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Distribution Management in the 1st COSCOM

The newly created 1st Corps Support Command Fusion Cell
managed all classes of supply on the Iraqi battlefield.

Acquiring and maintaining visibility of the flow of commodities throughout a Texas-sized battlespace is a daunting task. However, while deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the 1st Corps Support Command (COSCOM) created an Iraq-wide ground and air traffic control station called a “fusion cell” that successfully managed this mammoth task. This article discusses the factors leading to the establishment of the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell, the processes and enablers that fed it, and, finally, its accomplishments in support of OIF 04–06.


In August 2003, the commanding general of 1st COSCOM directed that the 2d Corps Materiel Management Center (CMMC) be converted to a corps distribution command (CDC). This transformation centralized all logistics oversight for the XVIII Airborne Corps under one O6 commander who would be responsive to the warfighter. It merged CMMC materiel management functions and the 330th Transportation Battalion movement control operations under one brigade command structure. It also established various distribution management teams to provide additional materiel management oversight to separate brigade combat teams (BCTs) and corps support groups (CSGs). The CDC’s mission was to perform “time-definite” materiel and distribution management of all classes of supply (less class VIII [medical materiel], classified maps, and communications security) and manage maintenance for all assigned and at-tached XVIII Airborne Corps units.

The 1st COSCOM’s overarching objective during its deployment was to sustain the momentum of Multinational Corps-Iraq (MNC–I) combat operations. To do this, the command’s logisticians first had to gain accurate and consistent visibility of MNC–I needs, requisition the required commodities, link them to a distribution asset (ground convoy or air transport), synchronize their movement, and track them to their final destination. This sounds like a simple concept, but the actual process is complicated and involves many distribution enablers, Soldiers, and systems that are geared toward supporting the warfighter.

Achieving Total Asset Visibility

Gaining and maintaining total asset visibility (TAV) on the battlefield requires resourcing and training. TAV also requires a closed-looped supply chain management process that links systems and enablers from the strategic level to the tactical warfighter. It requires a common support system, such as the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3), which relies on multiple feeder subsystems to gain Logistics Common Operating Picture (LCOP) visibility. Among the subsystems feeding into BCS3 are radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and fixed-site interrogators, which give commodity visibility; the Movement Tracking System (MTS), which tracks the trucks carrying commodities as they move; and the Deployment Asset Visibility System (DAVS), which queries trucks, indicates what they carry, and even identifies the drivers and passengers of the trucks as they move.

A closed-loop supply system allows logisticians to change the destination of en route commodities and disseminate updated intelligence spot reports as events occur. Designing a fusion cell for combat operations was the first step in making the “simple” TAV concept a reality.

Fusion Cell Processes and Enablers

During preparations for OIF 04–06, the CDC experimented with different types of organizational structures to enhance distribution management at the corps level, finally settling on the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell.

The 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell consisted of —
• The CMMC commodity managers of classes I (subsistence), II (clothing and individual equipment), IIIB (bulk petroleum, oils, and lubricants [POL]), IIIP (packaged POL), IV (construction and barrier materials), V (ammunition), and VII (major end items). These managers were charged with tracking and controlling the replenishment of listed stocks at the general support (GS) and direct support (DS) levels across the MNC–I area of operations.
• The 330th Transportation Battalion’s Highway Traffic Division, which was charged with controlling the flow of ground and air distribution assets across Iraq. It was directly linked to the 24 movement control teams operating in Iraq and was, in essence, the eyes and ears of the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell in the daily execution of distribution operations.
• An embedded BCT Tactical Assessment Cell (TAC). In asymmetric warfare, convoys are combat logistics patrols, and, as such, they require careful planning, execution, and leadership. All logistics units require a force-protection element. For a COSCOM (or, in the future modular Army, a deployable command post), a separate but assigned BCT is essential to provide command and control for convoy escorts. Placing a BCT TAC into the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell permitted the cell to coordinate convoy force protection with the 330th Transportation Battalion’s Transportation Integration Cell, which was charged with synchronizing the movement of convoys around the clock. Each convoy consisted of approximately 20 vehicles and included equipment such as stake-and-platform trailers with 20- or 40-foot containers, refrigerated vans, and heavy equipment transporters. Based on the threat level, three to five combat gun trucks were assigned to escort each convoy.
• Key leaders (lieutenant colonels and majors) from both the CDC’s Support Operations Section and 330th Transportation Battalion to oversee daily distribution management operations.

Two groups of personnel worked 12-hour shifts in the fusion cell throughout OIF 04–06—approximately 60 personnel on the day shift and 50 on the night shift. The cell was situated under the same roof and less than 50 feet from the 1st COSCOM Joint Tactical Operations Center. The chart below shows the general layout of the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell.

During OIF 04–06, the commodity managers received daily brigade-level logistics status reports, munitions reports, POL requests, and high-priority call-ins for selected stocks. They filled the warfighters’ requirements by releasing items from stocks in Iraq or Kuwait or by requisitioning them from the appropriate national provider and wholesale systems.

Movements Synchronization Board

At 1130 each day, a Movements Synchronization Board, co-chaired by the senior CDC Support Operations Officer in charge and the Chief of the Transportation Integration Cell, was convened in the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell. Participants were able to “lock in” all combat logistics patrols and air movements across Iraq 48 hours in advance of convoy movement and to plan, as far as 96 hours out, commodity movement details down to the individual truck or plane that would be used. Specifically, the commodity managers verified their requirements with the transportation and movement control officers from the 330th Transportation Battalion and with the liaison officers representing each of the CSGs and primary major subordinate commands (MSCs) in the MNC–I.

The Movements Synchronization Board process was captured in an Excel spreadsheet called the Movements Control Program, which was used to synchronize the distribution of commodities. The next iteration of this program should migrate to BCS3 as soon as the command and control guard (used to scan documents before releasing them in multilevel security environments) is approved and in place. This will simplify the process and drastically decrease the man-hours required to keep the theater-level movement program current.

During the Movements Synchronization Board meetings, representatives from 1st COSCOM’s 56th BCT aligned gun truck escorts to ground convoys. Not later than 1800 each day, the Movements Control Program became a sanctioned corps-level fragmentary order that locked in movements by theater- or COSCOM-level convoys or CH–47 Chinook helicopter or C–23 Sherpa air transports. When a convoy start time had to be adjusted within the 48-hour window, colonel-to-colonel coordination and approval kept combat service support (CSS) units from being jerked around as they prepared ground convoys for travel on improvised explosive device (IED)-filled highways.

The entire distribution management process was extremely fluid. Continuous movement updates were driven by actions on the battlefield. The noncommissioned officers and enlisted Soldiers of the Highway Traffic Division tracked the daily convoys and flights across Iraq, including those coming into and leaving MNC–I’s area of operations.

The automation systems and enablers used by the fusion cell were essential to daily operations. From the beginning, CSS providers were expected to have full visibility of the distribution network. Many stovepipe systems do not provide the information or processes needed. BCS3 was used as the baseline system to monitor transportation movement requests using MTS and DAVS. DAVS was used to gain real-time visibility of assets moving across the battlefield. Other key systems, such as the Blue Force Tracker and the Single Mobility System, helped provide situational awareness of battlefield impacts.

In its quest for TAV, 1st COSCOM used the Army RFID tag system, coupled with the DAVS (see the chart on page 14.) This was possible because a limited number of DAVS (18 units) had been fielded in Iraq. Today, even with limited fielding, 1st COSCOM is manifesting and has visibility of over 70 percent of its combat logistics patrols (cargo and personnel). This is an unprecedented level of situational awareness using DAVS/BCS3 as an asset visibility and command, control, and communications system. While DAVS may not be the final solution to TAV problems in the theater, it is the only one currently available, so it is being used to do the job in Iraq today.

Fusion Cell Accomplishments

The functions performed by the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell were essential to synchronizing and distributing the supplies OIF 04–06 warfighters required. The Fusion Cell—
• Generated daily fragmentary orders, driven by the MNC–I Movements Control Program, that locked all COSCOM and theater convoys and air transports into a 48-hour schedule.
• Synchronized the efficient use of combat logistics patrols under a single command and control element (the 56th BCT).
• Synchronized the efficient use of all COSCOM and theater transportation assets, both those coming into Iraq and those backhauling assets out. During its OIF 04–06 tenure, 1st COSCOM averaged 98-percent use of all backhaul assets, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
• Facilitated the expansion of nine Iraqi airfields through which critical repair parts, medical supplies, and passengers were moved, which lessened the number of convoys required to travel on IED-laden Iraqi highways.
• Synchronized MSC force protection, route security, and medical evacuation as ground convoys crossed MSC boundaries.
• Provided up-to-date intelligence on battlefield events and concerns to the convoys before they departed their start points.
• Gave the 1st COSCOM commander the capability to redirect convoys to safe havens or divert to other forward operating bases when enemy attacks or IED encounters shut down the chosen route.

Throughout its OIF 04–06 tenure, the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell kept MNC–I supplies flowing and maintained readiness, thereby sustaining the momentum of combat operations. The fusion cell routinely synchronized and tracked over 200 convoys a day. As of September 2005, more than 43,245 convoys (734,753 trucks) had “rolled” since the December 2004 transition of authority to 1st COSCOM. During that same time, more than 116,312 pallets of supplies had been moved by air through 9 airfields in Iraq and 2 in Kuwait. The use of air transports meant that 29,078 ground convoys did not have to traverse dangerous Iraqi highways to deliver supplies.

Looking Ahead

Logisticians supporting future fights must gain and maintain logistics visibility and play an active role in synchronizing the flow of commodities to the warfighter. As resources become scarcer, logisticians must look for innovative ways to be efficient without sacrificing effectiveness. Supporting Soldiers at the tip of the spear is the final determinant of success for CSS warriors.

Although the Army’s CSS structure is changing with the establishment of sustainment brigades, deployable command posts, and restructured theater sustainment commands, many of the lessons learned by the 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell are still applicable. The support operations section of the sustainment brigade can use fusion cell-type processes to synchronize BCT distribution support. The deployable command post can establish a fusion cell to link strategic and operational pushes directly to the base support battalion of the BCT, thereby reducing double-handling of commodities at GS hubs. By using a fusion cell, the theater sustainment command can access and “see,” through BCS3, the types of commodities its subordinate deployable command posts and sustainment brigades are using to support the warfighter.

The 1st COSCOM Fusion Cell provided the visibility needed to support the fight during OIF 04–06. Warfighters wanted the assurance that they would get what they needed when they needed it. The fusion cell provided that assurance.

Colonel Mark W. Akin is the Commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps Distribution Command, 1st Corps Support Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He has a B.A. degree in management from Texas A&M University, an M.S. degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology, and an M.S. degree in national resource strategy from the National Defense University. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.