Network to help soldiers get supplies safely

Army's short-term comm objectives on the battlefield

  • Integrate the supply chain by developing a common operating picture of logistics for all users

  • Modernize the theater distribution system

  • Establish a permanent support headquarters in Iraq

  • Improve integration of information systems
  • Maj. Michael J. Devine III, demonstrating the new CSS VSAT satellite communications system, says it will save lives in Iraq by keeping soldiers out of harm's way.

    Rick Steele

    Somewhere in Iraq, a soldier is driving to an Army post to hand-deliver a compact disk with supply orders for equipment.

    That soldier, who will have to return when the supplies are ready for pick-up, faces a perilous journey. Insurgents in hot spots across Iraq threaten U.S. troops with improvised explosive devices and direct attacks.

    But Army officials say they are speeding up the implementation of a program that already is helping improve the safety of soldiers. The Connecting the Logistician program brings the Combat Support System Very Small Aperture Terminals to troops on the battlefields of Iraq.

    The satellite communications system lets soldiers in the field place supply requisitions and receive status reports on their orders in near-real time. It also will reduce the need for troops to rely on the dangerous and time-consuming sneakernet process of hand-delivering disks containing detailed logistics orders to other locations.

    Soldiers often had to venture into dangerous territory to order supplies, said Maj. Michael J. Devine III, assistant product manager for Defense Wide Transmission Systems.

    'Under the previous process, once you uploaded the request globally, it could take days to pass the information and pick up the part,' Devine said. 'The network that we're building puts a lot of focus on units. We're building a global data capability.'

    Three-part system

    The Army recently started fielding the CSS VSAT terminals in Iraq. By the end of fiscal 2006, the service will field more than 700 of the systems. The units include Global Positioning System receivers, motorized satellite antennas and notebook computers running special logistics applications.

    The systems are easy to use, take about 30 minutes to set up and let troops send requisitions for parts electronically, officials said. The terminals cost $75,000 each.

    Today, there are about 80 of the VSAT units in use in Iraq. The 3rd Division will bring 33 more terminals with them when they deploy to Iraq later this year. The 3rd Division will be followed by the 10th Mountain Division and later the 4th Infantry Division, all of which are expected to use the VSAT systems.

    During the early stages of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, the Army experienced problems maintaining communications with troops on the move. To deal with these problems, the service is implementing the Joint Network Transport Capability-Spiral initiative.

    JNTC-S will bring capabilities developed by the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical and Future Combat Systems programs to warfighters this year, said Terry Edwards, acting director of the Army Architecture Integration Cell, a unit within the service's CIO Office.

    JNTC-S has three components: the Connecting the Logistician program, the Joint Network Node and Trojan Special Purpose Integrated Remoted Intelligence Terminal.

    'This all came from lessons learned from OIF,' Edwards said. 'We didn't have the ability to operate on the move.'

    The initiative will increase bandwidth available to troops, provide an IP architecture, and give warfighters and their commanders Internet capabilities such as text messaging, text conferencing and collaboration.

    Coming soon

    JNN, the command and control component of JNTC-S, is a mobile battlefield communications system set for use in Iraq by the end of the year. The program will give troops more mobile communications than they have with the Mobile Subscriber Equipment-Triservices Tactical terminals currently in use.

    Ultimately, WIN-T, the Army's long-term plan for communications, will bring even more IT to the battlefield, Edwards said.

    The Connecting the Logistician program aims to bring greater connectivity to the service's logistics operations.

    The last component of JNTC-S, the Trojan Special Purpose Integrated Remote Intelligence Terminal, or Trojan SPIRIT, gives commanders worldwide tactical connectivity and access to DOD's classified networks for near-real-time intelligence information.

    'We're an interim solution for the force until WIN-T can provide it,' Devine said. 'Eventually, WIN-T will have this space.'

    The Connecting the Logistician program is the brainchild of Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, the Army's deputy chief of staff for logistics, who found that the service was using an outdated logistics structure.

    Christianson said the Army faced a variety of problems in Iraq, including a backlog of cargo pallets and shipping containers, duplication of requisition orders and a discrepancy of $1.2 billion in materiel shipped versus materiel acknowledged by Army logistics systems as received.

    In June 2003, the Army tested an IP-based global satellite network that provides data access to all the deployed units, Devine said.

    Going the last mile

    Today, the Army is combining its Combat Service Support Automated Information Systems Interface (CAISI), a secure wireless LAN that supplies last-mile connectivity, with the VSAT terminals. VSAT provides wide-area connectivity.

    The system brings a common logistics picture to the fight, said Kevin Carroll, program executive officer for enterprise information system. The military is using 18 logistics systems in Afghanistan and Iraq today.

    'They can do their processing, but they've been having problems getting information back,' Carroll said. 'We have a problem today. People can't talk, get orders processed and find out where supplies are.'

    But CAISI and the rollout of the VSAT terminals will solve such problems and let the Army rely on only one logistics system in theater, said retired Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Richard Forrest, who works for the Army's Enterprise Information Systems Directorate.

    'This will save lives. It's making an immense impact in the Army. This is the sun to these guys. They never had a communications link, now they have a dedicated comm link,' Forrest said.

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