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What GAO Found

To determine whether to use live or synthetic training to meet its training requirements, the Navy relies on guiding principles outlined in its Overarching Fleet Training Simulator Strategy. These principles are intended to provide flexibility in determining the appropriate solution for a specific training requirement or gap, while maintaining readiness levels and capitalizing on technical advances in modeling and simulation. In applying these principles, Navy decision makers consider the circumstances surrounding each individual requirement. For example, the Navy may choose to use synthetic training where regular live training is not feasible due to operational, cost, or safety concerns, such as training for ballistic missile defense.

Over the last decade, the Navy has increased its emphasis on the use of synthetic training. For example, between 2003 and 2011, the Navy has taken certain steps, such as establishing organizations to focus on synthetic training and issuing a concept of operations. The Navy’s platform communities currently use different mixes of live and synthetic training. For example, the submarine community conducts all of its pre-deployment training in shore-based simulators. Navy surface ships have the capability to conduct just over half of their training synthetically, but the mix of actual training varies by ship-type and by mission area. Navy makes significant use of simulation for new pilot training and pilot practice once personnel are assigned to operational units, but Naval aviation makes limited use of synthetic training for graded events6 due to concerns about simulation realism and safety. According to Naval Reserve Command officials, there are no significant differences between the anticipated tasks that active and reserve component forces conduct when using simulators.

The Navy’s Overarching Fleet Training Simulator Strategy also provides 12 investment priorities for synthetic training. For example, aviation, littoral combat ship, and future platform simulator procurement takes precedence over legacy platform simulator investments. The Navy applies these priorities to guide decisions on simulator procurement and upgrades at both the platform and fleet levels. At the platform level, the aviation community has an investment strategy, contained in its naval aviation simulator master plan; the surface community is working on a master plan, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year; and the priority in the submarine community is ensuring that upgrades to the actual submarines are made to the corresponding simulators. At the fleet level, a fleet training integration panel prioritizes investments across the platforms and fleets and provides a forum where the priorities of each platform community compete against each other.

Why GAO Did This Report

The Department of Defense uses live training, simulators, and other virtual training devices to prepare its forces to conduct military operations. Virtual training can help the services mitigate obstacles to training, such as the high cost of conducting live training or range access issues, while allowing military personnel to replicate many of the interactions and procedures they may encounter on the battlefield. In an effort to achieve greater efficiency, maximize training opportunities, and potentially reduce training costs, each military service is in various stages of developing concepts and training programs that mix live and synthetic training (which is how the Navy typically refers to training that relies significantly on simulators or virtual training devices). The Navy, in particular, believes that effective training requires an efficient balance of live and synthetic approaches.

H.R. Rep. No. 112-78 (2011), which accompanied a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, directed GAO to review the status of the military services’ training programs and report the results to the House and Senate Armed Services committees. It also stated that in reporting on each of the services, we may take a phased approach in undertaking our review and reporting to the Senate and House Armed Services committees. This Navy review is the first engagement in our phased approach, and an Air Force review is also underway. For this review, we assessed (1) the principles the Navy considers in determining whether to use live or synthetic training to meet its training requirements, (2) how the Navy’s mix of live and synthetic training has changed over time, and (3) how the Navy prioritizes its synthetic training investments.

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