Military Readiness:

Full Training Benefits From Army's Combat Training Centers Are Not Being Realized

NSIAD-99-210: Published: Sep 17, 1999. Publicly Released: Oct 18, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the training provided to active Army units at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California, the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Fort Polk, Louisiana, and the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany, focusing on: (1) whether units training at the centers are adequately prepared for the exercises; (2) whether training exercises are realistic in terms of expected battlefield conditions; (3) whether pre-positioned equipment adequately supports the training mission; (4) how units use lessons learned at the centers; and (5) how the Army uses the results of the exercises to help revise training and improve the Army's training doctrine.

GAO noted that: (1) although the majority of units that trained at the Army's combat training centers in 1998 favorably assessed their training, neither the Army nor individual units are achieving the full benefits of this training; (2) this is because: (a) many units are arriving ill prepared for the exercises; (b) training is not as realistic as it could be; (c) the condition and age of pre-positioned equipment has adversely affected training at two centers; and (d) neither individual units nor the Army itself is able to effectively capitalize on lessons learned from the centers' exercises; (3) personnel shortages, turnover, and high operating tempo have adversely affected units' ability to prepare for their rotations to the centers, and as a result, units are arriving ill prepared to engage in the exercises; (4) in February 1999, Army Forces Command issued new guidance that requires unit commanders to establish training "gates" at their home stations to gauge whether their units are prepared to move to more complex training levels, including training center exercises; (5) since the guidance does not address the causes of insufficient preparation, strict adherence to the guidance may simply serve to exclude some units from valuable training center experiences; (6) because units lack proficiency at the battalion level, the centers routinely modify conditions in ways that provide less challenging and thereby less realistic scenarios than might be encountered on a real battlefield; (7) by limiting conditions and not accurately portraying current and future threats, the training centers undermine realism and limit the value of training exercises; (8) the poor condition and age of some pre-positioned equipment at NTC and JRTC further degrade training; (9) as of July 1999, the Army was considering various alternatives to improve pre-positioned equipment at NTC; (10) commanders cannot take full advantage of the lessons learned at the centers due to ineffective take-home materials, a lack of training opportunities once they return home, and personnel turnover that prevents them from attending to the identified weaknesses; (11) although the centers have collected large amounts of data, the Army has never standardized data collection and therefore cannot combine information to assess trends; and (12) consequently, the Army cannot take full advantage of its lessons learned and does not know the extent to which center exercises are improving unit and leader proficiency.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commanders of the Army Forces Command, the Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the Seventh Army Training Command to enhance the value of the Army's combat training centers to the Army and to units training at the centers by amending training exercise schedules at the centers so that time is allocated at the beginning of each training rotation for units to conduct a limited amount of internal unit training before the center's observers/controllers and Opposing Force begin training with the units. While this might lengthen the total training time by a few days, the gains in unit synchronization and execution skills and the improved familiarization with pre-positioned equipment can be expected to increase the training benefits to units and their leaders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army implemented this change--individual units were afforded the time to conduct unit level training at the NTC before large scale training events took place. In addition, overall training is in the process of being revised and this issue will be once again addressed as part of the training transformation initiative.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commanders of the Army Forces Command, the Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the Seventh Army Training Command to enhance the value of the Army's combat training centers to the Army and to units training at the centers by, in accordance with Army Regulation 350-50, paragraphs 1-5 and 1-6, which stipulates that the centers will use the most realistic and challenging training conditions available, incorporating into the exercises at each combat training center the full spectrum of threats, opposing forces capabilities, and conditions that units are likely to encounter in future conflicts, especially ones that cannot be easily duplicated at home stations. Specific emphasis should be afforded to operations in urban terrain, dealing with terrorists, operations with military forces from other countries, and activities involving civilians on the battlefield and interactions with the media.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army has made improvements in its training environment in the last several years, specific emphasis has been placed on including enhanced training in conducting operations in n urban terrain (Mout) and in dealing with peace keeping operations (dealing with civilians on the battlefield). The Army has also placed an increased emphasis on training in dealing with terrorists as a result of the events in 2001.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commanders of the Army Forces Command, the Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the Seventh Army Training Command to enhance the value of the Army's combat training centers to the Army and to units training at the centers by developing and implementing a comprehensive data requirements and collection plan to enable center officials to systematically collect data that can be used to improve training and doctrine. This plan should include: (1) an approach for linking the centers by using compatible computer software so that Army-wide assessments can be made; (2) performance measures and the methodology to be used to periodically assess whether the centers are meeting their objectives; and (3) the specific information needed by research organizations, training and doctrine development commands, the centers, and units. The data collection plan developed by the Army Combined Arms Center in 1995 would serve as a good basis for developing a plan to collect and analyze pertinent data for Army-wide use.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army has developed an extensive data collection environment at its NTC to evaluate and offer feedback on the training that takes place. Linking the data collection effort across training centers and making it available to all organizations for an army-wide assessment has not yet been finalized. As part of the training transformation initiative, the linkages are being developed to collect and share the information in this manner. While the JNTC will achieve IOC in October 2004--many of the enhancements will take a longer time to complete--full operational capability is not scheduled until September 2009.

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