Military Readiness: Full Training Benefits from Army's Combat Training Centers Are Not Being Realized

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-02-26.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee  on Readiness Committee on
                          Armed Services, House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery

10:00 a.m. PT             MILITARY
February 26, 1999

                          Full Training Benefits
                          From Army's Combat
                          Training Centers Are Not
                          Being Realized
                          Statement of Carol R. Schuster, Associate Director
                          Military Operations and Capabilities Issues, National
                          Security and International Affairs Division

          Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

          We are pleased to be here today to discuss our preliminary observations
          from our ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of training at the Army's
          three maneuver combat training centers-the National Training Center
          (NTC) Fort Irwin, California; the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC)
          Fort Polk, Louisiana; and the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) at
          Hohenfels, Germany. The Army considers the exercises conducted at these
          centers to be the premier training event for units and unit leaders, and it
          spends more than $1 billion annually to provide this training.

          I would like to first provide our preliminary observations. Then, I will
          discuss the information supporting these observations. My remarks are
          based on our first-hand observations of training at all three centers and on
          extensive discussions with officials at each of the centers as well as at
          Army Headquarters, Forces Command, Training and Doctrine Command,
          Center for Lessons Learned, and the 3rd Infantry Division. An important
          dimension of our work was a survey sent to the commanders of all 123
          battalions that trained at one of the centers during fiscal year 1998. We
          believe that their insights are particularly important since they are the
          primary beneficiaries of the training and are in the best position to evaluate
          its benefits and weaknesses.

Summary   The Army's three maneuver combat training centers offer an extraordinary
          opportunity for units and their leaders to train at a level normally
          unavailable to them at their home stations. They offer large maneuver
          areas and opportunities to train on mission-essential tasks and wartime
          missions against an opposing force under realistic and demanding
          conditions. They also provide sophisticated systems that provide real-time
          assessments of the unit's performance as they proceed through the
          exercise. Although 80 percent of the commanders who responded to our
          survey said that the exercises were very useful in improving their units'
          proficiency, our work has led us to conclude that the centers are not being
          used to their full potential. There are four principal reasons for this.

          First, units are arriving at the centers ill prepared for the type of training to
          be provided and, as a result, cannot take full advantage of the training
          opportunity they are given. To obtain the maximum benefit from these
          exercises, units should be proficient at battalion level tasks when they
          arrive. However, many units have trained only to the company level and
          their leaders struggle with the more complicated planning and

          Page 1                                                         GAO/T-NSIAD-99-92
             synchronization required for the battalion and brigade-level exercises
             conducted at the centers.

             Second, because training units lack proficiency at the battalion level when
             they arrive, the content of the training is frequently modified to provide less
             challenging scenarios than would normally be expected. While such
             adjustments permit the unit to engage in meaningful training for longer
             periods of time than would otherwise be possible under more demanding
             conditions, they undermine realism and thereby limit the value of the

             Third, commanders cannot take full advantage of the lessons learned from
             their participation at the centers. This is because, after returning to their
             home stations, the combination of personnel turnover, lack of training
             opportmnities, and ineffective take-home materials from the centers
             prevent commanders from attending to the deficiencies identified at the
             centers. The result is that systematic weaknesses demonstrated by units
             during training center exercises are not being addressed.

             Fourth., despite spending millions of dollars to collect data from each of the
             exercises at the combat centers, the Army still has not developed a plan for
             fully integrating training results with its training and doctrine development
             activities. Nor has it or periodically assessed whether the centers are
             achieving their objectives. As a result, the Army is not taking full advantage
             of the lessons it learns from its training centers and does not know the
             extent to which center exercises are improving the proficiency of its units
             and leaders.

Background   The Army's three combat maneuver training centers offer distinctly
             different training environments. The NTC offers an open, mountainous,
             desert setting while the CMTC provides rolling wooded terrain. The
             training areas at the JRTC include swamplands, dense forests, and steep

             The NTC and the CMTC sponsor exercises designed to train armor and
             mechanized infantry units, such as brigades from the 1st Armored and
             3 rd Infantry Divisions, in a high intensity threat environment. The JRTC
             provides non-mechanized or light forces, such as the 82 nd Airborne and the
             10th Mountain Divisions, with exercises in a low to medium threat
             environment. Forces from the other military services as well as special
             operations units are also brought into the exercises at all three centers.

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Brigades and battalions deploy to these centers with their associated
combat service and service support units.

Each center has an active Army battalion or cavalry regiment, consisting of
450 to 2,400 soldiers, permanently stationed there to serve as a dedicated
opposing force. These units are organized and specially trained to replicate
a hostile force complete with distinctive uniforms, visually modified
vehicles, and both U.S. and non-U.S. weapons. In addition, the centers
offer large maneuver areas that allow several battalions to train
simultaneously during force-on-force exercises against the opposing force.
The training area at the NTC, for example, is roughly the size of Rhode

The Army's stated objectives for establishing the combat training centers
were to (1) increase unit readiness; (2) produce bold, innovative leaders;
(3) embed doctrine throughout the Army; and (4) provide data for
improving doctrine, training, leader development, organizations, and
materiel. To achieve these objectives, the combat training centers were
designed to create a realistic training environment, challenge unit leaders
with missions against a well-trained opposing force, and provide in-depth
analyses of performance to units and their leaders.

Combat training center exercises consist of both force-on-force
engagements against an opposing force and separate live-fire exercises
under conditions that are intended to closely parallel actual warfare.
Active Army brigades train at one of the centers about once every
18 months, and each of the National Guard's enhanced brigades train at the
NTC about once every 8 years. Generally, units ship their wheeled vehicles
and unique equipment items to the centers and draw their tanks, fighting
vehicles, artillery, and other tracked vehicles from stocks that are
prepositioned at the centers.

To add realism to the exercises and provide a real-time assessment of
casualties, force-on-force exercises are conducted using the Multiple
Integrated Laser Engagement System. This system, carried on both
equipment and troops, lets both soldiers and units know immediately if a
kill or near kill is scored. Separate live-fire exercises at the NTC and CMTC
(at nearby Grafenwohr) are conducted against sophisticated target arrays
and involve armor, infantry, artillery, and air elements. At the JRTC and
CMTC, live-fire exercises involve operations in urban terrain as well as
combined arms exercises. The JRTC and the CMTC also conduct mission
rehearsal exercises for units deploying to Bosnia and other contingency

Page 3                                                      GAO/r-NSIAD-99-92
                          operations. All of the centers also have a cadre of experienced officers and
                          non-cormmissioned officers who are responsible for coaching, mentoring,
                          and evaluating training units at all levels of organization. The centers also
                          provide unit leader training programs for the units prior to their
                          deployment to the centers.

                          The NTC and the JRTC are the joint responsibility of two Army commands
                          in the United States: the U.S. Army Forces Command and the U.S. Army
                          Training and Doctrine Command. In Europe, the 7 th Army Training
                          Command is the parent organization for the CMTC.

Many Units Are Not        During the late 1980s and early 1990s, units conducted intensive training
Adequately Prepared for   programs prior to reporting to the centers. The training periods included
Training at the Centers   small-unit exercises; live-fire and combined arms exercises, and field
                          training exercises through the battalion level. 1 In the past, units training at
                          all three centers were required to conduct battalion level exercises at
                          home stations prior to deployment to the centers. The training centers
                          provided the next level of proficiency that could not be achieved at home
                          stations:: that is, up to two battalions as well as support units operating
                          collectively in a highly realistic environment to execute a wartime mission.

                          Today, the situation is very different. In March 1998, the prerequisite that
                          units train at the battalion level before rotating to the NTC was dropped.
                          While units rotating to the JRTC and CMTC are still required to conduct
                          such training, this requirement is not enforced. According to FORSCOM
                          officials, these changes reflect the reality of training constraints that
                          commanders now face.

                          Because there is no requirement for units to be at a specific level of
                          preparedness to train at a combat training center, many units arrive
                          without the requisite skills to execute battalion and brigade level missions,
                          the level of training that the centers are expected to provide. For example,
                          opposing force commanders and exercise observer/controllers at all three
                          training centers told us that, in general, units lack proficiency in
                          reconnaissance, planning, communication, synchronization, and breaching
                          obstacles. Moreover, many units, according to these officials, have not
                          mastered even company level tasks when they arrive at the training

                          'Prior to 1995, rotations to the NTC were conducted at the battalion level. In 1995, the Army switched
                          from battalion to brigade level training.

                          Page 4                                                                          GAOrT-NSIAD-99-92
centers. They said that they had observed a marked decline in unit
proficiency between units arriving for training in fiscal year 1998 and units
in prior years.

Commanders' responses to our survey confirmed the perception of training
center officials. Nearly half of the 85 respondents said that their units were
only somewhat or marginally ready to execute battalion level tasks at the
training centers. Over 50 percent of the respondents cited personnel
shortages, personnel turnover, or high operating tempo as one of their top
three reasons for being ill prepared for their training experiences.

Personnel shortages are not a new phenomenon and are caused by many
factors. We discussed some of these in our testimony before this
committee last year at Fort Riley. 2 These include (1) Army-wide shortages
of certain specialties and personnel at specific levels, such as combat
troops, technical specialists, experienced officers, and non-commissioned
officers; (2) personnel transferred to fill vacancies in deploying units; and
(3) personnel temporarily borrowed from their units to meet other Army or
installation requirements.

Such peacetime personnel shortages impact training at the centers because
commanders arriving with personnel shortfalls are limited in the options
they have for executing missions. Some shortages are quite pronounced.
For example, for fiscal year 1998, the infantry battalions that trained at the
JRTC on average arrived with only 42 of their 54 authorized rifle squads.
Many of these consisted of six soldiers on average rather than the nine
authorized. In other words, units arrived with only about half of the
personnel authorized for their rifle squads. Similar data on squad and crew
shortages upon arrival was not available for the other two centers.

Personnel turnover also hampers units trying to prepare for their rotations
to the training centers. Thirty-four of the 85 commanders that responded
to our survey provided comments concerning the negative impact of
turnover on unit training. In general, the commanders told us that
personnel turnover requires them to train basic tasks more often, which
reduces the time available to develop proficiency at higher levels. They also
reported that turnover significantly impedes unit integrity.

 Military Readiness: Observations on Personnel Readiness in Later Denlovine Army Divisions
(GAO/T-NSIAD-98-126, Mar. 20, 1998).

Page 5                                                                       GAO/T-NSIAD-99-92
                          Over 45; percent of the respondents to our survey commented on the toll
                          that high operating tempo had on their ability to prepare for their rotations
                          to the training centers. The full significance is clearly illustrated by units
                          from the 1st Infantry and 1St Armored Divisions located in Germany, which
                          participate in training exercises at the Hohenfels training center. These
                          units have not been able to conduct battalion level exercises since they
                          returned from Bosnia last year. Because they were unable to train on many
                          mission essential tasks at the company or battalion levels while in Bosnia,
                          the exercises in which they participated at Hohenfels were modified to
                          reduce their complexity. For example, units that we saw during our visit
                          were not conducting force-on-force battalion exercises but instead were
                          conducting unopposed company level exercises.

Training Conditions Are   According to Army regulations, CTC training is designed to increase units'
Routinely Limited         proficiency by replicating the most realistic and challenging battlefield
                          available. However, we found that, because units have arrived at the
                          centers at lower levels of proficiency than in the past, the centers now
                          routinely limit the capability of their opposing force by restricting its use of
                          chemical weapons, mines, obstacles, artillery, and tactics. As a result, units
                          have not been fully tested for the demanding conditions they may face on
                          today's battlefields. For example:

                          * A ceiling is placed on the numbers, types, and times that the opposing
                            force can use chemical weapons and mines. As a result, units that
                            initially demonstrate a low level of training in chemical environment
                            operations or breaching mine obstacles will face fewer of these events.
                          * A ceiling is also imposed on the numbers, types, and time of
                            employment for artillery. The opposing force commander must obtain
                            permission to use additional artillery above this ceiling from center
                            officials, who determine whether the additional artillery fires will
                            detract from the training objectives.
                          * Opposing force reconnaissance elements are now limited to destroying
                            a specific number of friendly vehicles with artillery at night. This limit is
                            imposed to ensure that training units have sufficient forces to
                            commence their mission in the morning.

                          Officials at the centers emphasized that there are definite tradeoffs
                          between providing scenarios with the most challenging conditions and
                          limiting the conditions to better match unit capabilities. On the one hand, it
                          makes sense to limit exercise complexity so units can accomplish some
                          training objectives; on the other hand, units will not be adequately prepared

                          Page 6                                                        GAO/r-NSIAD-99-92
                         to face the most demanding threats. As one Army official told us, many
                         commanders acquire an unrealistically high assessment of their individual
                         and unit capabilities because they leave the centers thinking that their units
                         performed better than they really did. Moreover, a battalion task force
                         commander told us that many subordinate units complete their training
                         experience without ever engaging the opposing force on the battlefield.

Exercise Results Are     According to the Army's training center regulation, take-home packages are
Frequently Not Used to   provided to each unit to document all of its after action reviews, describe
Improve Proficiency      performance strengths and weaknesses, and recommend a focus for home
                         station training. However, we found that ineffective take home materials
                         from the centers as well as a lack of training opportunities at their home
                         stations diminish the value of their training experiences at the centers. The
                         result is that systemic weaknesses demonstrated by units during training
                         center exercises are not being addressed.

                         The remarks that surveyed commanders shared about their take-home
                         packages were telling. For example, several described their packages as
                         worthless because they were written in generic language and lacked
                         specificity. One noted that the package arrived a full 3 months after the
                         rotation ended; another noted that he had not received any feedback or
                         materials from his unit's rotation to the training center. A third described
                         the take-home materials as an afterthought, built around the shortcomings
                         of people, not systems. Finally, one seemed surprised at his package,
                         noting that its content did not seem to match the comments provided at the
                         after-action reviews provided during the exercise.

                         Limited training opportunities at their home stations were also cited as
                         inhibiting units from using training center results to improve their skills.
                         Most units begin a support and recovery cycle immediately following
                         training center exercises and at the same time begin to lose many of the
                         people who participated in the exercise. Of the 85 commanders who
                         responded to our survey, 33 or about 39 percent said that personnel
                         turnover after returning to their home stations inhibited their use of
                         exercise results. One commander at Fort Hood, for example, said that
                         personnel turnover had left the battalion mostly untrained within 30 days of
                         its return from the NTC. For example, this unit lost the 16 tank crews that
                         it had borrowed from other units for the exercise, 14 platoon leaders had
                         changed jobs, 4 company executive officers and 10 platoon leaders also left
                         the unit. As a result, the unit that was left to put its lessons learned to use
                         was far different from the one that trained at the center.

                         Page 7                                                        GAOIT-NSIAD-99-92
                          Only 21 percent of the commanders that used a center in fiscal year 1998
                          said that they had been able to maintain strengths and train on weaknesses
                          after returning to their home stations. About 24 percent said that their
                          units had been able to conduct only a minimum amount of training, and
                          8 percent said that no unit training had been conducted.

Effectiveness of Center   The Army has not accomplished one of its primary objectives for
Operations Has Not Been   establishing its combat training centers, namely, to provide a data source
Assessed                  for lessons learned so that it can improve doctrine, training, leader
                          development, organizations, and materiel. Because the Army has not
                          developed a plan for fully integrating training results with the Army's
                          training and doctrine development activities, the potential contribution of
                          the centers to the Army is not being realized. In essence, many of the
                          lessons for improving training, doctrine, tactics, and techniques that could
                          have been learned from nearly two decades of training have been lost.

                          The Army has been gathering large amounts of data at its combat training
                          centers for more than 15 years. However, the Army has never standardized
                          data collection programs at its centers, and as a result, the information
                          from the centers cannot be combined to assess trends. Moreover, each
                          center has a different contractor for data collection and each uses its own
                          proprietary computer software. The cumulative effect is that much of the
                          information collected cannot be used by the Army's Combined Arms Center
                          to develop lessons learned from the exercises.

                          An even more fundamental weakness is that the Army has no objective
                          measures to gauge how well the centers are carrying out their assigned
                          responsibilities and has not conducted an overall assessment of the
                          centers' effectiveness either individually or collectively. As a result, it is
                          unclear to what extent the objectives of the centers are being met.

                          Commanders that we surveyed clearly believed that they derived benefits
                          from participating in the centers' exercises. Notwithstanding their
                          expressed concerns about certain aspects of their training center
                          experience, 80 percent of the respondents to our survey said that the
                          exercises were very useful in enhancing battalion and company level
                          proficiency. In addition, center officials emphasize that the collective
                          benefits gained from individual experiences improve the Army's overall
                          proficiency. However, a review done in 1998 of unit take-home materials
                          conducted by the Army's Center for Lessons Learned showed that units

                          Page 8                                                         GAO/r-NSIAD-99-92
               have made many of the same mistakes at the National Training Center since

              The problems with data collection and analysis at the Army's training
              centers are not new. In July 1986, we reported that the Army had not
              adequately defined its analysis needs and corresponding data requirements
              nor developed criteria for performance measurement. 3 We concluded that
              the Army had spent millions of dollars collecting information that it was
              reluctant to rely on for developing Army-wide lessons. Today, the situation
              is essentially the same as reported 13 years ago.

Conclusions   The Army is operating training centers that are rightfully the envy of allied
              and enemy armies around the world. Collectively, they offer diverse
              physical environments that provide realistic battlefield conditions enabling
              the Army's personnel to experience the closest thing possible to actual
              combat. Their sophisticated instrumentation and network of trained
              observers provide unparalleled opportunities to develop leaders and
              improve the readiness of the Army's units to engage in combat. But,
              despite these advantages, the weaknesses that we have highlighted today
              need to be addressed if the Army is to gain the full benefits of these
              outstanding training facilities. For example,

              * the Army must find a way to overcome the impact of personnel
                shortages, personnel turnover, and operating tempo so that units can
                come to the centers better prepared to realize the full benefits of their
                experiences there;
              * to maximize the value of their participation, units must be afforded
                exercise conditions that closely approximate the threats that they are
                likely to face on future battlefields;
              * the Army must provide units with meaningful and specific feedback that
                they can use to improve their proficiency and readiness once they return
                home and put their experiences to use; and
              * finally, the Army must take a serious look at how it can best capture its
                lessons learned from the training centers and plan now for periodically
                assessing their effectiveness;

              3Armv Training: National Training Center's Potential Has Not Been Realized (GAO/NSIAD-86-130,
              July 23, 1986).

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           Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I will be happy to
           respond to any questions that you may have at this time.

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