Efforts to Adjust Training Requirements Should Consider the Use of Virtual Training Devices
GAO-16-636: Published: Aug 16, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 2016.
What GAO Found
In 2010, the Army began modifying its training priorities and goals to support a broader range of military operations and is currently implementing five initiatives intended to further define training requirements and resources. GAO identified nine Army training priorities, such as training in an environment that replicates the complex battlefield that its units would experience during combat. Army-wide goals for some training priority areas have also been established. The Army is making progress against the goals, and the priority areas have been incorporated into unit-level training plans based on the units' assessment of their planned missions and readiness, among other factors. The five ongoing Army initiatives to change training processes may, collectively, better define requirements and resources and enable more objective measurement of training accomplished for the priorities. The results of the five initiatives will not be realized at least until fiscal year 2017.
The Army has taken some steps to improve the integration of virtual training devices into operational training, but gaps in this process remain. Specifically,
- Front-end analysis : The Army calculated expected usage rates for some virtual training devices after the devices had been fielded. Determining the mix of live and virtual training should be based on factors such as soldiers' available training time, training tasks and objectives, and expected usage rates to accomplish training tasks and required proficiency. Documenting these factors during the front-end planning process would provide the Army with information to evaluate the amount of virtual training capabilities needed to achieve training tasks and proficiency goals during operational training.
- Effectiveness analysis : Army policies assign responsibilities for analyzing the effectiveness of new virtual training devices, but the policies do not define how the effectiveness of the devices should be analyzed or what criteria to use to select devices for analysis. GAO found that for the seven analyses of virtual training devices the Army completed since 2012, the objectives and approaches used differed and the criteria used to select devices for analysis were not defined. A better-defined process for conducting post-fielding training effectiveness analyses would help prioritize limited Army resources in determining the value of its virtual training devices for operational training.
- Linkage with training strategies : An Army regulation requires training developers to incorporate virtual training devices into training strategies, but GAO found differences in the extent to which virtual training devices had been incorporated into training strategies. For example, GAO reviewed a sample of training strategies and found they did not describe how training tasks could be accomplished or evaluated when performed with a virtual training device. Army organizations had taken steps to create more detailed training strategies that further incorporated virtual training devices, but these efforts were inconsistent across organizations or were incomplete. Without more fully incorporating virtual devices in its training strategies, the Army risks missing opportunities to increase usage of the devices during training.
Why GAO Did This Study
For more than a decade, the Army focused its training on supporting operations in the Middle East. The Army is reassessing its training programs to ensure that its forces are able to perform a broader range of operations and has established training priority areas and sought to expand its use of virtual training.
Both the Senate and House Reports accompanying bills for the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act included provisions for GAO to review the Army's training plans and its use of virtual training. This report (1) describes the Army's efforts to adjust its training requirements and resources to prepare units for a broader range of military operations and (2) evaluates the extent to which the Army has integrated virtual training devices into operational training. GAO analyzed Army training priorities and initiatives; interviewed officials, including those with four brigade combat teams that were selected based on their training plans; reviewed documentation on Army virtual training devices; and selected a non-generalizable sample of nine devices to review in detail. GAO selected devices to review based on factors including total acquisition costs, which were about $535 million for the selected devices.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that the Army update its policies for virtual training devices to conduct additional front-end planning; define the process for analyzing the effectiveness of its devices; and better integrate the devices in training strategies. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) partially concurred with this recommendation. As of August 2017, the Army reported taking limited steps to address this recommendation. Army officials stated that the Army has established target usage rates for existing virtual training devices, and has promulgated guidance and tracking tools for recording usage. However, the Army has not modified its guidance for developing new virtual training devices to reflect consideration of time available to train with a new device or expected usage rates to achieve training tasks and proficiency goals during operational training, as GAO recommended in August 2016.
Recommendation: In order to better integrate virtual training devices into operational training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to specify in Army guidance for developing virtual training device requirements that training developers consider and document the time available to train with the devices and intended usage rates to achieve training tasks and proficiency goals during operational training.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation and reported that the Army has taken steps to address it. Specifically, the Army published a Training Effectiveness Analysis Best Practices Guide in March 2017 to define how post-fielding training effectiveness analysis should be conducted. Army officials stated that virtual training devices are selected for post fielding training effectiveness analysis based on a variety of factors that are considered by senior Army leaders, to include trends in the usage of fielded virtual training devices and the availability of manpower and resources to accomplish the analysis. These officials further stated that the Army goal is to perform 1-2 training effectiveness analyses of virtual training devices per year. By more clearly defining the types of qualitative and quantitative analytical techniques used to analyze the training effectiveness of its virtual training devices and the process used to select devices for analysis, the Army is better positioned to assess the value of these devices in meeting unit training needs, as GAO recommended in August 2016.
Recommendation: In order to better integrate virtual training devices into operational training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to modify its policies to define how post-fielding training effectiveness analysis should be conducted and the process for selecting existing virtual training devices for such analysis to better prioritize Army resources for conducting such analyses.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. As of August 2017, the Army has taken steps towards addressing it. Specifically, during the period May to November 2017, Headquarters, Department of the Army is leading an in-depth analysis of regular Army formations' readiness training models in support of operational demand. The outcome of this analysis will be viable and executable training models which will also inform future budget requests. According to Army officials, key stakeholders and relevant subject matter experts will identify and update unit training models to reflect training events and tasks to achieve training proficiency, to include key virtual training capabilities that enable specified training events. Key virtual training capabilities will be reflected for each collective and individual training event/task, which will better incorporate virtual training devices into training strategies, as GAO recommended in August 2016.
Recommendation: In order to better integrate virtual training devices into operational training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to provide additional guidance on how to use virtual non-system training devices in operational training and explore opportunities to incorporate virtual training devices more fully into training strategies.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense