Army Pacific Pathways:

Comprehensive Assessment and Planning Needed to Capture Benefits Relative to Costs and Enhance Value for Participating Units [Reissued on November 30, 2016]

GAO-17-126: Published: Nov 14, 2016. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 2016.

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What GAO Found

U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), the Army’s component command in the Asia-Pacific region, has identified Pacific Pathways costs and taken steps to assess some associated benefits, but it has not conducted an analysis that fully assesses the initiative’s benefits relative to costs. Pacific Pathways is an initiative that combines three to four exercises with partner nations—exercises that were previously conducted as stand-alone events—into an integrated operation to strengthen relationships with allies and build readiness by rehearsing deployment tasks (see figure below). For fiscal year 2015, the three Pathway operations cost a total of $34.5 million—about twice as much as the combined costs of those same named exercises prior to Pathways. However, the forces and equipment provided under Pathways were more than double in many categories. USARPAC officials stated that Pathways builds readiness at multiple command echelons; increases exercise complexity for partners, such as by providing more equipment to exercises; supports the rebalance of forces to the Pacific with a persistent forward presence; and allows the Army to experiment with capabilities. Units that have participated in Pacific Pathways have assessed some of these benefits, but USARPAC has not conducted a comprehensive analysis that demonstrates the initiative’s value, which could better inform Department of Defense decision-makers as they consider budgetary trade-offs.

Comparison between the Concepts of Operation for Stand-Alone Exercises Prior to Pacific Pathways and Exercises Conducted as Part of Pacific Pathway 16-1

Comparison between the Concepts of Operation for Stand-Alone Exercises Prior to Pacific Pathways and Exercises Conducted as Part of Pacific Pathway 16-1

The Army has taken steps to plan for Pacific Pathways as a cohesive operation, but challenges remain in synchronizing planning efforts and incorporating training objectives of supporting units, such as units that provide transportation support to the operations. USARPAC has developed some Pathways-specific planning guidance, among other things, but it continues to experience challenges in synchronizing planning across participating organizations and in ensuring that decisions made for individual exercises are aligned with the broader objectives of the Pathway operation. Also, USARPAC has not established an approach to seek out and integrate supporting units’ training objectives in the design of Pacific Pathway operations. Without taking action on these issues, USARPAC may continue to experience challenges executing the Pathway operations as cohesive operations and could miss opportunities to enhance the value of Pacific Pathways as a venue for real-world training across the region.

Why GAO Did This Study

In accordance with the shift in U.S. strategy and rebalance of military forces to the Asia-Pacific, USARPAC has turned its focus toward rebuilding its expeditionary readiness. To this end, USARPAC launched the Pacific Pathways initiative in 2014, in which it deploys a battalion-sized task force for approximately 90 days to conduct a series of exercises in the Asia-Pacific for the purpose of enhancing readiness and strengthening relationships with allies, among other things. As of September 2016, USARPAC had completed six Pathway operations.

House Report 114-102 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a provision for GAO to review the Pacific Pathways initiative. This report examines the extent to which the Army has (1) assessed the costs and benefits of Pacific Pathways; and (2) synchronized plans and incorporated training objectives of supporting units to maximize the training value for all participating Army forces. GAO reviewed documents and data and interviewed relevant officials involved in Pacific Pathways.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that USARPAC conduct a comprehensive analysis of Pathways' benefits in light of its costs, better synchronize planning, and integrate supporting units' training objectives. DOD partially concurred with the first recommendation and concurred with the other two. DOD said that USARPAC understands the strategic benefits and a comprehensive analysis is not needed. GAO believes that this recommendation is still valid, as discussed in this report.

For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512- 5431 or russellc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Army partially concurred with our recommendation. As of March 2018, a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) memorandum and subsequent conversations with command officials reiterated the position that USARPAC does not plan to conduct a deliberate analysis of the costs of Pacific Pathways relative to its benefits, because Headquarters, Army has determined that such an analysis is not required. However, USARPAC is currently studying the impacts of Pacific Pathways on sustainable readiness. Headquarters, Department of the Army has requested the results of this study by September 2018. Pending completion of that study or other related actions, this recommendation remains open.

    Recommendation: To assess and enhance the value of Pacific Pathways, and to fully determine the value of Pacific Pathways and communicate it to decision makers, the Secretary of the Army direct the Commander of U.S. Army Pacific to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the benefits of Pacific Pathways relative to its costs. Such an analysis could both: (1) incorporate financial and non-financial costs and benefits of the initiative, to include readiness benefits for logistics and sustainment units, any training efficiencies or cost avoidance resulting from Pacific Pathways, and non-financial costs, such as decreased equipment readiness rates; and (2) compare the costs with the benefits of training conducted under the Pacific Pathways initiative against that conducted through other Army trainings, such as home station training, combat training centers, or other exercises.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army concurred with our recommendation. As of June 2018, U.S. Army Pacific has taken steps to improve the processes and guidance through which it plans for and executes Pacific Pathways operations with key stakeholders. Specifically, a U.S. Army Pacific official said that the command now holds two different weekly meetings-Pacific Pathways Working Groups-with all of the key commands, units, and support elements to discuss operational and logistics issues for the Pathways operations. These working groups provide significant opportunities to synchronize planning across key stakeholders, clarify assumptions and provide guidance. U.S. Army Pacific and I Corps have also improved their mission command processes, by issuing earlier planning and operational orders to guide units' planning and execution of the Pathways. To address concerns regarding the need for earlier planning, U.S. Army Pacific has been utilizing its semi-annual training and exercise conferences, and will be holding a Pacific Pathways Workshop in August 2018, as venues for planning and synchronizing Pacific Pathways operations for future years. Taken together, these improvements to the planning and guidance process address the intent of our recommendation. As a result, USARPAC and its supporting commands will be able to more efficiently execute Pacific Pathways as cohesive operations.

    Recommendation: To assess and enhance the value of Pacific Pathways, and to better synchronize planning across all commands and units and thereby achieve a more cohesive operation, the Secretary of the Army direct the Commander of U.S. Army Pacific to modify existing USARPAC and I Corps planning processes and clarify guidance, as appropriate, that integrates all stakeholders and clearly identifies the objectives, assumptions, and level of authority appropriate for key decisions prior to the exercise planning cycle for each Pathway operation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army concurred with our recommendation. As of June 2018, U.S. Army Pacific has taken steps to more fully incorporate supporting units into the Pacific Pathways planning process and operations, thereby increasing opportunities to identify and incorporate their training objectives into the operations. Specifically, supporting units now attend weekly Pacific Pathways working groups where operational and logistics issues related to the operations are discussed. A U.S. Army Pacific official said that these working groups provide an opportunity for units to discuss and propose their training objectives. Pacific Pathways planning documentation and after action reviews also show an increasing focus on incorporating supporting commands into Pathways exercise design and the logistical elements of the operations as a way to exercise these units' capabilities. Taken together, U.S. Army Pacific's actions meet the intent of our recommendation and will assist the command in more fully leveraging some of the unique training benefits of the Pacific Pathways operations.

    Recommendation: To assess and enhance the value of Pacific Pathways, and to more fully leverage the theater-wide training value of Pacific Pathways for all participating units, the Secretary of the Army direct the Commander of U.S. Army Pacific to seek and incorporate supporting units' training objectives, as appropriate, into the Pacific Pathways planning process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

 

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