Army logistics enters the COTS age

Army officials seek to put more capability in logistics to support fewer, yet more powerful resources for the fighting forces

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Army officials seek to put more capability in logistics to support fewer, yet more powerful resources for the fighting forces

By John Rhea

U.S. Army leaders are investigating new automated logistics approaches that will help them put more firepower on the line with fewer soldiers than they can today. Their vision involves not only reducing the number of soldiers who face the perils of the battlefield, but also enabling front-line forces to fight faster, harder, longer, and from farther away than the enemy can.

Making logistics more efficient through automation is every bit as important to battlefield success as are the most advanced weapons, training, battle planning, and communications. Advanced logistics systems will get the soldiers what they need when they need it.

Current plans center on eliminating Army equipment stockpiles, and instead moving supplies smoothly through a logistics pipeline from the manufacturers to the foxholes on an as-needed basis through the close involvement of private contractors.

The enabling technologies involved in new logistics approaches will include ruggedized laptop computers, advanced databases, new software tools, computer workstations, PCs, the Windows operating system, the World Wide Web, client-based networks, communications protocols, and electronic commerce.

Experts say one of the keys to improving logistics capability is the influence of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology and best commercial practices now dominating the defense industry. COTS, experts say, is helping improve the relationship of fighting forces to support forces - often called the "tooth-to-tail ratio" - which was much criticized during the Vietnam War.

"More COTS means less logistics burden," maintains David Mills, principal deputy for logistics at the Army Materiel Command (AMC) in Alexandria, Va. Mills, however, makes the critical distinction that COTS streamlines logistics only in commodities where the commercial market dominates, such as wheeled vehicles. Tracked vehicles are a different story, he points out. "You don`t run down to Western Auto to buy mil-spec`d tank parts," he notes.

What it boils down to is using the best commercial practices from the civilian infrastructure. One approach involves using special tags that transmit a radio signal. These tags go on supply containers and act like the bar-coded items on grocery store shelves. "Five or six years ago our problem was knowing where the container is," Mills explains. "Now it`s what`s in it and who`s supposed to get it." This is a case of almost pure COTS. Commercial shippers use their own signal-emitting tags, a well-established technology, to handle commodity items for the Army where applicable.

As more firepower moves to the front lines, Army officials are turning over more of their support to civilian contractors. Telecommunications support in Bosnia through such providers as MCI is an example. Army officials also applied the new logistics approach to perishable items in Bosnia as the Army procured food from local sources. This resulted in reducing the burden on the logistics infrastructure and improving relations with the local inhabitants rather than creating a lot of "little Americas," as was done in Vietnam.

Gen. William Hartzog, commander of the Army`s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at Fort Monroe, Va., unveiled a new strategy June 9 that the new logistics infrastructure will have to support. He spelled out changes first to the Army`s new heavy division, the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. The changes involve reducing the number of M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks from 58 to 45 for each of the division`s four armored battalions, and from 58 to 45 M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles in each of the division`s five mechanized battalions.

These changes are due in 2000 and eventually will extend to the Army`s five other heavy divisions (out of a total of 10 divisions, including four light divisions). Also as part of the streamlining move, the division will be pared to 15,320 active-duty soldiers and 417 reservists from the present level of about 18,000.

The goal is to extend the division`s range of operations, and this is driving the logistics changes.

"To achieve that agility and mobility we had to get rid of all of those stocks that we carry around with us on the battlefield," says Col. John Kennedy, vice director of the Combat Service Support (CSS) Battle Lab at Fort Lee, Va. "We had to change our logistics concepts so that we could keep up with maneuver commanders and allow them to maintain their momentum."

Supplies will be moved in a pipeline from the manufacturer to the theater port and then "right up to the foxhole where it really counts," Kennedy says. That is a change from supply-based support to a distribution-based system, which he called a revolution in military logistics at the tactical level.

Another change proposed for the heavy divisions is the Mobility Tracking System (MTS), in which each brigade in the division (one armored, two mechanized infantry) is assigned a forward support battalion (FSB) to provide logistical support. "MTS provides us an ability to see logistics capability as it`s moving through the logistics pipeline," Kennedy says. "That capability might be inbound to one FSB but another FSB may need it more strongly and the division leadership could divert it while it is en route."

Once the FSBs form, they will need their own communications networks to keep track of the material as it flows from the U.S. mainland to the front lines. Here is where COTS is expected to play a key role. Using ruggedized laptop computers already in service among some commanders, the logisticians will be able to tap into databases across the entire Army and broken out by commodity type. As stocks are drawn down or added, the databases will be updated, and the changes will be made known to all the users.

One Defense Department-wide research effort to streamline logistics using COTS and new software tools is the Advanced Logistics Program Integration and Engineering (ALPINE) project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This is a three-phase advanced concept technology demonstration looking first at how Army leaders are handling their logistics. The ALPINE approach seeks to apply existing hardware and software such as computer workstations, PCs, and the Windows operating system to new mathematical models designed to anticipate what the warfighters will need before they know, explains Hans Polzer, joint logistics program manager at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems in Manassas, Va.

ALPINE evolved out of what was called the Logistics Anchor Desk (LAD), which supported the troop deployment to Bosnia. LAD initially handled 150,000 requests per day for materiel. The number of requests eventually is expected to grow to 400,000. The idea was to coordinate requests for material to prevent duplication. LAD coordinators understand that troops at the forward edge of the battle area naturally order more essential items than they actually need, which leads to abuses of the system.

LAD made a start toward coordination, and now the Lockheed Martin team is participating in the second phase using the World Wide Web as the means for communicating up and down the system, or "webifying" it, as Polzer says. Company officials recently received an additional $2.8 million increment from their original 1995 DARPA contract and will continue the effort through 2003. The system uses Sun workstations in a client-based architecture.

ALPINE itself is part of a larger multi-year research effort to develop the software tools and protocols to control the logistics pipeline known as the Advanced Logistics Program (ALP), sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the U.S. Transportation Command.

Engineers at GTE Internetworking in Cambridge, Mass., and Texas Instruments in Dallas, are dividing a $60 million, five-year contract awarded in 1996 to demonstrate the new tools in prototype systems. Experts from Texas Instruments will focus on program management and systems engineering, while those at GTE will specialize in advanced networking technologies, including protocols and applications software to be written for the ACTD. User demonstrations are due to be held roughly every six months.

LAD and the evolving MTS represent essentially front-end logistics systems to handle the material flow from military stocks to deployed forces. They will have to be compatible with the industrial infrastructure necessary to maintain adequate supply levels, such as the Joint Computer-aided Acquisition & Logistics Support (JCALS), which Army leaders operate for all the services. Nonetheless, they can use common hardware and software. Officials from GTE Internetworking list four facets of ALP:

(1) logistics course of action feasibility linked to the war plan;

(2) force sustainment planning and sourcing;

(3) transportation tools to track assets and make smarter use of transportation assets; and

(4) rapid supply services for fast, flexible acquisition of supplies.

ALP seeks to create a force-capability-assessment tool to support the logistics operations of the deployed units, Polzer says. The computer and communications hardware and software already exist, he notes, and now the job is systems integration to tie them all together. One lesson the Persian Gulf War experience offers is that twice as much material often is delivered as is needed, Polzer recalls. During the Gulf War, however, material was twice as late as it should have been.

Rather than take what amounts to a brute-force approach, a viable logistics system needs to answer the questions of what the warfighter needs and who already has it. This also means taking into account what are called the organic assets of the forces, such as their own transportation systems.

Based on the experiences learned in the current phase of handling logistics through the growing discipline of electronic commerce, Polzer envisions that the third phase of ALP will yield mathematical models so that the logistics planners could calculate in advance the requirements of each operation. This is in the early conceptual stage, but could be particularly important as Defense Department leaders cling to their doctrine of being able to engage in two major regional wars at once.

It makes sense for the Army to operate like Sears by shipping materiel directly to the users from the manufacturers, says Anthony LaPlaca, director of the Logistics and Readiness Center at the Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

In this approach, vendors would enter shipment points into their systems, while Army officials would notify them when shipments are needed. The idea is to create what LaPlaca calls an "AMC-wide single, virtual integrated materiel center" spanning repairs as well as stockpiles, as well as necessary transportation. As part of this effort CECOM officials have begun what they call the direct vendor delivery program in which commercial suppliers ship spare parts, modules, and other equipment directly from their plants to the field, and assume responsibility for transportation, storage, and handling.

The direct vendor delivery program began last year in a prototype test with ITT Defense using a wire housing assembly used in night vision equipment. The next step is to use the Version 3050 Electronic Data Interchange software interface from the Army`s Tank Automotive Command in Warren, Mich., that enables commercial suppliers to receive purchase orders in the format of their own information systems. Their own computer networks interface directly with the Army`s. Specific programs include batteries from various sources and telephone cables and telephone wires manufactured at Federal Prison Industries.

There is also logistics consolidation among the services. The closure of the Air Force Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base, Calif., has transferred that operation`s ground communications-electronics (GC&E) maintenance to the Army`s Tobyhanna Army Depot in Tobyhanna, Pa.

The Tobyhanna depot, which is now part of CECOM, will be responsible for seven categories of GC&E: radar, radio, electro-optics/night vision, navigational aids, wire communications, electronic warfare, and satellite control/space sensors. These are mainly Air Force programs except for electro- optics and night vision, with some work being done for the Army on communications and radars.

The technological implication of these moves are that each service will specialize in certain electronics items, thus eliminating duplication and, if the program succeeds, reducing the turnaround time for shipments.

Another effort under way at Tobyhanna is the modernization through spares program, in which officials invest some portion of the money allocated for spares acquisition in re-engineering the equipment to introduce up-to-date technology and thus reduce operating costs. An example is the Army` s Mobile Subscriber Equipment, an old communications system that is being upgraded and sustained through re-engineering.

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New automated logistics systems are helping U.S. military officials eliminate or reduce the size of their supply depots, and instead move equipment to the field directly from the manufacturers.

COTS, open systems, help drive Army JCALS expansion

The Joint Computer-aided Acquisition & Logistics Support (JCALS) office is expanding functionally as well as geographically. JCALS, established at Fort Monmouth, N.J., in 1995, is to coordinate Army acquisition personnel ranging from logisticians, engineers, maintenance personnel, contractors and program managers.

JCALS is a virtual computer network of workstations and personal computers as the nodes at the major Army product commands - 47 sites in all, says Robert Doto, the JCALS program manager. Navy and Marine Corps personnel also are starting to use JCALS.

The three Army entities that are the heaviest JCALS users, Doto says, are Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, Tank Automotive Command in Warren, Mich., and Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville, Ala.

One recent JCALS application illustrates the system`s utility and flexibility. A Marine Corps user got on the system at the Port Hueneme Naval Construction Battalion Center in Oxnard, Calif., to coordinate a project with the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., and with the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga. Doto estimates the division among the services now as 40 percent Army, 40 percent Navy, and 20 percent Air Force.

While the primary role of JCALS is traditional logistics support (about 6,000 out of the 16,000 present users), Doto says he sees the system spreading throughout the services and embracing more of the research and development and program management function. His target is 27,000 users, and he says this could top 300,000 if it is accepted across the board at the Defense Department. Program mangers at Aviation and Missile Command for the Javelin missile and Multiple Launch Rocket System are already using it.

JCALS is basically a computer technique using existing hardware and software to get everybody on the same page. This is important for depot maintenance, particularly for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products. The idea, Doto says, is to "tweak the process and find a faster way to do it." He claims success in handling contract modifications without paper. The prime developer is Computer Sciences Corp. in Moorestown, N.J., where engineers maintain their own node in the network to write software and joint technical manuals.

The hardware is standard - Digital Equipment Corp. and Hewlett-Packard servers and Pentium personal computers - and so is the applications software developed at Computer Sciences - the Software Package 2 (SWP2). The system architecture is sufficiently open to accept more powerful workstations and PCs as they become available, but expansion to new users is not simply a matter of repeatedly cloning the existing user sites, according to the JCALS program officials. "Defining sites and deploying them is not a `cookie cutter` event," one program official comments. - J.R.

Tracking materiel with PCs

The transportation side of the military logistics process has all been brought under one umbrella known as the Global Transportation Network (GTN), and about 4,000 users are accessing what the contractor program manager calls a "60 gigabyte data warehouse" from their personal computers.

The GTN achieved initial operational capability in April 1997 and has since expanded to 20 major Defense Department transportation systems, says Douglas Barton, GTN chief engineer at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems in Manassas, Va.

Supply sergeants can tap into the system to find out what happened to the part they ordered, and get an answer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All they need is a PC with a standard Netscape World Wide Web browser.

The central node is a Digital Equipment Corp. Alpha 8400 computer complex at the headquarters of U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., with an alternate site to be established in September at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

The goal, which Barton says the system is achieving, is five minutes of latency per request for an item. GTN can handle 3.5 million requests a day, he says, and actually did handle 2.6 million one day, although he says there was nothing particularly unusual about that day.

GTN evolved out of the military experience in the buildup to the Persian Gulf War, which required shipments of material equivalent to 25,000 20-by-40-foot ocean containers (about the size of the back of an 18-wheeler), which illustrated the force-multiplication potential of logistics.

Lockheed Martin engineers, who have a parallel computer complex in Manassas, Va., for development activities, developed the system under a six-year, $130 million contract. Barton estimates GTN costs less than $10 million a year to operate, and it was used again last February in the Desert Thunder deployment to the Persian Gulf.

The users originally interfaced mostly with Sun Microsystems Web servers, but Barton estimates more than 90 percent now use personal computers and Windows. The system is compliant with the Defense Information Infrastructure Common Operating Environment.

This is not an inventory management system, he stresses, but rather a way of keeping track of material during its customary "90-day window in the pipeline." The process begins with the initial requisition, and visibility is needed throughout the cycle, including sustainment of forces.

GTN also reflects the Defense Department`s transition to commercial suppliers of transportation services - Federal Express, SeaLand, and CSX among them - all due to be linked to the military via the Electronic Data Interchange. Barton says he envisions being able to support direct shipments from hardware contractors in the future. About 20 commercial carriers are now part of the system, and Lockheed Martin experts are proposing to raise that to 100.

The system also has a sufficiently open architecture as a standards-based network to accommodate new information technologies as they become available. As the system now exists, Barton says, it can readily support a military operation of the magnitude of Desert Storm, but evolutionary growth would be necessary to meet the two major regional contingencies requirement. - J.R.

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The Global Transportation Network from Lockheed Martin, pictured above, is expected to consolidate several military logistics systems under one umbrella.

Contracting out engineering expertise

Getting the most out of existing logistics networks requires best commercial practices, which in turn requires specialized engineering talents not always available within the military infrastructure, according to Verle Hammond, president of Innolog of McLean, Va., one of a host of specialized firms that have sprung up in the Washington area to fill this gap.

Re-engineering is improving the performance of even legacy systems, Hammond says, and the company is working to update the technology of the Army Materiel Command.

Innolog, launched 10 years ago, recently participated in creating a "seamless" supply system for the Army`s Objective Supply Capability Europe. The company supplied systems analysis, database networking, and training to improve the routing of requests. The company claims it has slashed the time needed for a requisition status report from days or weeks to seconds. - J.R.

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