Skip to main content

Military Readiness: Improvement in Some Areas, but Sustainment and Other Challenges Persist

GAO-23-106673 Published: May 02, 2023. Publicly Released: May 02, 2023.
Jump To:

Fast Facts

We testified that the Department of Defense faces several challenges as it works to rebuild and restore readiness across the military while also modernizing its forces.

For example, we've previously reported:

Although the readiness of ground forces—such as  the Army and Marine Corps—has increased, the readiness of sea forces declined from FY 2017 through FY 2021. Readiness of aviation and space forces increased in some areas and declined in others.

The USS Ashland, an amphibious dock landing ship, in Yokosuka, Japan

The USS Ashland, an amphibious dock landing ship, in Yokosuka, Japan. There is a large construction crane hovering above the ship.

Skip to Highlights


What GAO Found

Readiness ratings increased in the ground domain and declined in the sea domain from fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2021—the most recent data at the time of GAO's analysis—with mixed changes in the air and space domains.

Change in Domain Resource and Mission Capability Readiness Ratings from Fiscal Years 2017-2021

U:\Work in Process\Teams\FY23 Reports\DCM\106673\Graphics\highlights01_5_v1_106673-01.png

Note: The ratings are based on GAO's analysis of Department of Defense readiness data for selected mission areas—groups of similar capabilities from across the services, such as fighter jets—and force elements—subsets of units within each mission area, such as F-35s—within each of the domains. Resource readiness ratings measure the status of personnel, equipment, supplies, and training. Mission capability readiness ratings measure whether a unit can accomplish its designed missions.

GAO's prior work has identified a wide range of persistent challenges in each domain as the Department of Defense (DOD) seeks to improve readiness.

Readiness Challenges Identified by GAO in Air, Sea, Ground, and Space Domains

U:\Work in Process\VCA_Graphics\FY 23\DCM\106673 - Readiness testimony - al\Customer Review Graphics\highlights02_5_v1_106673.png

Looking to the future, DOD will have to balance rebuilding the readiness of its existing force with its desire to modernize. DOD is developing and deploying new weapon systems and considering new approaches for how its units organize and operate. However, DOD will depend on much of today's force for decades to come, requiring continued focus on the readiness of its existing forces.

Why GAO Did This Study

Nearly 2 decades of conflict has degraded military readiness. To maintain the U.S. military's advantage across all domains in a new security environment characterized by great-power competition, DOD is working to rebuild and restore readiness while also modernizing its forces. DOD's readiness rebuilding efforts are occurring in a challenging context that requires the department to make difficult decisions regarding how best to address continuing operational demands while preparing for future challenges.

This statement (1) describes how readiness has changed from fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2021 in the ground, sea, air, and space warfighting domains and (2) provides information on readiness challenges in the ground, sea, air, and space domains.

This statement is based on published work primarily since 2020 that examined military readiness, operations, and sustainment, among others, in the ground, sea, air, and space domains. To perform this prior work, GAO analyzed Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Space Force readiness, maintenance, personnel, and training data and interviewed cognizant officials.


GAO has made dozens of recommendations in its prior reports to help improve readiness in each of the domains. Some of the recommendations remain unimplemented, as discussed in the testimony.

Full Report

Office of Public Affairs


Military forcesMilitary readinessAircraft maintenanceAircraftNaval shipyardNavy shipsRailDepot maintenanceWeapon systemsSubmarines