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Highlights

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

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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.

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Recommendations

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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense 1. 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.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation and took action to address it. In May 2019, the United States Marine Corps issued Marine Corps Order 3502.11, Policy for Amphibious Operations Training which, among other areas, develops an approach to prioritize available training resources, systematically evaluate among training resource alternatives, and monitor progress. For example, the order directed Marine Forces Command and Marine Forces Pacific to coordinate with the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, the Commander, Marine Forces Pacific, and the Commander, Pacific Fleet, respectively, in order to: (a) optimize amphibious training opportunities and develop joint amphibious training plans and (b) identify joint and service level exercises that may provide venues and resources for amphibious operations training. According to Marine Corps officials, Marine Forces Command and Marine Forces Pacific Command have both provided fiscal year 2021 and 2022 amphibious training requirements to respective fleet commanders and are continuing to request training based of the requirements prescribed in the Amphibious Operations Training Requirements review. In addition, the May 2019 Order also directed Marine Forces Command to coordinate the designation of units requiring advance amphibious training aboard amphibious warships, consolidate the training requirements, and provide these requirements for input into the Naval Operations budgeting process. The Policy for Amphibious Operations Training Order also includes an approach to systematically evaluate among training resource alternatives and monitor progress. For example, it directs Marine Corps units to: (a) maximize the use of academic, virtual, and pier-side training in order to optimize the value of limited at-sea amphibious training opportunities, (b) coordinate with respective Navy Commands to ensure effective interoperability and optimization of training opportunities, and (c) identify which units are required to maintain amphibious capable and amphibious ready status for selected unit types and the means of training these units. In addition, the Order directs commanders to constantly assess the amphibious readiness of their subordinate forces to maximize baseline readiness. Taken together the Department of the Navy has developed an approach to approach to prioritize available resources for amphibious operations training, systematically evaluate among training resource alternatives, and monitor progress, as GAO recommended in September 2017. As a result of these actions, the Navy and Marine Corps are better positioned to mitigate amphibious operations training shortfalls.
Department of Defense 2. 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.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation and took action to address it. In May 2019, the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps issued a joint memorandum to achieve a path to greater naval integration. The memorandum defines naval integration and articulates some common outcomes for the services. For example, common outcomes articulated in the memorandum include developing an integrated training and education roadmap for Navy and Marine Corps Officers, Navy Chief Petty Officer, and Marine Corps Non-Commissioned Officers that builds mutual appreciation, networking and access to service capabilities, as well as developing an integrated plan to enable joint decision-making at tactical, operational, and service levels. Moreover, naval integration was prioritized in the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps Planning Guidance, issued in July of 2019. The Commandant's Guidance furthers naval integration efforts by directing the Marine Corps to shift emphasis in training, education, and supporting establishment activities in support of naval integration. The guidance also calls for greater integration between the Navy and Marine Corps in the Program Objective Memorandum development process to ensure a common understanding and common baseline from which each service can communicate their needs. Finally, the Marine Corps Force Design 2030 establishes a process to analyze and validate results of the steps taken toward better naval integration, among other things. Taken together, the Department of the Navy has taken steps to improve coordination between the Navy and Marine Corps and incorporate leading collaboration practices to improve integration of the two services for amphibious operations, as GAO recommended in September 2017. As a result of these actions Navy and Marine Corps efforts will be better aligned to maximize training opportunities for amphibious operations.
Department of Defense 3. 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.
Open
The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation and as of May 2021 the Marine Corps had completed some actions and had other ongoing actions intended to address it. 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 virtual technologies to align training development efforts and resources. In addition, the Marine Corps continues to revise training policies to articulate requirements that document training tasks, objectives, and required proficiency and reemphasize the importance of more effectively integrating ground simulations within current ground training approaches. Further, in June 2020, the Marine Corps published the Marine Corps Training Environment Modernization Plan which provided the strategic level vision for future Marine Corps training that integrates live, virtual and constructive training environments in support of the 38th Commandant's planning guidance. According to DOD officials, this plan has been converted into a Marine Corps order that is currently under review. Documentation provided by DOD officials states that this order will define the roles and responsibilities of virtual training stakeholders, outline the decision criteria for investment and divestment decisions related to current virtual training systems, and develop a method to evaluate the anticipated value of future training systems prior to acquisition decisions. According to the DOD documentation, the Marine Corps Order will also formalize two process used by the Marine Corps to collect and analyze usage data and conduct effectiveness analysis of virtual training devices. First, the Marine Corps has made virtual training systems part of the Range Facility Management Support System. Through this system, the Marine Corps will collect training, scheduling, utilization, and reporting data. The DOD documentation states that Marine Corps Training and Education Command plans to use these data to track actual throughput-who reserved a virtual training system and who actually showed up-by system and location, and to conduct a cost/benefit analysis to assess demand versus sustainment cost. Second, the DOD documentation states that the Marine Corps has updated the format for its Verification, Validation, and Accreditation process, to reflect the prioritization of training metrics-including user feedback-over system metrics. According to the documentation, the Marine Corps Order would also formalize the process of integrating proficiency data that analytically demonstrates if a system is capable of improving training and readiness performance. As of May 2021 these actions remain in progress. The Marine Corps expects to complete these actions by July 2021. Once these actions are fully implemented, the Marine Corps should be able to more effectively and efficiently integrate virtual training devices into operational training.

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