Military Airlift:

DOD Plans to Participate in Multi-National Program to Exchange Air Services with European Nations

GAO-14-30R: Published: Oct 30, 2013. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 2013.

Additional Materials:


Cary B. Russell
(202) 512-5431


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

Several air force-related services are exchanged through the Air Transport, Air-to-Air Refueling and Other Exchange of Services (ATARES) program, including air transport, air-to-air refueling, maritime patrol, search and air rescue, and strategic air medical evacuation. Since 2001, air transport and air-to-air refueling have comprised more than 80 percent of the services exchanged within the program. ATARES services are exchanged when a request made by one member nation is accepted and executed by another.

Neither the Movement Coordination Center Europe (MCCE)--a multi-national organization established in 2007 to coordinate and optimize the use of airlift, sealift, and land movement assets owned or leased by member nations' militaries--nor any of the ATARES member nations we met with or received written responses from has conducted comprehensive analyses to assess whether the ATARES program as a whole is achieving its intended purposes. However, some program- and mission-level data on ATARES is collected and tracked. MCCE uses the data member nations report about their exchanges of services to ensure that members are operating according to the parameters set by the Technical Arrangement and Annexes to which each member agrees before joining the program. For example, MCCE monitors each nation's balance of credits and debits to ensure that it is not exceeding the limits set in the annexes to the ATARES Technical Arrangement. Member nations identified several benefits from the program, including gaining access to additional flight routes, saving time and money by efficiently using aircraft assets, and increasing cooperation among nations. Although DOD has not yet begun to participate in ATARES, DOD officials stated that the department has several of its own intended purposes for participating in the program, including leveraging empty space on its flights and enhancing multi-national relationships within the European Command area of responsibility.

Neither ATARES officials nor member nations we met with or received written responses from had conducted comprehensive analyses to assess the overall cost- effectiveness of the program, but some data on cost savings were available. MCCE reported some cost savings identified by member nations. For example, the United Kingdom and Sweden reported savings, estimating that they each had saved $1.5 million since joining the program.

Why GAO Did This Study

ATARES is a European program through which member nations use a system of credits and debits to facilitate sharing of air force-related services--such as troop and cargo airlift--without monetary transactions. A member nation receives credits for services provided to another nation and accrues debits for services provided to it by another member nation. Currently, DOD is not a member of ATARES but is planning to join the program, pending approval from the Secretary of Defense and concurrence from the Secretary of State. Section 1276 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 mandates that GAO conduct a review of the ATARES program. GAO's objectives were to determine (1) the types of services exchanged through ATARES, (2) the extent to which information is available to determine whether ATRES is achieving its intended purposes, and (3) the extent to which information is available on the cost-effectiveness of ATARES.

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