DOD readies rollout of JTAV logistics system

The Defense Department this spring plans to release the first version of an application designed to solve a problem that has plagued every military commander from Charlemagne to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf: keeping track of soldiers and equipment as they move across the world's battlefields.

DOD plans in April to field Release 1 of the Joint Total Asset Visibility (JTAV) program, which will enable commanders and logisticians anywhere in the world to "see" in real time data on the identity, status, location and movement of all personnel, equipment and related material. To date, an "in-theater" version of JTAV has been used extensively in Bosnia to track the flow of supply convoys, and it is deployed to more than 1,000 users in DOD's European, Atlantic, Pacific and Central commands.

JTAV is quickly transforming DOD's logistics system, according to Col. Steven J. Frazier, operations officer for the JTAV program office. "It's now a global view, and it is cross-service," Frazier said. "In the past, we only had service-specific data."

DOD plans to have the final version of JTAV in place by 2004 as part of the Global Combat Support System, which is a suite of applications that support military operations. To meet that deadline, DOD is placing heavy emphasis on using commercial off-the-shelf technologies and applying data-sharing standards.

According to the DOD Logistics Strategic Plan, published this month by the deputy undersecretary of Defense for logistics, the information and communications technologies to help establish total asset visibility should be "substantially" achieved by 2004 and be "fully implemented" by 2010.

Speaking recently to members of the National Defense Transportation Association, Defense Secretary William Cohen described JTAV as providing "the power to track personnel, supplies and equipment no matter where they are or where they are going." DOD is "creating a 'focused' network that enables us to track data for all of our information systems, not unlike the technology used by [Federal Express or United Parcel Service]," Cohen said.

The JTAV concept is based on a client/server architecture providing World Wide Web access to information flowing over DOD's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network or the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network. JTAV also will rely on existing data sources for logistics information, thereby avoiding the need to develop new databases for the JTAV program. At the same time, however, JTAV is forcing DOD to focus on integrating its existing sources of logistics information.

Speaking on background, a defense analyst with the Institute for Defense Analysis, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit think tank specializing in strategic national security studies, said the problem with DOD's logistics solutions in the past was that they "got so big [that they] became unwieldy." According to the analyst, when IDA conducted a study of DOD's Joint Logistics Systems Center, it found that there were as many as 4,000 data interfaces that required integration.

According to Frazier, there are 100 to 120 logistics data sources that DOD must integrate before JTAV is complete. Release 1 of the JTAV system architecture will provide access to 12 to 15 data sources, including links to ammunition, medical and transportation data, Frazier said.

As a result of its study, IDA recommended that DOD separate its logistics data from the applications—a solution that the IDA analyst said would allow DOD to update its databases and applications "without bringing the entire world offline."

All personnel, equipment and supplies will be tracked through the use of a network of automatic identification devices similar to the ones used by shipping industry giants FedEx and UPS. The family of automatic identification technologies—including bar codes, magnetic strips, optical memory cards, radio-frequency identification tags, software applications and satellite links—will act as the network's distributed nervous system.

In the past, DOD relied on what it terms "brute force" logistics. For example, during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm DOD shipped more than 40,000 containers to the Middle East with little or no way of knowing their contents or final destinations. As a result, logisticians were forced to open, inventory and repack more than 20,000 of the containers. When the war ended, more than 8,000 containers remained unopened, according to the DOD JTAV strategic planning document.

According to Lt. Gen. Roger G. Thompson Jr., deputy commander in chief of the U.S. Transportation Command (Transcom), the sheer size of DOD's logistics system poses significant challenges for the department. "In any given week, we fly about 1,692 air missions; we have 22 ships at sea and almost 10,000 land shipments moving," said Thompson, speaking recently at a digital avionics systems conference in Seattle, Wash. "We go everywhere, [including] Antarctica."

The JTAV program office includes representatives from all of the services, Transcom, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Logistics and the Joint Staff. These representatives oversee and consult on the development of the JTAV technical architecture and all of its subprograms.

Subprograms include JTAV-IT (In-Theater), which provides regional and Joint Task Force commanders with access to data on equipment, retail storage facilities and war reserves in their areas of operations. In addition, the Global Transportation Network, which tracks equipment and materials as they move from one location to another, will feed information to the JTAV-IT system pertaining to equipment that is in transit.

Other JTAV subprograms include Joint Personnel Asset Visibility for tracking personnel; Medical Total Asset Visibility for keeping tabs on wholesale and retail medical material; and JTAV Ammunition, which is a national-level ammunition-tracking program.

Lt. Col. Kurt Weidenthal, a logistician and strategic analyst with the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College, said JTAV will be a significant advance from where DOD was during the Persian Gulf War.

In particular, Weidenthal said, JTAV will reduce duplication in the procurement process, facilitate redistribution of material and improve the visibility of truck and rail convoys. JTAV will get DOD to the point where "you won't have to open 650 containers to find out where your uniforms are," Weidenthal said.

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