A new outlook on logistics

The Air Force has refurbished one of its central logistics systems to reflect the Defense Department's heightened focus on what's known as in-transit visibility.

The goal is to make it possible to know the exact location of people and cargo as they move from home bases to overseas postings.

Air Force officials are taking steps to improve in-transit visibility by upgrading the service's Cargo Movement Operations System (CMOS), which tracks documents associated with cargo that has been shipped and personnel who have been mobilized, by enhancing the links to other key logistics systems and making CMOS easier to deploy.

With the large number of military deployments that began last year and continue today in Afghanistan and elsewhere, tracking cargo and personnel has become even more critical, said Susan Kirkland, CMOS program manager at the Air Force's Standard Systems Group.

CMOS users will now be able to tap into the Air Force's Global Decision Support System, which shows aircraft in flight or at a base and provides a snapshot of the plane's location, its cargo, when it's leaving and where it's going next, Kirkland said.

The CMOS team also linked the system directly to DOD's main asset tracker, the Global Transportation Network (GTN). Run by the U.S. Transportation Command, GTN links the services' and the defense agencies' logistics systems with commercial carrier information in one integrated database.

Maj. Pat Burden, program manager for GTN, said there are three ongoing initiatives aimed at improving the interfaces between the two systems:

* Enhancing the systems' security requirements.

* Improving business processes.

* Assigning a team to identify fixes for any inaccurate data in the GTN system, whether the inaccuracies are caused internally or come from the more than 20 DOD feeder systems, including CMOS.

The Air Force recently awarded a $63.8 million contract to Northrop Grumman Information Technology to build and improve on the existing GTN system (see box, Page 34).

Air Force officials are working weekends to deploy a new version of CMOS — released Aug. 20 — to its 3,500 users worldwide, which includes more than 200 Air Force sites, numerous Navy and Marine Corps sites and the National Security Agency.

The first Army site should be operational by March 2003, in time for the release of Version 6.1, Kirkland said.

CMOS integrates computer hardware, software and communications to enter, process, retrieve and transmit transportation data. A host processor supports a multiuser, multitasking operating system and an Oracle Corp. 9i relational database management system.

The system is designed to help move outbound freight, receive inbound freight, direct in-transit freight and perform airlift clearance, said Mike Howell, transportation analyst in the Air Force's Standard Systems Group.

Additionally, CMOS makes it possible for users to manage wartime requirements, transportation plans, maintenance, passenger processing, and command and control oversight of transportation activities.

Future Enhancements

CMOS relies on a suite of automatic identification technology equipment to collect and transmit bar coded shipment information. In addition to bar codes, such technologies include magnetic stripes, integrated circuit cards, optical memory cards and radio frequency identification tags. Reader devices have evolved from handheld 900 MHz tools in 1998 to the latest generation of radio frequency equipment, Kirkland said.

By collecting and transmitting data with limited human intervention, automatic identification technology can improve support for DOD's warfighting capabilities and logistics business processes. However, no single tool satisfies DOD's requirements, which is why the department uses a suite of products.

Existing software supports radio frequency devices, but some bases lack the spectrum backbone for the equipment, Kirkland said, adding that about one-third of the bases have the necessary resources and the Air Force has plans to bring the rest on board.

Officials are also considering using optical memory cards — plastic cards capable of storing large amounts of information — and integrating them with DOD's Common Access Card program, which is slated to become the standard form of identification for the uniformed services. Such cards could be used to track military personnel as they board and get off transport planes, Kirkland said.

Ron Lacour, CMOS program manager for Anteon Corp., said the company has been involved in the CMOS program since 1989 and was awarded a $1.6 million task order earlier this year for continued software enhancements. Lacour said the company is developing a version of CMOS that can run on laptop computers; it should be ready by April 2003.

That version will initially require a local-area network hookup and maybe a wearable printer, Kirkland said.

CMOS saves all outgoing correspondence and messages so if the system ever loses its LAN connection, the data will be processed as soon as communications are re-established, she said.

The CMOS budget of $6 million to $10 million per year covers software development, enhancements and licenses, and hardware. The hardware portion is sizable right now as the Air Force reorganizes and moves from maintaining servers at each base to adopting a regional approach, Kirkland said.

"Right now, 35 sites have been regionalized, and we hope to have another 100 done within three to four months and everybody regionalized by December 2003," she said. Eventually, CMOS will be managed at four regional sites.

Some officials have expressed concern that the communications architecture at the Air Force's high-volume sites won't be able to keep up. But the service's overall realignment — which is aimed at centralizing network operations, applications and communications on bases — is "opening doors between communications and logistics," according to Kirkland.

In January, CMOS was designated a joint system by the Joint Transportation Management Board, which means it can be expanded to include approximately 200 Army sites. By 2004, CMOS will be Web-enabled to make it more accessible for the Air Force, the nine Marine Corps sites, the six Navy locations, NSA and future Army users, she said.

"The requirements are being fleshed out for [a] joint [system], but we're hoping to have them all incorporated by the end of 2005," she said. CMOS has more than 65 percent of the capabilities required for a joint system and an even greater percentage of the functionality, but officials will need to add service- specific interfaces to accommodate the Army's heavy reliance on trucks for transporting troops and cargo and the Navy's use of ships.

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