|Joint Asset Visibility:
Why So Hard?
|by Lieutenant Colonel James C. Bates, USA
In the fourth and final article of his series on joint asset
visibility, the author looks at some of the problems faced
by those trying to provide joint asset visibility
and the steps being taken to alleviate those problems.
A thorough logistics analysis of distribution problems experienced
during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom reveals
how important joint total asset visibility (JTAV) has become
to success in modern warfare and how necessary it is to consider
the entire global supply chain when developing JTAV improvements.
Society of Logistics supports this perspective by emphasizing
fundamentals like JTAV and advocating that logistics be viewed
as a total system.
Obtaining an overarching perspective is a tremendous challenge
for the Department of Defense (DOD). DOD is not only enormous,
its internal supply chain is truly global. Moreover, tens
of thousands of disparate commercial companies, both domestic
and foreign, provide supplies, transportation, and logistics
communications and information-processing software and equipment
to DOD worldwide. Coordinating the physical movement and storage
of DOD supplies on such a global scale is incredibly complex.
However, capturing the information pertaining to this movement
and storage, integrating it within automated information systems,
and ensuring that it is accessible to interested stakeholders
throughout the global supply chain via wide area networks
is far more complicated. With this in mind, DOD has initiated
efforts to develop joint logisticians who understand the global
supply chain and the logistics management information systems
associated with it.
Need for Redesign
Lacking the information technology advancements that are available
today, past DOD logistics leaders made far-reaching decisions
based on a narrower focus of the supply chain. Stand-alone
software systems were fielded without much thought as to how
effective they would be in sharing their information with
information networks. For instance, tactical Marine Corps
asset management systems were not designed to be interoperable
with the Army’s tactical systems. The plethora of logistics
information codes and data elements used by wholesale logistics
overwhelmed tactical logisticians. Some of these codes were
redundant and unnecessarily complex and were designed for
a specific software program, not the supply chain as a whole.
To ensure interoperability throughout the DOD global supply
chain, the joint asset visibility architecture should be redesigned
from the top down. The current systems were designed primarily
from the bottom up; this is why many of the automated information
systems are not interoperable. An extra effort should be made
to ensure that data are not disjointed or systems designed
solely from the narrow perspective of an individual service,
agency, or functional (supply, transportation, or finance)
In Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report 05–345,
Better Strategic Planning Can Help Ensure DOD’s Successful
Implementation of Passive Radio Frequency Identification,
William M. Solis recommends a comprehensive DOD approach to
JTAV. This GAO report says—
While DOD has taken a number of actions to direct
the implementation of passive RFID [radio frequency identification],
it has not yet developed a comprehensive strategic management
approach. . . .
Officials estimate system interoperability to be
the most expensive element of implementation because
systems that will need to be integrated to exchange
automated shipping and receiving data from the use
of passive RFID technology.
According to DOD, system interoperability entails
the ability of systems, units or forces to provide
materiel and services and to accept the same from
other systems, units or forces and to use the data,
and services so exchanged to enable them to operate
effectively together. Interoperability includes both
the technical exchange
of information and the end-to-end operational effectiveness
of that exchange of information as required for mission
accomplishment. DOD envisions a seamless integration
between passive and active
RFID technology; however, such a seamless integration
cannot take place unless the information captured
by the RFID technology
can flow though interoperable logistics information
systems. According to Navy and Army projections,
it will be fiscal
year 2016—and beyond for the Army—before
passive RFID will be fully implemented into supply
In turn, the DOD military components are also unable to develop
comprehensive plans to support DOD-wide passive RFID implementation
due to the lack of an overarching DOD comprehensive strategic
. . . an Air Force official explained that because
DLA [Defense Logistics Agency] and each of the services
their own plans to incorporate passive RFID into
business processes, there is a possibility that implementation
in each service could be different, leading to limited
interoperability among the services. If passive RFID
implementation is not
interoperable among the services, this could lead
to inefficiencies that could be avoided if interoperability
had been built into
the services’ passive RFID implementation plans
as these plans developed.
Understanding Multiple Logistics Systems
Because of the wide scope of DOD, few joint logisticians
have a solid understanding of the logistics procedures
of all four military services, contracting, and the
wholesale and retail sides of supply and transportation.
Nor do they understand the complexities involved in
moving supplies and (just as importantly) moving information
about the supplies. Almost all logisticians holding
a rank of sergeant and above are involved in managing
information, not physically offloading, storing, issuing,
or transporting supplies. Their focus is on obtaining
data and converting them into actionable logistics information.
This job has been challenging because the software systems
that they have been using are not interoperable with
other systems, are extremely manpower intensive, and
are difficult to understand.
Moreover, the accompanying software manuals are written
at levels that are not understandable by the intended users.
In fact, large portions of these manuals, which also must
be used by privates and corporals, have been written by
software engineers. All of this makes the job of logistics
managers especially trying. Very few readable manuals are
available to teach DOD logisticians about logistics
management information systems. Even logistics manuals
that are not software related are difficult to read. Military
Standard (MIL–STD) 129P, Military Marking for Shipment
and Storage, for example, is difficult to comprehend for
tactical users, who must follow its guidelines when shipping
items from one deployed distribution area to another.
Adequate training is not available to teach logisticians
how to operate disparate logistics systems because much
of the military logistics field has no civilian counterpart.
It is relatively easy to develop military medical doctrine
for first aid, for example, because a great deal of information
is widely available and has already been published. In
comparison, no civilian publications are available that
describe how to deploy and sustain large forces over thousands
of miles in austere environments.
To write useful, comprehensive doctrine about this type
of topic takes a special individual—someone with
strategic, operational, and tactical real-world experience
and a broad logistics background, who can put the knowledge
within a larger context and has the ability to write well.
These individuals are rare. In academia, this role is filled
by people who have doctoral degrees; they know the topic,
they teach it, and they write about it. As a rule, in the
military, because of the up-tempo of real-world deployments,
adequate time and resources are not always allocated to
the task of developing quality logistics information system
Assessing Stock Levels
Because past logistics leaders were not always able to
attain a total system’s perspective, less than optimal
decisions were made. In some cases, unit and direct support
stocks were reduced to dangerously low levels. To prevent
future stock outs of critical, life-sustaining items such
as ammunition, fuel, food, water, and repair parts, inventories
of these items should be maintained at several locations.
Safety levels of stock are required whenever demand is
inconsistent and transportation can be interrupted by weather,
maintenance issues, or enemy action. Frankly, since demand
is usually inconsistent and transportation is frequently
unreliable, an inventory of safety stock must be kept somewhere
and visibility of this stock is crucial.
Before the Internet, legacy systems were designed to stand
alone. Without the World Wide Web, stakeholders had no
centralized information repository from which they could
access logistics information. As a result, many of the
different services and agencies designed their own codes
or naming conventions; methods were not standardized. However,
with the World Wide Web, this has changed. All stakeholders
now can visit logistics information repositories, like
the Federal Logistics Information System, to find the naming,
numbering, and coding conventions for items of supply.
DOD activity address code (DODAAC) type address codes (TACs)
can be accessed through the Defense Automatic Addressing
System Center (DAASC). Approved unit names and home station
addresses can be accessed using the Global Status of Resources
and Training System (GSORTS) and the Defense Readiness
Reporting System (DRRS). Now that these system-wide databases
are in place, DOD joint logisticians can ensure that only
one authoritative source is used for each specific logistics-related
data element and that this source is known to the entire
DOD community. In effect, all automated information systems
now can use the same codes, names, and
numbers. This is important because exactness is critical
in the sharing and interoperability of databases.
The phrase “the last tactical mile” is misleading.
It downplays the difficulties involved in using intratheater
transportation assets for distributing supplies to ground
forces scattered across tens of thousands of square miles.
It also downplays the difficulty in obtaining and maintaining
visibility of these supplies as they are moved and stored.
Distribution has been a challenge primarily for ground
forces. Their operating environments often have truck shortages,
inadequate or overcrowded road and rail networks, and absent
or insufficient telecommunications for controlling distribution.
By comparison, ships at sea are usually well stocked and
can be readily resupplied while underway or in port; moreover,
these vessels are usually equipped with sophisticated onboard
telecommunications. Similarly, deployed Air Force units
usually occupy existing airfields that have lines of communication
and life support, such as electrical power, running water,
level ground, and some type of communications.
Steps Toward Improving Asset Visibility
To overcome the challenges associated with asset visibility, DOD and its
services and agencies are pursuing many initiatives. For instance, DOD
has established a combatant command logistics information technology roundtable
in order to stay abreast of technological innovations that affect automatic
identification technology (AIT) and asset visibility and to develop recommendations
on how best to exploit those innovations.
DLA’s Defense Logistics Information Service (DLIS) has absorbed the
JTAV software system that was previously managed by the U.S. Joint Forces
Command, using it as a basis for its new software system called “Asset
Visibility.” This new program uses commercial off-the-shelf software
and has a 231-page user’s guide and a computer-based training program
offered through its webpage.
To improve the logistics information flow across the DOD supply chain,
the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) and DLA have established a single
program executive office that will oversee TRANSCOM’s Global Transportation
Network and DLA’s Integrated Data Environment. The goal is to provide
cohesive information regarding the supply chain, specifically distribution
and cargo movement.
To ensure the ever-increasing timeliness of data, DOD is making solid progress
in connecting logisticians. With increasing frequency, the logistics data
of dispersed tactical-level ground forces are being transmitted using very
small aperture terminal (VSAT) technology. This allows direct support-level
and unit-level computers loaded with logistics software, such as the Unit
Level Logistics System (ULLS), the Battle Command Sustainment Support System
(BCS3), and the Assessment Tool for Land Systems (ATLAS), to connect to
a device that links the computer data to an outdoor, dish-shaped transceiver
located nearby. The dish antenna then transmits or receives data to or
from an orbiting satellite within the antennae’s direct line of sight.
The diameters of most legacy antennae dishes are 10 meters wide or more,
but the VSATs are only 0.6 to 3.8 meters wide. They can process about 56
kilobytes per second.
The Army is using VSATs in conjunction with its Combat Service Support
Automated Information Systems Interface (CAISI). CAISI is a wireless interface
that connects VSAT communications with local and wide area networks. The
VSAT/CAISI network can be set up in less than 30 minutes. The current combat
service support VSAT system weighs about 500 pounds and is transportable
in four transit cases.
In addition to the VSAT, DOD is testing the joint modular intermodal distribution
system (JMIDS). JMIDS will provide a means to move supplies from DOD depots
and vendor locations to the tactical locations of forward-deployed forces.
It has three components: a container (the joint modular intermodal container
[JMIC]), a platform on which containers are placed for movement or storage
(the joint modular intermodal platform [JMIP]), and an AIT device (currently
an active RFID tag).
Although DOD has yet to make a decision on the final dimensions of the
JMICs, they will be around 52 inches long, 44 inches wide, and 43 inches
tall. Some designs show that JMICs will be able to be stacked one atop
another. An empty JMIC will weigh about 325 pounds. (The DOD goal is to
reduce this to 250 pounds.) Yet it will be capable of holding about 2,500
additional pounds. To save space, the JMIC is being designed to be collapsible
when empty; when collapsed, it will consume about 40 percent of the space
it would occupy when expanded. (The DOD goal is to reduce this to 25 percent.)
Depending on design, JMICs will be forklift accessible from either four
or two sides and will be capable of being hauled via sling load by helicopters,
such as the UH–60 Black Hawk, CH–53 Sea Stallion, and CH–47
Chinook, as well as the MV–22 Osprey. They also will be transferable
at sea from one ship to another via vertical (by helicopter) or horizontal
(by cables temporarily connecting two moving ships) replenishment.
The JMIP is a flatrack known as a containerized roll-in/out platform (CROP),
which itself weighs about 4,000 pounds. It is being designed for placement
on the logistics rail systems of military aircraft without the need for
463L pallets. A JMIP loaded with 8 JMICs will fit within a standard 20-foot
The Army is continually improving its procedures for global supply chain
asset visibility. The Army Materiel Command’s Logistics Support Activity
(LOGSA) is working to integrate the Logistics Integrated Data Base (LIDB)
and the Integrated Logistics Analysis Program (ILAP) into an overarching
logistics database called the Logistics Information Warehouse.
To encourage an understanding of the importance of these logistics management
information programs and others like them from a global supply chain perspective,
the Department of the Army now recognizes those who achieve the SOLE Certified
Professional Logistician designation by adding this to officer record briefs
and official military personnel folders. (See the article, “The Certified
Professional Logistician Program,” published in the March–April
2001 issue of Army Logistician.)
By using these innovations, logisticians in the near future will have access
to the information they need to determine the whereabouts of supplies and
equipment throughout the entire DOD supply chain, whether they are in transit,
in storage, or in the process of being requisitioned.
Lieutenant Colonel James C. Bates, USA (Ret.), works for Alion Science
and Technology as a senior analyst. He is a certified professional logistician
and a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and holds
an M.B.A. degree from the University of Hawaii. He can be contacted at
|The joint modular
intermodal distribution system (JMIDS) is an Office
of the Secretary of Defense Advanced Systems and
Concepts sponsored, Congress approved, $36 million,
fiscal year 2006 Joint Capability Technology Demonstration
(JCTD). The JCTD participants include the Army, Navy,
Air Force, Marine Corps, Defense Logistics Agency,
and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence.
The combatant command sponsor is the U.S. Transportation
JMIDS is comprised of three main components: the
joint modular intermodal container (JMIC), the joint
modular intermodal platform (JMIP) and integrated
automatic identification technology (AIT) that enables
users to track and monitor shipments.
JMIC is a joint service modular container that is
designed for use with all classes of supply, locks
top to bottom for stacking multiple JMICs, and is
collapsible for storage and retrograde. In the future,
JMICs may be provided to manufacturers for packing
purchased items directly in the container for shipment
to requesting units. The model of JMIC produced for
demonstration is available now under national stock
number 8145–01–551–5311. Other
JMIC models, such as open framed, are planned for
JMIP is an intermodal platform that has locking features
on its cargo deck for locking JMICs directly to it
without the need for banding and strapping. It can
be used for land transport of cargo or converted
to be air transportable in cargo aircraft without
the need of 463L pallets. It is designed to be inserted
and extracted directly to and from cargo aircraft
by tactical load handling system trucks, eliminating
the need for materials-
handling equipment at the airfield. JMIP is
not yet ready for procurement because of developmental
issues that have required its return for further
JMIDS will provide the military with seamless intermodal
connectivity, which will result in cost savings and
faster throughput to the end user.