Navy and Marine Corps Training:
Further Planning Needed for Amphibious Operations Training
GAO-17-789: Published: Sep 26, 2017. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2017.
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What GAO Found
Navy and Marine Corps units that are deploying as part of an Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG-MEU) completed their required training for amphibious operations, but other Marine Corps units have been limited in their ability to conduct training for other amphibious operations–related priorities. GAO found that several factors, to include the decline in the fleet of the Navy's amphibious ships from 62 in 1990 to 31 today limited the ability of Marine Corps units to conduct training for other priorities, such as recurring training for home-station units (see figure). As a result, training completion for amphibious operations was low for some but not all Marine Corps units from fiscal years 2014 through 2016. The services have taken steps to address amphibious training shortfalls, such as more comprehensively determining units that require training. However, these efforts are incomplete because the services do not have an approach to prioritize available training resources, evaluate training resource alternatives, and monitor progress towards achieving priorities. Thus, the services are not well positioned to mitigate any training shortfalls.
Trends in the Size of the Navy's Fleet of Amphibious Ships
The Navy and Marine Corps have taken some steps to improve coordination between the two services, but have not fully incorporated leading collaboration practices to improve integration of the two services—naval integration—for amphibious operations. For example, the Navy and Marine Corps have not defined and articulated common outcomes for naval integration that would help them align efforts to maximize training opportunities for amphibious operations.
The Marine Corps has taken steps to better integrate virtual training devices into operational training, but gaps remain in its process to develop and use them. GAO found that for selected virtual training devices, the Marine Corps did not conduct front-end analysis that considered key factors, such as the specific training tasks that a device would accomplish; consider device usage data to support its investment decisions; or evaluate the effectiveness of existing virtual training devices because of weaknesses in the service's guidance. As a result, the Marine Corps risks investing in devices that are not cost-effective and whose value to operational training is undetermined.
Why GAO Did This Study
The Navy and Marine Corps have identified a need to improve their ability to conduct amphibious operations—an operation launched from the sea by an amphibious force.
Senate and House reports accompanying bills for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included provisions for GAO to review Navy and Marine Corps training. This report examines the extent to which (1) the Navy and Marine Corps have completed training for amphibious operations priorities and taken steps to mitigate any training shortfalls, (2) these services' efforts to improve naval integration for amphibious operations incorporate leading collaboration practices, and (3) the Marine Corps has integrated selected virtual training devices into operational training. GAO analyzed training initiatives; interviewed a nongeneralizable sample of officials from 23 units that were selected based on their training plans; analyzed training completion data; and selected a nongeneralizable sample of six virtual training devices to review based on factors such as target audience.
This is a public version of a classified report GAO issued in August 2017. Information that DOD deemed classified has been omitted.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that the Navy and Marine Corps develop an approach for amphibious operations training and define and articulate common outcomes for naval integration; and that the Marine Corps develop guidance for the development and use of its virtual training devices. The Department of Defense concurred.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In August 2018, Marine Corps officials told us that they have ongoing actions intended to address the recommendation. For example, the Marine Corps is developing an annual requirements order detailing the naval ship services required to execute its amphibious operations training. Once issued, the order will be used to schedule naval ship training support to optimize amphibious training opportunities. The order will also be used to identify joint and service level exercises that may provide venues and resources for amphibious operations training. In addition, these officials stated that the Navy and Marine Corps are developing joint amphibious training plans to support Marine Corps amphibious readiness standards. As of September 2019, these actions remain in progress. Completion of these actions should allow the Navy and Marine Corps to better mitigate amphibious operations training shortfalls, as recommended by GAO in September 2017.
Recommendation: To better mitigate amphibious operations training shortfalls, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy, in coordination with the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps, to develop an approach, such as building upon the Amphibious Operations Training Requirements review, to prioritize available training resources, systematically evaluate among training resource alternatives to achieve amphibious operations priorities, and monitor progress toward achieving them.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In August 2018, the Department of the Navy identified ongoing actions intended to address the recommendation. Specifically, the Navy is developing a joint Navy and Marine Corps strategy for naval integration with common outcomes. Additionally, the Navy is studying the feasibility of developing compatible Navy and Marine Corps scheduling systems to address amphibious training requirements. As of September 2019, these action remain in progress. Completion of these actions should help align Navy and Marine Corps efforts to maximize training opportunities for amphibious operations, as GAO recommended in September 2017.
Recommendation: To achieve desired goals and align efforts to maximize training opportunities for amphibious operations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy, in coordination with the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps, to clarify the organizations responsible and time frames to define and articulate common outcomes for naval integration, and use those outcomes to: (1) develop a joint strategy; (2) more fully establish compatible policies, procedures, and systems; (3) better leverage training resources; and (4) establish mechanisms to monitor results.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In December 2018, the Marine Corps had completed some actions and has other ongoing actions intended to address the recommendation. For example, in June 2017 the Marine Corps issued the Marine Corps Ground Training Simulations Implementation Plan. The plan provides a framework for the Marine Corps' use of current and future simulations technology and virtual training environments to align training efforts and resource requirements. According to these officials, the Marine Corps is also updating its training and readiness program manual to more effectively integrate ground simulations within current ground training approaches by directing the creation of live and simulated training events that must be completed by units in order to report training readiness. Marine Corps officials also told us they are developing an analysis of alternatives to inform its virtual training developmental efforts that considers training tasks, required proficiency, and available training time. Additionally, these officials told us they are testing a new process, termed the Ground Simulation Training Effectiveness Program, which will provide guidelines on conducting effectiveness analysis, including the selection of the devices to be evaluated and an identification of the data to be collected and assessed. As of September 2019, these actions remain in progress. Once fully implemented, these actions should help the Marine Corps more effectively and efficiently integrate virtual training devices into operational training, as GAO recommended in September 2017.
Recommendation: To more effectively and efficiently integrate virtual training devices into operational training, that the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commandant of the Marine Corps to develop guidance for the development and use of virtual training devices that includes (1) developing requirements for virtual training devices that consider and document training tasks and objectives, required proficiency, and available training time; (2) setting target usage rates and collecting usage data; and (3) conducting effectiveness analysis of virtual training devices that defines a consistent process for performing the analysis, including the selection of the devices to be evaluated, guidelines on conducting the analysis, and the data that should be collected and assessed.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense