Support system helps Marines with material

The Marine Corps is poised to bring its Global Combat Support System (GCSS) online later this year. The system will tie together logistics programs and other applications to better connect commanders on the battlefield.

GCSS-Marine Corps is scheduled to become a program of record by October, which will give it official status and access to funding.

Each service has its own combat support initiative under way, but the Marines say they are well along the path to creating a system that can give a picture of allied forces across the battlefield. GCSS is designed to create a standardized logistics support system across the military. In so doing, each service will be able to deploy materiel and services faster.

GCSS combines some of the traditional technology used in the Global Positioning System and links it to back-end logistics and supply applications. That way, battlefield commanders can have a view of all allied units and their state of readiness. The system can analyze the personnel and equipment available to the unit and determine what it will need to fulfill specific missions. GCSS is a Defense Department initiative and will eventually link all logistics and support data to battlefield commanders, regardless of the military service involved.

"The Marines took a little bit different approach than the other services in terms of approaching the GCSS problem," said Marine Col. Robert Love, head of the Integrated Logistics Capability Center at the Marines' Installation and Logistics Department. "The Army and the Navy went out and contracted with industry and bought their technology and [are] now figuring out how to best use it. The Marines spent months planning out what capabilities [they] would need and will soon enter the process of procuring the technology to accomplish that."

Some technology — such as servers, routers and large-scale hardware — is already in place for the October launch, but much of the software and support applications are not, Love said.

It will be important for future battlefield commanders to be able to click on an icon on an electronic map and immediately know how combat-ready that unit is, he said.

Jim Brabston, vice president for defense systems at Stanley Associates Inc., the lead integrator on the Marines' GCSS project, said the system would make it much easier for commanders to plan a combat mission. The system should cut the traditional planning time line, which can take days or weeks, to mere hours.

For example, if a commander wanted to send a unit to engage and capture a specific target, the commander could click on the unit's icon on a map and get a real-time picture of its status. Included in that information could be the number of combatants available, support personnel, equipment, weaponry, ammunition, vehicles, fuel and so on, down the logistics and supply chain.

"If the commander realizes that a unit should have a small-weapons repairman to go along on a certain mission, they can search nearby units for that specialist and send him or her to the unit about to engage the mission," Brabston said.

Supply, ordnance and logistics officials can also use the system to determine what supplies the units will need before they run out or even run low, Brabston said. If, for example, an officer notices that a number of Humvees in a given theater are having the same mechanical problem, replacement parts can be ordered and shipped to the area before more vehicles begin failing.

Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Kelly, deputy commandant of Marine installations and logistics, said that although the current logistics and supply structure gets the results it needs to fulfill its mission, it is one of the areas that needs improvement to efficiently support warfighters.

"We are doing things today the same way we did 30 years ago, and not much different than World War II," he said. "If we look at the numbers, we're shipping at a Third-World rate — early Industrial Age. If you're satisfied with that, you may as well just give up."

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