Logistics tracking: Sharper than ever

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — The Army's Movement Tracking System (MTS) was designed to help the logistics community communicate with and track vehicles on the move, but it proved to be one of the main communications devices in the field during Operation Iraqi Freedom and left soldiers clamoring for more.

In March, it was used to call a MedEvac helicopter into Iraq to aid a wounded soldier, and "another time, [base commanders] saw where a unit was going and knew the enemy was there, and they were rerouted," said retired Army Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Broyles, MTS program management office representative from Fort Lee, Va.

MTS consists of two main components: a mobile unit mounted on a vehicle and a control station that monitors the vehicle's location.

Both components use the same basic communications software and hardware, including a rugged laptop computer loaded with digital maps, a Global Positioning System antenna and a plug. The control station uses a computer with a larger display and faster processor, and a commercial satellite vendor provides the communications link between the two.

The system, developed by Comtech Mobile Datacom Corp., was installed on about 200 vehicles in southwest Asia by early April, and there were plans to equip another 1,600, Broyles said.

Maj. Forrest Burke, chief of logistics information management for the Coalition Forces Land Component Command, said MTS takes in-transit visibility to a higher level.

"It's 'blue force' tracking for logistics units, not against the enemy.... An operator in a vehicle has GPS and [digital] maps and can see where his buddies are," Burke said.

The Army awarded Comtech the $418 million MTS contract in 1999, and there are more than 2,000 units in use in the continental United States, said Randy Sawyers, a field service representative for the Germantown, Md.-based company.

However, units transported to southwest Asia must have their frequencies updated "to use the satellite server here, and they get new Kuwait and Iraq maps, and a new antenna," he said.

MTS messages are "sensitive, but unclassified," and the signal is triple encrypted using a "spread spectrum waveform to prevent unauthorized access over the air," Sawyers said.

Burke said commercial trucking and shipping companies have been using similar technology for years, and the effectiveness of MTS units so far has soldiers asking for them.

"We're working hard to get these installed," Burke said. There's a tremendous demand for them on battlefield support vehicles such as ammunition and petroleum trucks, he said, as well as ambulances — "things that are really important to us."

To meet the growing demand, the Army can get an MTS unit installed and a basic training session completed in about four hours, Broyles said. In peacetime, the training session would be longer and would include instructions for more advanced messaging, Burke added.

So far, the No. 1 help-desk call has been from troops who have been locked out of the unit after entering the wrong password into the Microsoft Corp. Windows NT operating system three times, a security measure installed by Comtech, Sawyers said.


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