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German Division Deploying to Afghanistan With Commercial Software for Logistics Support

September 2010
By George I. Seffers, SIGNAL Magazine
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The German armored reconnaissance vehicle Fennek will be one of the first armed forces vehicles to be fully supplied by the Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP) for Defense Forces and Public Security (SASPF) after deployment to Afghanistan.
Photo courtesy of

German Armed Forces
Software adaptation part of Herculean effort to overhaul defense information technology

Automated logistics software based on commercial standards will make its combat debut next year when Germany’s 1st Armored Division deploys to Afghanistan.

Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing software, commonly known as SAP, is generally used in the business world for financial accounting, controlling, product planning, materiel management and sales and distribution. Under the multibillion dollar HERKULES contract, the German Federal Defense Force, the Bundeswehr, is undergoing a massive overhaul of its business processes using the modified application SAP for Defense Forces and Public Security, or SASPF. The SASPF offers a wide range of automated functions, including logistical management, materiel management and maintenance, decentralized procurement and usage control processes.

The 1st Armored Division will deploy to Afghanistan as part of a networked, joint armed force conducting multinational missions. The division will depend on the SASPF for supply management, accounting, procurement and materiel management, including supply of ammunition, fuel and spare parts for major weapons systems like the Leopard II A6, howitzers and radar systems.

“The major advantage of the integrated SASPF system is the high degree of transparency. The SASPF covers the complete supply chain. You can optimize your logistics to the needs of your troops and to the costs to increase efficiency,” says Bernd Zimmermann, the staff officer for rollout management within the Bundeswehr’s Information Technology Office.

For example, when a vehicle breaks down in a country of deployment, the home base supply section will be informed automatically about what spares are needed. At the same time, the operations headquarters is informed about how many vehicles are actually operationally ready. In such a case, the SASPF is expected to save work and money in terms of inventory costs.

The SASPF became fully operational with the 1st Armored Division in 2009 after extensive testing, and reached a fully operational capability with the 13th Mechanized Infantry in June. The SASPF implementation marks the first time the Bundeswehr has tried to apply commercial standard software to its business processes. The software replaces numerous information technology systems, including systems for materiel management. It replaced five different systems for the 1st Armored Division alone. The systems being replaced are not interoperable, or do not share data with one another, so the SASPF vastly streamlines the German armed forces information technology infrastructure and processes. The software brings transparency in logistics data and consistency in master data and documents, so information will be readily available to users online.

Automated logistics processes make a world of difference on the battlefield, according to Col. Merle Russ, USA (Ret.), an associate with Burdeshaw Associates Limited, Bethesda, Maryland. Although not intimately familiar with the German military’s efforts, Col. Russ has a long history with, and deep expertise in, automated logistics systems and their benefits. He contrasts the U.S. invasion of Iraq during operationDesert Storm in 1990 with the operation Iraqi Freedom invasion of 2003. During the first Iraq war, prior to invading, the United States was forced to “build iron mountains” in the region, which included a wide variety of equipment and spare parts needed to conduct a war—everything from tank engines to track shoes.

Maintaining iron mountains of supplies is expensive and places heavy demands on scarce Army resources, including personnel, available space on transporters and storage space. Furthermore, the information technology systems used at the time were incompatible with one another, often were unreliable and offered dissimilar information. As a result of the poorly flowing information, the networks were overloaded with status update requests from the field. U.S. logistics systems during operation Iraqi Freedom, on the other hand, largely had been overhauled, updated and automated.

“Logistics during the first Gulf War was a constraint on operations because of the unreliability of the information. We used to joke that the truth on the ground had a date and time stamp on it because the truth was different depending on which database you were using,” Col. Russ says. “During operation Iraqi Freedom, logistics was much more of an enabler because the information was more reliable. There was no need to build iron mountains, and everyone had fairly good information about what supplies were coming and when. That enabled commanders to make better decisions about the timing of operations and when to commit combat forces.”

 

A German technical sergeant uses the SASPF to order spare parts.

HERKULES affects more than just combat logistics, however. In the 1990s, the Federal Armed Forces concluded that its information and communications technology could no longer meet the demands of increasingly networked operations. The technology that had evolved was made up of outdated, non-interoperable systems. The Bundeswehr runs numerous software programs, some older than the people using them. The HERKULES project, an array of measures aimed at modernizing the information and communications technology infrastructure, was first launched in 2006. By the project’s end, the entire information and communications technology architecture will be overhauled. The SASPF eventually will connect more than 45,000 users in the armed forces, the defense administration and the armaments sector.

“HERKULES is the major information technology project of the Federal Armed Forces. The project covers the delivery of information technology services—managed computer centers, wireless area networks, local area networks, hardware and software—by a strategic [industry] partner inside Germany. These services include development and advisory service to the armed forces for the SASPF and the rollout of the product inside Germany,” Zimmermann says.

The Bundeswehr’s industry partner is BWI Informationstechnik GmbH, Meckenheim, Germany. BWI is a consortium led by IBM Germany and Siemens IT Solutions and Services. The consortium’s primary task is to transform and modernize the existing patchwork of systems. Among many items, the consolidation of around 300 local intranets into one central system. The industry team is modernizing and operating data processing centers, setting up and maintaining a nationwide communications and data network and operating various applications for the Federal Armed Forces. Modernization of the information and communications infrastructure and a broadband communications and data network is scheduled for completion this year.  

The HERKULES program has centralized control of information technology services via an operations competence center, data processing center and user help desk with on-site service throughout Germany. Strategic planning involving almost all defense ministry areas now is carried out on a standardized information technology application after the first large-scale software rollout became operational in late 2008, according to industry sources. In addition, the payment processing functionality for approximately 2,500 users in the Armed Forces Territorial Administration and the Department for Armaments were delivered last year, as were a full array of human resources applications, property management, procurement, materiel management, environmental protection, infrastructure and hazardous goods management applications.

The HERKULES program has not been entirely without controversy. It has been criticized for delays and cost overruns. According to industry sources, however, the Institute of Social Science of the Bundeswehr conducted a survey that shows high satisfaction rates with the modernized equipment. Respondents reported being better able to fulfill their missions with the newer information technologies.

“A few subprojects of HERKULES are delayed, mainly the modernization of local networks and personal computers. The modernization of the local network had to be redesigned because the originally planned concept that was preferred by the Bundeswehr would have been too expensive for the armed forces,” says Ewald Glass, managing director for BWI Informationstechnik GmbH. “The modernized personal computers have remote service that can be realized only if the local networks have a sufficient quality. A new concept uses older networks for the personal computers now, to avoid further delay.” Glass adds that completion of subprojects is scheduled for early 2012.

“The majority of subprojects is in or even ahead of time, for example, the buildup of a new dial and switching service, which put about 1,500 personnel back to core services of the armed forces. Other examples are the user help desk and data centers, which are in time as well,” Glass says.

The Bundeswehr has budgeted 7.1 billion for HERKULES over a 10-year period. Peter Blaschke, chief executive officer for BWI, insists the program is on budget but that defense spending cuts will not allow additional services requested by the military.

“The service will be delivered at the contracted terms and price. Additional costs stem from new service requests and needs of the Bundeswehr that have become necessary during its transformation in the last five years—more missions, more security, more information technology focus,” Blaschke says. “Almost all of these additional services have been cut by the budget commission so far. Bundeswehr and BWI now work together on compensation plans to avoid the worst-case scenario: that the Bundeswehr would not get these services.”

Blaschke adds that the aim of HERKULES for the Bundeswehr is to focus on core training and missions competencies and cited estimates that up to 6,000 armed forces members can be relieved of information technologies duties, but that budget cuts could place those core competencies at risk as well.

WEB RESOURCES
German Ministry of Defence (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung): www.bmvg.de/portal/a/bmvg/
BWI Informationstechnik GmbH: www.bwi-it.de/index.php?id=13