Improving the Effectiveness of Joint Military Exercises--An Important Tool for Military Readiness

LCD-80-2: Published: Dec 11, 1979. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 1979.

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Joint Chiefs of Staff exercises are important to the readiness of U.S. forces. They are a primary means for achieving interservice and U.S. and allied forces training. Their importance and cost dictate effective planning and execution. After preliminary research indicated that improvements were needed in the management of the program, GAO reviewed the planning, execution, and evaluation of the exercises, including an analysis of two major Joint Chiefs of Staff exercises conducted in Europe: REFORGER and CRESTED CAP.

Current development procedures for the Joint Chiefs of Staff Exercise Program did not ensure that the Program was achieving its full potential or that the exercises were being conducted in the most cost-effective manner. Program planning was not supported by comprehensive annual program evaluations, alternatives analyses, or comprehensive justifications. Instead, it was based on the inherent value of the exercises, the types and number of exercises conducted in the past, and the expected availability of funds. The services requested funds for the exercises in their individual budget submissions. The budget submissions included little exercise justification data, thereby placing Congress at a disadvantage in trying to determine optimal funding levels. Methods for measuring readiness were not developed to the point that readiness funding levels could be determined. Improvements to the exercises gained from lessons learned were not fully realized because systematic procedures for dealing with them were lacking. For example, problems previously identified in the CRESTED CAP exercise were recurring regularly in subsequent versions of that exercise. Reassessment of the problem areas in the REFORGER and CRESTED CAP exercises would result in more effective and economical exercises. Although the exercises should be as realistic as possible, the realism of those held in the United States was significantly constrained by wildlife and environmental considerations. Realism of those held in Europe could be improved through better planning.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to assume a stronger role in developing and managing the Joint Chiefs of Staff Exercise Program. This expanded role should include: (l) providing the unified and specified commands expand procedural guidance for developing their 5-year exercise programs; (2) critically evaluating the commands' 5-year exercise program submissions; (3) greater coordination with the services in budgeting for Joint Chiefs exercises; (4) greater emphasis on exercise realism; and (5) assuring establishment of adequate systems for dealing with exercise lessons learned. The Secretary should also direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reevaluate current REFORGER and CRESTED CAP scenarios, considering the problems and questions discussed in this review.

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