Military Enhances Supply Tracking

April 2010
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Magazine
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Fuel is now the network’s newest tracking target; others to follow.

With fuel serving as the ammunition of the mobile force, the Defense Information Systems Agency has created a new capability that allows logisticians to track and manage different types of this valuable resource. A new version of the agency’s Web-based Global Combat Support System-Joint has been deployed to fulfill this top priority of the U.S. Central Command J-4.

This new logistics tracking capability does not stop at the fuel tank. Even as users begin to employ the new fuel-tracking tools, system developers are working to meet the command’s second- and third-ranking logistics priorities of munitions and distribution. The office responsible for the system and its capabilities is deploying these new capabilities at a more rapid pace than that of most information technology systems, which it attributes to strong relationships with the testing and user communities.

The Global Combat Support System-Joint (GCSS-J) version 7.1 came online in December 2009 delivering a watchboard that enables logisticians to see at a glance fuel status and objectives. The tool is color coded for easy identification of fuel supply levels. It uses the traditional green, yellow, red and black colors, where green denotes the best situation and black the worst. Logistics personnel can use the function to identify quickly where shortfalls exist and to access additional information such as where those sites are located and what other resources are stored nearby. Armed with this information, personnel can make decisions about how to reroute fuel commodities to fulfill military operations needs. The watchboard incorporates data on different types of fuel including those used for aircraft and ground equipment.

Unlike many other logistics networks, the GCSS-J does not store data itself. Paula Friedman, the GCSS-J program manager, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), calls the system a “virtual, data-rich environment” that consumes data from other places. The GCSS-J pulls in the fuel status information from data sources focused on that commodity.

The impetus for the fuel watchboard development came from the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) J-4’s list of top three priorities. Number one called for visibility and status of fuels. The previous director for logistics on the Joint Staff challenged the GCSS-J program management office to deliver capabilities faster than the normal 12- to 18-month cycle and in doing so designated CENTCOM as a pilot focus organization to help the office with the agile development model. The partnership required frequent user engagement so that system developers better understood the needs of the users. Friedman says her team met the number one priority, and in turn CENTCOM helped the agency evolve the agile roll-out model. According to CENTCOM officials, developers are working to populate the watchboard further by pulling from more databases to meet command requirements.

The GCSS-J is directed especially at combatant command and joint task force logistics personnel. The services have their own capabilities that function in a similar manner to the system. Using the tools available in version 7.1, personnel at the combatant commands have a single automated system for current fuel statuses and detailed reports. They also can generate trend charts for their planning purposes and proactively resolve any anticipated fuel shortages.

In addition to the fuel watchboard, the developers adjusted the data sources for the joint engineering planning and execution system in the GCSS-J with the version 7.1 launch. Operational engineers employ that system to perform certain functions to support or deliver crisis action plans. The GCSS-J now pulls from additional data sources to include more information for users than was available in the previous versions. By interacting regularly with the logistics community, the developers learn about various repositories of information and pull from them to help logisticians meet their requirement.

The GCSS-J office has been fielding the capabilities it provides at a rapid pace, which is a win for development personnel. Historically, Defense Department systems roll out over long periods of time. The system received its Milestone B decision in March 2008 and its Milestone C decision in October 2008. In March 2009, nonsecure Internet protocol router network (NIPRNet) version 7.0 rolled out. In June of that same year, 7.0.1 was launched, and in December 2009 NIPRNet and the secret Internet protocol router network (SIPRNet) version 7.1 came online. The office plans to deploy 7.1.1 this month for both networks. Originally the version 7.1.1 fielding was scheduled for June, but Friedman believes her team can meet the requirements sooner. She compares the work to running on a treadmill, saying that since the Milestone C decision, developers have been going at 5 to 6 miles per hour, sometimes slowing down to 4 miles per hour, but never stopping.

In order to field at the rapid pace, system officials rely on their stakeholders’ commitment to help streamline those processes. Friedman says that they “have been very fortunate in having that trust” with several key organizations such as the U.S. Strategic Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) and the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.

The GCSS-J development works in what the office calls “sprints,” which are development cycles of approximately 20 days. Four sprints typically make up one release. One method that allows the speedier roll-out is permission from JITC to use the normal software qualification test period as an operational assessment.

Traditionally, capabilities go through test events before the operational test process so that issues are resolved ahead of time and no one will discover a need for software changes. Friedman explains that because the GCSS-J engages JITC so early in the planning phase, the command knows what will be allocated in each sprint. Additionally, users can access an early site and assess the tools, and DISA then provides metrics reports on those evaluations to JITC. “Basically, we’re an open book,” Friedman says. She adds that the trust the system has established with its users and testers, combined with assessments based on new requirements, enables the earlier operational assessment, saving the system time with new deployments.

The GCSS-J personnel also use guidance from the Defense Science Board March 2009 “DOD Policies and Procedures for the Acquisition of Information Technology” report’s recommendations for streamlining information technology delivery times. The office also takes into account the “Proposed Guidelines for the Rapid Acquisition of Information Technology” report from August 2009 created for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration. Both documents provide similar principles about speeding system development and deployment times.

The system stakeholders, including the Joint Staff, are committed to streamlining the process so the user community can access capabilities more quickly. Friedman says her team is trying to reduce the time between deployments to every four months, and that it will have to talk to JITC to determine if they can release every two months. “I’m not really sure how long we can keep up that kind of pace,” she says. However, Friedman states, the people working on the system know their customers are the warfighters and they want to deliver tools as quickly as they can.

The GCSS-J program management office now has turned its attention to CENTCOM’s number two logistics priority—better munitions tracking functions. Friedman explains that her office has some initial capabilities ready, but she adds that munitions are more complex to track than fuel. The CENTCOM J-4 is negotiating with the services to allow the GCSS-J to have access directly to their sources. Then the system would be able to pull, display and incorporate that munitions data.

CENTCOM J-4’s first and second priorities reflect the importance of fuel and munitions in the area of operations. The third priority, which GCSS-J also will help to meet, is distribution. For that, the office is looking at nodes in theater. Friedman says visibility of assets is good at the ports of embarkation and debarkation, but inside the various operating areas visibility decreases. The goal for the system is to offer users information from different nodes within the theaters such as what the capabilities are and what the plans are for receiving and storing items and moving those items from node to node. The U.S. Pacific Command is scheduled to take the lead on that development, helping to flesh out the distribution requirements.

Friedman explains that when a combatant command takes ownership of a specific joint capability, it essentially represents the other commands. When CENTCOM came forward with its three priorities, it vetted them through the other commands, and DISA and the Joint Staff J-4 worked to create generic capabilities that all would find useful.

Though Friedman says the CENTCOM priorities are pretty much the same priorities every command has, each command also has its own needs. For example, she explains that the U.S. Northern Command would like more capabilities available on the NIPRNet and increased access to non-Defense Department information. “In general, the priorities are similar, but they might not be exactly the same,” Friedman explains.

The target audience for all the capabilities is the logistics community, but access and applicability are not restricted to those users. Friedman expects planners to take advantage of the system. Developers have created a tab on the portal that connects users to planning capabilities. Friedman believes that will draw more operators to the system. In addition, some service personnel use the GCSS-J instead of their own systems because it provides joint information.

The GCSS-J administrators have not turned down any request for access to the system. Individuals normally work through their combatant commands to gain access. But in this era of information sharing, Friedman says no reason exists to prevent those with the right permissions and credentials from employing the system for their needs. Authorized users for the NIPRNet version require a common access card; the SIPRNet version requires SIPR public key infrastructure for access.

Because the system is Web-based and populated from other databases, it can cover the range of information necessary to satisfy a variety of users. For example, it pulls mapping data from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to show locations. Friedman says the idea was to have a one-stop shop for all the capabilities that logisticians need available through the GCSS-J.

Friedman states that one could argue the need for a watchboard in every single commodity managed by military logisticians. However, the challenge for the GCSS-J is finding an automated data source to provide the necessary information to the joint system. She explains that when you look at “big L” logistics, the scope of items moved is large. In addition to fuels and munitions, this scope encompasses resources such as personnel and security assistance and items necessary for medical and financial tasks.

Global Combat Support System-Joint:
Joint Interoperability Test Command:
“DOD Policies and Procedures for the Acquisition of Information Technology”: