New Logistics Systems Identify, Track Bosnian Shipments
- By John Moore, John Monroe
- Apr 28, 1996
If the Defense Department ever ran a contest for the cleanest airfield, Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia, stands a good chance of winning, despite the mud.
That's because Tuzla, the main airhead for the 1st Armored Division and its headquarters, is the most obvious beneficiary of a new Pentagon approach to logistics management called total asset visibility, which reduces the supply pileup at airfields and depots and instead ensures that the right package or pallet gets to the right user—on time.
Missing are the large piles of unmarked and unclaimed cargo that made Operation Desert Storm a logistics nightmare. In Desert Storm, many containers arrived in allied staging areas without any way for military personnel to determine their contents—unless the boxes were opened. As a result, unmarked boxes piled up, and many supplies were reordered. The General Accounting Office reported that double-shipping items led to millions of dollars worth of unnecessary expenditures in Desert Storm.
In the past, DOD has bought a lot of materiel "just in case," noted Thomas J. Knapp, executive director of information systems and chief information officer at the Defense Logistics Agency. But with tighter budgets, "we are going to have to be more judicious about our assets and their visibility in the pipeline," he said. "The visibility of assets becomes more critical because there is not enough money to buy everything."
Systems now deployed in support of Joint Endeavor are helping to prevent the asset-blindness that hampered Desert Storm. One such system is Joint Total Asset Visibility (JTAV), sponsored by the Defense Total Asset Visibility office. DOD has tapped Computer Sciences Corp., through the Defense Enterprise Integration Services (DEIS) program, as the lead contractor on the project. The company's primary subcontractor is ARS, Alexandria, Va.
Until recently, JTAV was known as the Joint Logistics Management Information System, or JLOG. The purpose of the system is to track assets, whether they are on order from a supplier, in transit or in storage, according to Joseph Cirrincione of the DTAV office. The system is designed to provide enhanced visibility to joint task force and theater commanders.
In the past, "there was not a single place where a commander could go to get information across service lines," Cirrincione said. JTAV's capabilities will eventually be extended to military theaters around the globe, but the European theater was given priority due to Joint Endeavor.
The in-transit portion of JTAV relies on radio frequency (RF) identification tags attached to containers and equipment. Savi Technology, a Mountain View, Calif., subsidiary of Texas Instruments Inc., is supplying the tags under a $70 million DOD contract.
RF interrogators, which are attached to gate posts or other checkpoints on a given route, pass tag number and location information to a DOD satellite. Satellite feeds are used to populate a database of in-transit information housed at the Volpe Transportation Center, Cambridge, Mass.
Information on ordering and in-storage status is recorded in an Oracle Corp. database, which until recently was housed at a CSC facility in Springfield, Va.
Six commands and logistics centers—representing the Army, the Navy and the Air Force—can tap the JTAV databases using IBM Corp. ThinkPad notebooks, according to Elaine Robinette, operations director for CSC's Systems Engineering Division, Springfield.
Cirrincione said JTAV users can track supplies and equipment by pallet or requisition number. They can also make inquiries on specific kinds of equipment.
CSC has redeployed JTAV's Springfield database to the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, Robinette said. CSC has supplied two Sun Microsystems Inc. SPARCstation 1000s as servers for the JTAV database, she added.
JTAV continues to evolve. For example, the system may start tracking material through DLA's Automated Manifest System, which uses smart cards rather than RF tags. In this scenario, smart card readers would be employed at departure and arrival points.
The next step will be to use JTAV to track personnel, according to Robinette. She said it has yet to be determined whether personnel will be tracked via RF tags or smart cards.
"In Bosnia, we've learned that [total asset visibility] can be applied to assets other than cargo," said Larry Singer, executive director and deputy general manager of Texas Instruments Software's Government Solutions unit. In addition to Savi's RF tags, Texas Instruments is providing software development, integration and its Composer software engineering tools in the JTAV effort.
Volpe's Visibility System
JTAV is not the only asset visibility system deployed in the Bosnian mission. The Volpe Transportation Center has developed a similar asset visibility system using RF tags and Global Positioning System technology. The International Transportation Information Tracking (Intransit) system has been deployed at the 47th Forward Support Base and the Tuzla Air Base to help track supplies.
Intransit can take a different approach than JTAV. Rather than tracking the position of a tagged container directly, Volpe can put RF interrogators and satellite receivers on the vehicles in which the containers are transported. The interrogators read the RF tags affixed to each container, and the satellite receivers transmit the information, along with positioning data, back to a centralized database, said David Reed, chief of the Advanced Concepts Division at Volpe. The International Maritime Satellite Organization satellite network provides the communications backbone. In this way, logistics personnel querying the database can determine the location of a given vehicle and the cargo it is carrying.
Supplies are initially entered into the database as a pallet is put together, Reed said. All the information is imprinted on the RF tag and then transmitted to the Intransit database.
The tags can be queried in two ways. Volpe provides its customers with monitor stations to launch queries for a particular commodity. The query goes to every satellite receiver, which in turn instructs its companion interrogator to search the contents of the vehicle.
Alternatively, users can create a network of sensors to read vehicle interrogators and report back automatically to the database. Such sensors can be installed on gates and bridges, at airports and on trucklines, and in other places along a supply route across the world, Reed said. These sensors register the movement of goods in terms of position and time.
With a monitor station, a user can zoom in on a particular tag and track it across a map. He also can double-click on a tag to pull up a list of its contents. Generally, queries about the contents of a shipment actually pull information from the central database, not the shipment itself, Reed said. A query to the tag itself can take as long as 20 minutes, he said.
Before Joint Endeavor, the State Department used Intransit to enforce trade sanctions in the Balkans. Tracking devices hidden on barges would trip sensors and tip off department officials about the arrival of unapproved shipments. The Transportation Department and commercial firms also use Intransit.
The Army, however, plans to switch from Intransit to its own in-transit visibility system. The Army's Logistics Integration Agency is developing the Radio Frequency for Intransit Visibility capability. Unisys Corp. is supporting the Army under DEIS.
The prototype system revolves around RF tags, but it uses military networks rather than satellites to relay data. The system currently is used to track spare parts and medical supplies and will be expanded to keep tabs on ammunition, according to Mike Rodgers, Unisys' program manager for the TAV operational prototype.
The system interrogates RF tags as containers pass through rail heads and trailer transfer points. Logistics users can follow the progress of shipments through requisition numbers or transportation control numbers. They can also gather in-transit information on specific supplies, such as tank treads.