'Quantum leap' in wartime logistics

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Operation Desert Storm may have been successful in many areas, but logistics was not one of them. For Operation Iraqi Freedom, a variety of information technology tools and systems are helping the Army ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Handheld scanners, radio frequency identification (RFID) hardware, software and services, and numerous other cargo and vehicle tracking systems are being fused together to present Army leaders with a detailed, graphical view of not only what supplies are in what containers at the camps, but also where they are throughout their journey to the front lines, said Maj. Forrest Burke, chief of logistics information management here for the Coalition Forces Land Component Command.

"This is an information-centric war and logistics is at the heart of it," Burke said. "I was a tanker in the first [Gulf] war and when we needed supplies we went 'container diving,' looking for stuff until we found something useful...[a practice called] push logistics. Now, we'd like to practice 'smart pull' so soldiers can ask for what they need and we monitor the flow."

To monitor cargo and vehicles from the time they arrive in and as they move throughout southwest Asia, the Army is using handheld tag readers, as well as fixed and mobile "interrogators," which can read the tag information as the vehicles pass through.

The first two mobile interrogator kits, known as Portable Transportation Coordinators'-Automated Information for Movements System, or PTC-AIMS, were being installed at Camp Doha March 31 and should be ready for use today, Burke said, adding that 60 more will be installed throughout Kuwait and Iraq within a month.

The tools are part of TC-AIMS II, a joint Defense Department program that tracks passengers and equipment worldwide using handheld readers and portable computers that enable users to collect data for enhanced in-transit visibility (ITV).

"We've never done tactical ITV, it's always been done at the strategic level," Burke said. He added that there are 42 fixed interrogators throughout southwest Asia with plans to install more than 100 in the coming months that will further enhance the Army's ITV capabilities.

But ITV wasn't even a possibility 12 years ago, said Maj. Carter Corsello, support operations officer for the logistics automation office here, who served as a logistics specialist during Desert Storm and saw "acres of containers" being stockpiled even though it was often unclear what supplies they held.

Corsello said the containers often were checked twice daily — by the day and night shifts — because there was not an automated way of keeping track of what had been used. "Now, it's point and click and you know what's there," he said.

As an example, officials from the Defense Logistics Agency earlier this week traveled to a port to collect information on 179 containers filled by commercial vendors en route to southwest Asia. Using handheld RFID tag readers, DLA officials collected all the information and then downloaded it into the corresponding Army repositories.

"It took them 20 minutes, including walking around the port," Burke said. "For a platoon [doing it manually], that would take about two days. That's a quantum leap."

The Army recently awarded a three-year, $90 million contract to Savi Technology Inc. for RFID hardware, software and services. The contract will enable military personnel to buy — directly from the company — a wide range of automatic identification and data collection technologies and software to track, monitor, locate, secure, process and deploy military supplies worldwide.

"The Savi technology works," Burke said. "We always like to capitalize on what industry is doing."

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, which is leading active military operations in Iraq, has required all DOD containers to include RFID tags, but that doesn't mean everyone has the capability yet, Burke said.

Some tags don't contain very detailed information and the military services are all progressing at various speeds with the Army serving as the executive agent for RFID, Burke said, adding that other challenges include:

* Negotiating where to put the fixed interrogators in forward deployed locations.

* Inconsistent power supply.

* Reliance on satellite communications because of few fiber connections in the war region, making it difficult to tie into constantly changing tactical networks.


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