Air Force speeds up its supply line

For almost four decades, it took Air Force users weeks to receive supplies, whether they were pencils or aircraft parts.

Users logged on to electronic terminals at one of more than 300 locations and maneuvered through the Standard Base Supply System.

Hosted on a Unisys 2200 mainframe, it consisted of more than 600 green-screen interfaces. Processing is done at two Defense Department megacenters in Oklahoma and Utah.

The service is shortening the wait for supplies with an upgrade strategy that includes analyzing old code and converting systems to new, open platforms.

The Air Force's supply chain dates back to 1963. Over the years, hundreds of programmers wrote and modified more than 1 million lines of code, said Lt. Col. Jon Dittmer, chief of the SBSS Division at Gunter Annex-Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

'The code is a mess,' he said.

The system, written in Cobol, is hard to manage and often leaves supply managers with inaccurate data about inventory levels. The process and delivery also takes weeks.

But about two years ago the Air Force embarked on a modernization project that included Web-enabling SBSS and transforming its massive Cobol code into Java components.

Rescue is here

The Air Force is using RescueWare from Relativity Technologies Inc. of Cary, N.C. The analysis tool looks at Cobol and creates a diagram of modules, procedures and other elements embedded in each application.

Relativity is a subcontractor under a renewable task order awarded in September 1999 to Northrop Grumman Corp. The Air Force so far has spent $5.2 million on the work and expects the conversion to take until 2007.

Rich Cronheim, co-founder and vice president of Relativity, said the first phase involves replacing the terminal interfaces with a Java and HTML interface. Next, the company will help convert a nonrelational proprietary database to an Oracle Corp. database.

The result: Users will be able to order parts from anywhere in the world and get them quickly, rather than waiting weeks.

'Web-enabling made it a lot easier for the customer,' Dittmer said. 'They can go anywhere with a laptop and a modem.

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