Military Training:

Navy and Air Force Need to More Fully Apply Best Practices to Enhance Development and Management of Combat Skills Training

GAO-09-220R: Published: Jan 28, 2009. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 2009.

Additional Materials:


Sharon L. Pickup
(202) 512-9619


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. military forces have sought to adapt to an expanded battlefield--one in which rear areas are no longer considered safe and secure. As a result, both the Navy and the Air Force determined that, in order to prepare to operate more effectively in combat, servicemembers in specific occupations required additional standardized combat skills training in such areas as land navigation, first aid, and weapons qualification. The Navy has developed and implemented the Expeditionary Combat Skills (ECS) course for select Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) personnel. Through ECS, NECC intended to standardize the training curricula and eliminate inefficiencies and wide divergences in existing combat skills training. To provide similar training to designated enlisted personnel, the Air Force began planning the Common Battlefield Airmen Training (CBAT) program, but decided to cancel the program in August 2008, which was during the course of our work. Despite the Air Force's decision, we included in this report an analysis of CBAT to identify lessons learned applicable to ongoing and future Air Force efforts to establish new training programs.

The Navy has developed a mission statement and clear program goals for ECS, but it has not established an implementation strategy with a timeline for achieving these goals. Furthermore, Navy training development policies do not specifically require that commands establish implementation strategies with timelines when establishing new training programs. However, our prior work has shown that an effective management framework can be achieved by following best practices such as developing a mission statement, clear program goals, and an implementation strategy with timelines for achieving these goals. NECC has identified its mission for ECS: to provide basic combat skills training to NECC personnel. Further, NECC has established the goals of the program: (1) to provide standardized, basic, combat skills training to all personnel entering NECC communities; (2) to provide training for forces that lack formalized entrylevel, individual combat skills training; and (3) to establish a training pipeline for all expeditionary forces. However, NECC currently lacks an implementation strategy with a timeline for fully achieving these goals. NECC's goal is to train all personnel that enter the command--estimated to be about 4,800 each year. However, approximately 1,300 NECC personnel attended ECS in fiscal year 2008 and the course is scheduled to reach a maximum training capacity of 3,000 in fiscal year 2012. Further, reserve component personnel account for more than 40 percent of the annual new NECC personnel, but few reservists have attended ECS to date. While the Navy had considered ways to train over 5,000 personnel per year, officials stated that they did not pursue those approaches due to resource constraints, and NECC currently does not have capacity to reach its desired goal. While the Air Force developed a mission statement for CBAT before canceling the program, it did not establish clear goals and an implementation strategy with timelines, in accordance with management-framework best practices. It also did not tie the need for the expansion of CBAT training to an identified gap in combat skills training, knowledge, and abilities, which in part contributed to the program's cancellation when the program was reviewed after a change in leadership. In the course of planning for CBAT, the Air Force's original goals for the program changed radically. When the program was conceived in 2003, its goals were to (1) annually provide standardized training to approximately 1,400 airmen within seven "battlefield airmen" occupational specialties, and (2) assist in retaining airmen within these seven occupations. However, the program goals were not firmly established because the Air Force greatly expanded the program without formally identifying a training deficiency or validating the need for the expanded program. By 2007, Air Force plans called for approximately 16,000 airmen from more than 50 occupational specialties to attend CBAT training each year. While Air Force policy governing the development of training programs includes processes that require validation of training requirements, those processes were not followed with respect to CBAT.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to our report, DOD acknowledged that the Navy's Expeditionary Combat Skills course lacked an implementation strategy with timelines. However, it said that this was due to the rapid standup of the course, which was necessary due to the Global War on Terrorism. DOD also noted that it had procedures in place for establishing new training programs, including fully funding appropriate initial training through Program Objective Memoranda (POM) and the Future Years Defense Program. Therefore, it did not direct the Navy to implement our recommendation, and the Navy did not issue the recommended guidance. Lacking an implementation strategy with timelines, the funding issues that plagued the program at the time of our 2009 report have continued to affect the Navy's Expeditionary Combat Skills course and proposed solutions continued to remain unfunded through POM 13.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the development of training courses, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to (1) establish guidance that mandates creating an implementation strategy with a timeline to fully achieve program goals when developing new training programs, and (2) ensure in consultation with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations N1 (Navy Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education) and Fleet Forces Command, that the Naval Education and Training Command apply this guidance and establish milestones and identify resources needed to fully implement the ECS program goal of training active and reserve component personnel as required by NECC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation that the Air Force develop guidance that requires clear goals to guide and monitor the development of new training programs. Following the issuance of our report, the Air Force A1 office issued updated guidance that describes the process by which expeditionary skills training is identified, validated, and executed. Requirements are validated by the Expeditionary Skills Senior Review Group (ESSRG), with the Force Management and Development Council providing oversight. (The Force Management and Development Council is a senior level body that is chaired by the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force and it makes strategic level recommendations directly to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force.) After requirements are validated, the ESSRG tasks Air Education and Training Command (AETC) with responsibility for developing curriculum and resourcing the requirement. AETC provides the Plan of Instruction, trains instructors, conducts student exit surveys to perform quality assurance and determine the adequacy of the training, and works closely with the Air Force Expeditionary Center to ensure the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures are incorporated into the curriculum. The Air Force Learning Committee, a chartered sub-panel of the Force Management Development Council, provides senior level oversight of institutional training and education requirements. Specifically, the Air Force Learning Committee validates curriculum content to ensure competency development meets specific Air Force needs in support of combatant commander mission requirements.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the development of training courses, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to develop guidance that requires clear goals to guide and monitor the development of new training programs; in addition, the Air Force should ensure that it validates the need for future training programs, such as the Battlefield Airmen Screening Course.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Aug 6, 2020

Jul 30, 2020

Jul 27, 2020

Jul 23, 2020

Jul 22, 2020

Jul 20, 2020

Jul 16, 2020

Jun 25, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here