Army Links Foxhole To Factory
Service learns logistics lesson from industry.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Angel Montero, USA (seated), technician for the 3rd Infantry Division, Combat Service Support Automation Management Office, and Bill Flynn (center, standing), logistics assistance representative, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, train soldiers in the use of their new Combat Service Support very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite communications systems.
Even Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton might stand in awe of the way the U.S. Army is transforming its logistics infrastructure. The service has identified four focus areas for change and is now in the blueprinting phase of improving how the supply chain links. With the support of commercial enterprise resource planning technology, the Army is targeting problems to ensure that data is not the only asset that makes it to the end of the last tactical mile.
Military logistics rarely receives the media attention it deserves—unless something goes wrong. But for any operation, it is a massive undertaking to move all the necessary supplies to support thousands of troops. In operation Iraqi Freedom, for example, logisticians deployed more than 1.2 million tons of equipment over 8,000 miles. During the combat phase, they used an average of 1,200 fuel tanker trucks to deliver 1.5 million gallons of bulk fuel per day. On the human side, they provided water to 307,000 troops, who drank an average of 2.1 million gallons a day, and enough meals ready to eat (MREs) to feed the entire population of Spokane, Washington, for more than a year.
These statistics are remarkable in and of themselves, but accomplishing such tasks was especially amazing using what Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, USA, deputy chief of staff, G-4, U.S. Army, calls “a mid-20th century logistics structure.” The current infrastructure and legacy systems led to a number of logistical shortfalls in operation Iraqi Freedom identified by Army as well as other government leaders. These shortcomings included a backlog of cargo pallets and shipping containers at various points along the distribution system, a discrepancy of $1.2 billion in materiel shipped versus materiel acknowledged by Army systems as received, an accumulation of excess materiel without the required documentation at the theater distribution center and duplication of requisitions for supplies.
Several initiatives currently underway in the Army are intended to resolve these issues. In December 2003, Gen. Christianson’s office issued a white paper that outlines four top priority objectives for the service during the next two years.
Connecting Army logisticians is the first focus area. This will address the current incidence of soldiers ordering the same item several times because they cannot confirm the status of a requisition. Several of the service’s organizations are coordinating an effort to develop a logistics common operating picture from foxhole to factory to foxhole.
The second focus area involves modernizing the theater distribution system. This initiative aims to guarantee delivery of supplies on time, every time. Establishing this system will help the service solve several problems. Warfighters will be confident that supplies they order will be delivered, or at least they will be able to obtain a status report. In addition, the Army will not need to store large quantities of supplies at forward positions because delivery will be faster and more reliable.
Investments during the past 10 years have enabled the Army’s ability to deploy quicker. However, the service now faces a shortfall at the other end of the supply chain as troops move from the continental United States into the theater of operations faster than the logistics teams can be ready to receive them. The Army’s third focus, designing a permanent support headquarters, addresses this concern. This theater-opening command and control headquarters would plug into a logistics information network through secure, on-demand satellite communications. Studies currently are underway, and the goal is to reconfigure one of the Army’s corps support groups by fiscal year 2005.
While investments in rapid deployment capabilities have increased, stock levels and the number of items carried on unit-prescribed load listings have been reduced during the past several years. The result has been a lean supply chain without the benefits of new information technology or enhanced distribution systems to ensure that required items are on hand and that soldiers can receive the items in a timely manner.
Integrating the supply chain, the fourth focus area, will remedy this imbalance. The goal is to gain an enterprisewide view of the supply chain as well as to integrate the service’s processes, information and responsibilities. Army leaders will develop this solution in alignment with the U.S. Defense Department’s Focused Logistics Initiative. The ultimate objective is to have joint information freely and automatically shared among the strategic, operational and tactical levels of headquarters and agencies.
|Spc. Natasha Kennedy, USA, 3rd Infantry Division, Combat Service Support Automation Maintenance Office, adjusts outriggers on a VSAT satellite system at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. The VSAT system will allow soldiers in the field to place supply requisitions and receive a status report on the order in near real time.|
Several years ago, the service discussed incrementally moving its legacy systems to a Web-based environment using a custom-designed solution. However, when companies briefed the Defense Department and Army officials about options, the department was not convinced that the strategy was right; the Army was not sold on the cost; and neither was satisfied with the timeline. As a result, the service decided to explore commercial products that could meet its requirements.
As it turned out, the Army chose not only a commercial technical solution but also a commercial methodology. The retail industry uses ERP to integrate departments and functions across a company through a single database. Tying buying to in-store stock to warehouse inventory to payment processes improves control of inventory and storage requirements while at the same time ensures that companies have enough supplies on hand to meet customer demand.
When the Army met with Defense Department officials in July 2003, department decision makers wanted a comprehensive plan for how the service would use an ERP solution to replace legacy tactical systems and a vision to tie the foxhole to the factory. To meet this requirement, the Army developed a vision called the Single Army Logistics Enterprise (SALE), which links retail to wholesale.
In October 2003, the Defense Department gave the Army approval to move forward with an ERP solution for the warfighter developed by SAP Public Services Incorporated, Washington, D.C. Col. Zoppa relates that the service believes the company’s products can deliver 80 percent of the functionality it requires out of the box. The remaining 20 percent of the functions can be developed during the implementation process.
To move forward, the Army decided to use the same best practices that commercial organizations employ today. The strategy includes a project preparation phase, which involves determining the scope of the work. It also includes developing a charter and documenting requirements. The Army completed this phase in January then presented its findings to the Defense Department, which approved going forward with the effort.
The service is now involved with blueprinting, the second phase of the work. This stage involves examining current requirements and translating those into business processes. Subject matter experts walk through the processes to determine how they would change using the new technology. “They ask, ‘If this is the way you order parts in your current system, how are you going to do it tomorrow in the new system?’ The commercial system may do it differently, and you may not have a choice. If you cannot live with the solution that they’ve given you out of the box, you might have to write software code at a customer user exit to accommodate your system’s requirement,” Col. Zoppa explains.
During this blueprinting phase, the Army is integrating SAP projects, and the goal is to finish blueprinting by the third quarter of fiscal year 2005. This completion date may be delayed slightly, the colonel says, depending on how the work proceeds.
To accomplish the SALE vision, the Army’s tactical SAP project must be linked to the wholesale SAP project, called the Logistics Modernization Program, the colonel relates. “As we go through our workshops, we’re talking about how we’re going to address the tactical component of the SALE. For example, there are tactical supply and maintenance business processes associated with the warfighter on the battlefield. How do we take those business processes and link them to the national level?” he explains.
This is no small task. The colonel relates that the Army started with more than 5,000 requirements. The service then examined these to determine the business processes; however, hundreds of business processes are still necessary to fulfill the requirements, he says. Initial fielding of the system could begin in the third or fourth quarter of fiscal year 2007, but linking to the national system and achieving the SALE vision are enormous tasks and may cause some delay in the schedule, Col. Zoppa says.
Maj. Gen. John Barry, USAF (Ret.), vice president of defense and security, SAP, explains that the company’s software does not connect old systems but rather collapses 14 individual systems into a single system. “We’re talking about transformational logistics by reducing inefficiencies and redundancies. It replaces the standard Army management information systems that are used for supply, maintenance, property accountability, ammo readiness, management, but aren’t connected. This is Web-enabled technology,” he explains. The suite of tools includes product-life-cycle management, supply-chain management, financial management, human capital management, customer relationship management and business intelligence.
Bill Sidebottom, Army account executive, SAP, notes that the standard SAP business suite is being configured for military operations. Two unique aspects are the Force Element and the Mobile Engine components that support tactical military operations. With the SAP solution, action taken in one system will immediately be seen in the other systems.
Sidebottom’s pet name for the tool suite is “Outlook on steroids” because it resembles the way users work independently on Microsoft Outlook. “So I can unplug if I need to build all my immediate wartime logistics operations in a disconnected environment. I can order supplies, open job orders, release supplies and manage the logistics process at the unit of action level. Then the next time I link back up through a VSAT [very small aperture terminal], I can come back up to the corps level and resynchronize, and all the transactions are passed up through the corps process,” he says.
The Force Element portion will allow military leaders to realign the force structure dynamically to meet a commander’s intent. “For example, you have an armored battalion and an infantry battalion. You never deploy pure battalions, you deploy task forces. Force Element allows you to dynamically, on-the-fly, realign your task force, and the associated logistics processes will realign automatically behind it. That’s particularly important when you’re talking about fuel and ammunition to make sure that those commodities get realigned based on the restructured force,” Sidebottom says.
Gen. Barry explains that, as a commander designs task forces, he will be able to drag and drop military units into the task force and lift the equipment and training that is required for the mission at the same time. As the commander builds the task force, he will know if he has enough people, if they are trained, if he has enough equipment, if the equipment is ready and what training is required. Today, these tasks are accomplished through telephone calls, and the logistician is often the last person in the chain to receive the requirements list. This same process could be applied to other organizations, such as the Red Cross when it prepares to respond to an emergency, Gen. Barry adds.
According to Col. Zoppa, this tool suite will transform Army logistics. Today, a company of warfighters on the battlefield enters supply requests into the local computer system, and this information is then sent up to the echelon, which consolidates orders and sends them to yet another system then on to the national system. “So a soldier who’s sitting downrange who ordered a HMMWV [high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle] part may not get a good status report back on whether or not the part is available, whether it’s on back order, whether he or she is going to get something for quite some time. It could be 24 hours; it could be a week; it could be two weeks. If it’s at a local warehouse, they could get it right away. But if it’s not, and it’s a part that they have to order, and it’s in a warehouse in the United States, then it could be a while before they get a good status on it. And, with the way the system is set up today, it’s possible that somewhere along the way [the order] gets canceled because it was entered wrong into one of the systems or the stock number has been replaced by another stock number and so the system didn’t recognize it. So the soldier in the field may wait a week only to get a message back that says, ‘Your order has been canceled.’ This is just one of the many problems with the systems we have today,” Col. Zoppa says.
These problems increase exponentially in a hostile environment, he adds. Sending supply requests depends on the availability of communications connections. At times, soldiers must enter information into a computer, save it on a disk, then physically drive it to the command center. Because troops are in battle and on the move, they must wait for a pause in the battle to pull together their supply orders and send out the information. As a result, higher echelons may receive a flood of requests at one time, further slowing down the process, Col. Zoppa explains.
In contrast, once the new systems are in place, warfighters will have a laptop computer connected to a VSAT that is linked to a central data center. “Now, instead of taking two, three, five days to access communications and get your request sent up, then waiting 24 hours to a week to get a status back, you’ll set up your VSAT terminal, put in your request and get a good status back in near real time. Industry has used ERP solutions for a while. The Army is now realizing that we can do the same, and that’s where we’re trying to go,” the colonel says.
G-4 White Paper: www.army.mil/features/LogWhitePaper2004/default.htm
Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, USA Congressional Testimony: www.house.gov/hasc/openingstatementsandpressreleases/108thcongress/04-03-30christianson.html