Pentagon asks for insights on transport tracking system

The Defense Department's Transportation Command is seeking detailed information about companies that can provide the military a comprehensive Web-based transportation mapping and management system, via a recently issued sources-sought notice.

The command specified that the system it potentially seeks would combine merge various technologies from a myriad of government and private sources into a single access point for military transportation analysts. The system would allow analysts to visually track cargo and personnel in transit.

The system specified in the notice would allow analysts to reroute shipments as needed as well as furnish overall transportation decision support capabilities. The command seeks a system that would be flexible enough to accommodate new technologies as they arise.

The system would include a Web-based geographic information system, friendly user interface and information on road conditions, construction, weather and other incidents affecting surface transportation in real-time.

Logistics executives in the private sector use similar systems to route and reroute cargo as needed; tracking shipments; map routes; generate directions for drivers; locate addresses on maps; skirt transportation delays; choose shortest or least expensive routes; and control costs such as fuel expenses.

While many companies provide pieces of USTRANSCOM's request, none provide a level of detail extending nationally, or as requested by the agency. A main roadblock is the government itself: Such a program would require a level of data interaction among federal, state and local governments that is not currently in place.

However, several companies have embarked on such systems, and universities have been testing and researching the technology.

Such a system could be developed with additional information input from the military and other government sources, according to specialists in the field. The federal Transportation Department's Intelligent Transportation Systems division now is developing '511,' a nationwide three-digit information service using that phone number to provide current information about travel conditions.

The Transportation Department 511 information service is currently available to about 44.4 percent of the population. Transportation plans to extend the system to 65 percent of the population by next year. The information provided by 511 could be used to populate the military's requested transportation system.

Some companies that provide information and systems requested include Princeton, N.J.-based ALK Technologies, a provider of truck routing, mileage and mapping software; Rand McNally & Co., a Skokie, Ill.-based company providing routing and delivery software with mapping capabilities; ESRI, a Redlands, Calif.-based company providing GIS and mapping software; and NAVTEC, a Chicago-based provider of GIS, soon to be acquired by Nokia.

The Pentagon asked potential sources of the system to provide a five-page narrative response by 4 p.m. Oct. 15.

USTRANSCOM is responsible for creating and implementing global deployment and distribution solutions in support of the president, secretary of defense and combatant commander-assigned missions. It provides air, land and sea transportation for the Department of Defense and currently controls a fleet of military assets valued in excess of $52 billion.

Elements of the intelligence community, especially the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency have built GIS of startling detail and scale, with data layers running into the hundreds of sources of information. NGA relies on publicly available data that it pays for as well as data that it gathers from satellites, drones and all other sources of intelligence available to the government.

Such sources include human intelligence, imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and various forms of intelligence tools that exploit the special characteristics of specific chunks of spectrum. For example, the government's LIDAR or (Light Detection and Ranging) and LADAR (Laser Detection and Ranging) tools can resolve ground features to within centimeters, as well as determine wind speed, direction and cloud characteristics.

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance journalist based in the Washington area with extensive experience in covering technology issues.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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