In the midst of the global war on terrorism and recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense (DOD) is working to make U.S. forces more agile and expeditionary. This transformation involves a shift from a Cold War era defense posture to a military that can surge quickly to trouble spots around the globe. In order to accomplish this transformation, it is vital for U.S. forces to train as they intend to fight. New advances in technology, coupled with this shift in force posture, mean that DOD needs to continually update and maintain its training ranges. Military training ranges vary in size from a few acres–for small arms training–to over a million acres for large maneuver exercises and weapons testing, as well as broad open ocean areas that provide for offshore training and testing. These ranges face ever increasing limitations and restrictions on land, water, and airspace as residential, commercial, and industrial development continues to expand around and encroach upon once remote military training and testing installations. Section 366 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, dated December 2, 2002, required that the Secretary of Defense report on several items. First, the Secretary of Defense was required to develop a comprehensive plan for using existing authorities available to the Secretary of Defense and the military services to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace–both in the United States and overseas. As part of the preparation of the plan, section 366 required the Secretary of Defense to conduct an assessment of current and future training range requirements and an evaluation of the adequacy of current DOD resources, including virtual and constructive assets, to meet current and future training range requirements. Second, section 366 required the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress, not later than June 30, 2003, on the plans to improve DOD’s system to reflect the readiness impact that training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace have on specific units of the military services. Third, section 366 required the Secretary to develop and maintain an inventory that identifies all available operational training ranges, all training range capacities and capabilities, and any training constraints caused by limitations at each training range in fiscal year 2004, and provide an updated inventory to Congress for fiscal years 2005 through 2013. Section 366(d) of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 requires GAO to submit to Congress an evaluation of DOD’s report regarding its training range comprehensive plan and its readiness reporting improvements within 90 days of receiving the report from DOD. This report is our fourth review in response to our mandate in section 366 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003. This report discusses (1) the extent to which DOD’s 2007 sustainable ranges report and training range inventory address the elements of section 366 that were required to be in DOD’s fiscal year 2004 sustainable ranges report and (2) an opportunity for DOD to improve its comprehensive plan within the sustainable ranges report to better address the elements of section 366.
Although DOD’s 2007 sustainable ranges report and inventory still do not fully address all of the elements of section 366 required for DOD’s original fiscal year 2004 report and inventory, DOD has continued to improve them and the current report and inventory represent an improvement over those from previous years. First, in an effort to improve the annual report and inventory, DOD has taken initial steps to provide the results of an assessment of current and future training range requirements and an evaluation of the adequacy of current DOD resources. These assessments also help improve the training range inventory by helping to identify all training capacities and capabilities available at each training range and to identify training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace at each training range. Until better criteria and a more standardized methodology are developed, DOD and the services will not be presenting a consistent and accurate picture of range capabilities and needs, and will therefore be unable to identify shortfalls or gaps in their capabilities or make informed decisions about where to invest sustainment dollars DOD-wide. Second, like previous years’ reports, DOD’s 2007 report does not provide new recommendations for legislative or regulatory changes to address training constraints, although DOD’s original 2004 report was required by section 366 to include any recommendations that the Secretary may have for legislative or regulatory change to address training constraints identified pursuant to section 366. Third, although DOD’s readiness reporting system does not yet include training ranges, DOD’s 2007 sustainable ranges report describes DOD’s plans to improve its reporting system to reflect the readiness impact that training constraints have on the services. DOD officials told us that workshops had been scheduled to develop the system and that it should be initially operational by the end of calendar year 2008. Even with these improvements in the sustainable range report and inventory, DOD has the opportunity to improve its comprehensive plan presented within its sustainable ranges report by including projected funding requirements for implementing planned actions. We asked the services for information about their range sustainment funding, and each service was able to provide us with an estimate of its budget for range sustainment for fiscal year 2008. According to DOD officials, this information was not included in the report because it presents only a partial picture of the money being spent on range sustainment. We believe, however, that even this partial information is important to include in the report because without it, Congress will have difficulty making informed decisions about funding range sustainment activities.