Linking Logistics

In addition to the "big picture" systems such as the Joint Total Asset Visibility system and Intransit, the military services have deployed numerous asset visibility databases and logistics systems.

To make it easier for military users to navigate these logistics systems, the Defense Logistics Agency is providing a gateway system. The Logistics Information Network (LINK) was designed for DOD personnel stationed in Europe and other areas who had difficulty accessing U.S.-based logistics systems because of the poor communications infrastructure.

About 6,000 customers use LINK, making as many as 15,000 queries a week. The average number of queries tripled overnight when troops began deploying to Bosnia, a DLA official said.

LINK gives users a single point of entry to reach asset availability databases for the Army and Navy, a General Services Administration system for checking requisition status and different transportation systems for checking on the status of shipments. LINK hooks up with 14 systems overall, with new ones being added all the time, DLA said.

LINK gets around infrastructure problems by letting users wrap database queries in electronic-mail messages, which are forwarded from a LINK client in Europe to a LINK server in the United States via dial-up, Defense Data Network or Inmarsat.

The user only needs to get a direct or dial-up connection with the LINK client. The LINK server unwraps the database query, forwards it to the necessary logistics database for processing and then sends back the response as another e-mail message.

It can take from seconds to a day to get a response, depending on the power of the systems involved in a particular query, DLA said.

In Bosnia, most users access a LINK client in Germany, frequently using Army terminal servers, said Bob Dunlap, a computer analyst with DLA-Europe.

With this connectivity, users in the field can get direct access to logistics information. "They are moving information forward into the theater instead of having it an echelon behind," Dunlap said. "Now the folks who are asking the questions actually see the results first-hand."

"Given what it stores there and how much information it really has...this system is probably one of the hidden treasures in DOD," Knapp said.

Improvements in technology—especially in networking—have allowed asset visibility to become a reality in the Bosnian mission. And this technology boost couldn't come to a better place, according to some observers.

"You can't shoot a gun unless you've got bullets, and you can't feed an army unless you've got food," said Larry Singer, executive director and deputy general manager of Texas Instruments Software's Government Solutions unit. "Logistics is the name of the game."

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