Military Training:

Army and Marine Corps Face Challenges to Address Projected Future Requirements

GAO-10-720: Published: Jul 16, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2010.

Additional Materials:


Sharon L. Pickup
(202) 512-9619


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

The Army's and Marine Corps' major training facilities--Army and Marine Corps combat training centers and Army mobilization training centers--have focused on training units for counterinsurgency missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. As troop levels decrease in Iraq and increase in Afghanistan, larger numbers of forces will be training for Afghanistan. To meet future requirements, the services plan to adjust training to train forces on a fuller range of missions. The House report to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 directed GAO to report on any challenges the Department of Defense faces as it adjusts training capacities. GAO assessed the extent to which the Army and Marine Corps have (1) made adjustments at their major training facilities to support larger deployments to Afghanistan; and (2) developed plans to adjust training capacity to meet future requirements. GAO analyzed service training guidance, future training requirements, and related plans, and interviewed headquarters officials and personnel from the services' major training facilities.

Due to similarities in training requirements, the Army and Marine Corps did not need to make significant adjustments at their major training facilities to support the shift in operational priority from Iraq to Afghanistan. While the Army had to adapt training scenarios to more closely resemble the operating environment in Afghanistan, it did not have to adjust trainers, training ranges, and mock towns and villages as these are the same regardless of whether forces are preparing for missions in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Since the summer of 2009, the Marine Corps had withdrawn most of its forces from Iraq and shifted the focus of training at its combat training center to exclusively train forces for missions in Afghanistan. Like the Army, the Marine Corps noted that, because of similarities in training requirements, it had to make few adjustments beyond changing some cultural role players and signs in mock towns and villages to support its shift in focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. The Army and Marine Corps face several challenges as they plan to broaden the scope and size of training rotations to meet future training requirements. The Army projects capacity shortfalls at its combat training centers as it seeks to train brigade combat teams to meet future requirements for both ongoing operations and full-spectrum operations--offensive, defensive, and stability operations. The Army has identified the need to conduct 36 to 37 annual training rotations for its brigade combat teams by fiscal year 2011; the centers can currently conduct 28 rotations a year. The Army is developing an exportable capability, expected to increase its capacity by 6 rotations each year when it reaches full operational capability in 2013. However, this will not be sufficient to meet the total projected requirements. To address the gap, the Army plans to give priority to deploying units. The Army has not completed an assessment to determine its full range of options for meeting future brigade combat team training requirements, or the risks associated with not conducting the desired number of training rotations. The Army's force generation model calls for smaller reserve-component units to train for both ongoing and full-spectrum operations, but the Army has not finalized its training strategy for these reserve-component forces. The Army has identified training requirements and locations where deploying forces will train for ongoing operations, but it has not determined where or when it will train its reserve-component contingency forces for full spectrum operations. The Army has the capacity to train 86,000 reserve-component personnel at its seven mobilization training centers each year. It is also conducting enhanced training at other locations, which could expand capacity. Until the Army finalizes its reserve-component training strategy it will not be able to determine whether it can leverage existing resources to meet future training requirements, or whether any excess reserve-component training capacity exists. In the future, the Marine Corps plans to expand training to allow larger numbers of forces to train together, but it lacks sufficient space at its combat training center. It is considering alternatives for acquiring land, ranging in size from approximately 131,000 to 200,000 acres, and expects to reach a decision by fiscal year 2012. GAO recommends the Army develop a risk-assessment and mitigation plan to address gaps in training capacity, and assess how it can maximize existing resources to conduct reserve-component training called for under its force generation model. DOD generally agreed with our recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2010, we reported that the Army's combat training centers and exportable training capabilities did not have sufficient capacity to meet the minimum number of training rotations for the Army's brigade combat teams called for under the Army's training strategy. Additionally, we noted that the Army had not assessed the risks associated with its inability to conduct the desired number of brigade combat team training rotations and had not developed a mitigation plan. In May 2016, Army officials told us that the Army's new force generation process (Sustainable Readiness) will provide an assessment of the Army's ability to meet operational requirements, identify training and readiness gaps and associated risks, and develop mitigation strategies. The Army is currently developing its Sustainable Readiness program and will complete an analysis of about 50 percent of the Army's operating force units during fiscal year 2016. Officials anticipate that the remainder of the Army's operating force will be fully assessed by the end of fiscal year 2017 and that the full sustainable readiness program will be implemented by fiscal year 2019. Given the Army's progress to date in implementing its Sustainable Readiness program we are confident that the Army will fully implement the program and it has addressed the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To address the challenges associated with training its brigade combat teams for both ongoing operations and a fuller range of missions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop and implement a plan to evaluate the full range of available options for training its brigade combat teams; assess the risks of not conducting the desired number of training rotations; and determine how, if necessary, risks will be mitigated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In July 2010, we reported that the Army had not refined training requirements for reserve component units that will serve as contingency forces. Additionally, we found that the Army had not finalized its training strategy (including where its smaller contingency forces would conduct training) nor had it completed an assessment that outlined how its existing training capacity could best support the Army's smaller units. In May 2016, Army officials told us that the Army's new force generation program (Sustainable Readiness) will provide an assessment of the Army's ability to meet operational requirements, identify training and readiness gaps and associated risks, and develop mitigation strategies for its brigade combat units. Officials said that this program is currently focused on the Army's primary combat units and it is unclear how, if at all, this program will apply to smaller-reserve component units.

    Recommendation: To maximize the use of existing resources, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to finalize the training requirements for smaller reserve-component units that will act as contingency forces under its Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) model. The completed training requirements should identify when smaller units' training should occur and include an analysis of existing Army training capacity to determine whether any excess capacity exists. Specifically, the analysis should weigh the costs and benefits of using the training capacity that currently exists at the Army's mobilization training centers in conjunction with or as alternatives to its other efforts, such as the home station culminating training events.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 2, 2017

Oct 31, 2017

Oct 27, 2017

Oct 26, 2017

Oct 16, 2017

Oct 10, 2017

Oct 5, 2017

Sep 29, 2017

Sep 28, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here