitations on its ranges, we reiterate our prior recommendation that the Secretary of Defense direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to provide a more complete plan to Congress that includes (l) quantifiable goals and milestones for tracking planned actions and measuring progress and (2) projected funding requirements to more fully address identified training constraints. DOD has made several improvements to its most recent 2009 report and plans "revolutionary changes" for 2010. For example, DOD has included detailed capability and encroachment data provided and used by the military services when making their capability assessments for each training range surveyed. DOD officials told us that they expect these data to provide improved information for more precise planning in the future. DOD also added a special interest section to highlight key issues affecting range capability and some of the actions taken to mitigate negative impacts, which should provide congressional decision makers and other users with a better understanding of the approaches being used to improve the capabilities of DOD's ranges. Moreover, DOD has already begun to develop its 2010 report, which DOD officials told us they expect to issue in early 2010. DOD officials have stated that they intend to introduce "revolutionary changes" in that upcoming report, including revamping their goals and increasing the focus on specific encroachment issues such as mitigating frequency spectrum competition, managing increased military demand for range space, and meeting military airspace challenges.

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