Defense Transportation:

Operational Support Airlift Requirements Are Not Sufficiently Justified

NSIAD-00-126: Published: Apr 27, 2000. Publicly Released: May 30, 2000.

Additional Materials:


William M. Solis
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Defense's (DOD) operational support airlift aircraft requirement, focusing on: (1) whether the existing requirement for operational support airlift aircraft is linked to wartime needs; and (2) the process DOD used to determine its requirements for these aircraft.

GAO noted that: (1) the process used to determine requirements for operational support airlift is inadequate because it is not clearly linked to wartime requirements as DOD policy requires; (2) in GAO's review of the process DOD used for the 1995, 1998, and ongoing analyses of operational support airlift requirements, GAO identified several weaknesses that call the requirement for 391 aircraft into question; (3) specifically, DOD has not clearly explained the basis for the key assumptions it is using to justify the requirements or identified the assumptions that should be updated in each succeeding review; (4) for example, DOD has assumed that most overseas airfields should be connected to each other by nonstop flights three times a day; (5) however, DOD has not explained why it is necessary to connect these airfields with such frequency to support wartime requirements; (6) in addition, DOD has not issued sufficient guidance to define participant roles and responsibilities for validating these airlift requirements; (7) for example, GAO was unable to determine whether any command had validated the requirement for 85 aircraft that were based within the continental United States during DOD's 1998 review of support aircraft requirements; (8) DOD has also failed to ensure that sufficient documentation to support previous analyses is maintained; (9) moreover, DOD has only reviewed its requirements for operational support aircraft twice since 1995, despite its own directive to validate the requirements on an annual basis; and (10) officials involved in the review process, however, suggested to GAO that annual reviews may be too frequent, given that they would not expect the requirements to change significantly from year to year.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. However, DOD's involvement in the Global War on Terrorism has limited the availability of staff to work the issues. They continue to agree that this is important, but have not sufficient resources to complete the work necessary to implement the recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the visibility of the process and better link the airlift requirements setting process with wartime needs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop formal guidance establishing a process that clearly: (1) links the inventory of operational support airlift more closely to the wartime requirements of DOD's combatant commands and military services; (2) explains the basis for underlying assumptions; (3) identifies the factors and assumptions that should be updated during each annual validation; and (4) defines the responsibilities of participating entities and requires documentation to support the result of the analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. The Joint Staff requested that Directive 4500.43 be revised to reflect a 2-year cycle for assessing/validating Operational Support Airlift requirements. However, action has not been completed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reexamine the requirement to conduct annual revalidations and: (1) change the requirement if it is determined to be too stringent; or (2) hold the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accountable to that standard if it is deemed appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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