DOD looks to extend its delivery service

System consolidation to help track supplies to the front lines

The conventional wisdom that says ... 90 percent of the systems are unique is wrong. Probably 90 percent are common.' Gen. Norton Schwartz, TRANSCOM commander

Courtesy of TSGT Andy Dunaway; USAF

Logistics efforts in the Defense Department traditionally have focused on getting products from one port to another. But in this environment of just-in-time delivery, DOD officials, led by the Transportation Command, is focusing on getting material from factory to foxhole more effectively and efficiently.

'In the past, TRANSCOM was interested primarily in port-to-port movements,' explained Brig. Gen. Michael Basla, TRANSCOM's director of command, control, communications and computer systems. 'Now everything is focused forward on what the warfighter has requested. We move supplies to the port of embarkation and to the forces in theater after debarkation.'

To that end, TRANSCOM is developing a backbone information system capable of planning, tracking, tracing and optimizing shipments from manufacturers to their points of delivery.

The system is a major goal of TRANSCOM commander Gen. Norton Schwartz, who spoke earlier this month at the Defense Logistics 2006 conference in Washington. The result will be to consolidate hundreds of transportation and distribution systems currently in use and integrate key technologies, creating a single, end-to-end transportation management system.

'There are over 300 distribution-related systems in use by the military, and there is lots of overlap,' Schwartz said. 'The conventional wisdom that says ... 90 percent of the systems are unique is wrong. Probably 90 percent are common, and what we then have to do is to work to drive that number down by applying good common sense.'

TRANSCOM spends $9.5 billion annually moving passengers and cargo.

The emphasis on an end-to-end information system did not occur in a vacuum, Basla said. Rather, it was related to the appointment of TRANSCOM in September 2003 as the Pentagon's overarching Distribution Process Owner.

TRANSCOM and the Joint Forces Command, as well as the Defense Information Systems Agency, under the umbrella of an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration called Agile Transportation for the 21st Century, are spearheading the integration effort.

AT21's mission is to identify transportation planning and management systems, including database, optimization and collaboration technologies, and integrate those into the Defense Transportation System. One major focus will be the deployment of a mode optimization tool, which will promote cargo shipment decisions based on objective delivery and cost criteria rather than customer specification.

Schwartz said he recently visited a logistics station in Iraq being used by the Army and Air Force. 'But each was using a totally different piece of software. What we are going to do is to take things that we know work and [converge] them in a smart way. We're not going to be creating any grand solutions.'

Schwartz described the convergence process as 'connecting the dots.'

'We need open architectures and standard data for data integration, quality and transportability,' he said. 'We don't want proprietary systems or temporary glueware to connect ordinarily incompatible systems. If there happens to be government code in one service that can provide functionality to another service but with a smaller investment, that is how we should proceed.'

He added, 'The Army might not know what the Air Force has, but if we take a horizontal view we can take that insight and apply it to a good outcome.'

The consolidation effort already has succeeded in paring down the TRANSCOM technology portfolio to 162 distribution and information exchange systems, Basla said.

In the case of an Army theater distribution management program, Transportation Coordinator's Automated Information for Movement System, Version 2 (TC AIMS II), TRANSCOM found the Air Force had a similar capability in its Cargo Movement Operations System. Partnering the two programs will let the Army deliver two future blocks of TC AIMS II two to three years ahead of schedule, at a cost savings of $35 million and at a greater number of sites than originally planned, Basla said.

TRANSCOM also is working with DISA and the Defense Logistics Agency to develop a joint portal. Once deployed, the portal will provide a single sign-in for the Army's in-transit visibility and DLA's inventory and warehousing management capabilities, and will bring data from both systems to a single workstation.

Further efforts at convergence will come this spring when Basla will be spearheading a 'capabilities partnering exercise.'

'That effort,' he said, will 'look at the remainder of our technology portfolio to see what further opportunities we can find.'

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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