New system makes tracking supplies easier

  • Published
  • By Petty Officer Gary Henry
  • Navy Information Bureau Kansas City
In Afghanistan and other austere locations, U.S. troops are now able to better track their orders of vital supplies. That is because of recent efforts by U.S. Transportation Command officials to improve the "in-transit visibility" of people and cargo moving through the Defense Transportation System.

"Tracking makes planning easier," said Lori Jones, chief of the in-transit visibility branch at USTRANSCOM.

Unfortunately, that has not always been the case, she said.

The whereabouts or in-transit visibility of people and cargo is frequently a mystery to the frontline warfighters who need that information the most, she said.

In-transit visibility is the military's long-sought goal to clearly track the identity, status and location of traveling people and cargo from origin to destination, and to make that information available to warfighters throughout the chain of command.

That means now, with a few clicks of a mouse on a laptop in Afghanistan, a supply sergeant can tell his commander that a crucial shipment of parts from the United States has landed in Kabul and is scheduled to arrive by truck the next day.

"ITV is crucial for planning, in war or peace," Jones said.

It is more of a reality now, she said, at close to 100-percent manifest level reliability for intratheater. But until recently, it was a dream, particularly in and around Afghanistan.

The need for a reliable tracking system became painfully apparent during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Thousands of containers arriving in theater had to be opened and inspected just to find out what was in them before sending them on, Jones explained. It cost time, effort and uncertainty.

As recently as December, Operation Enduring Freedom troops in U.S. Central Command had difficulty tracking their re-supply items such as food, water and ammunition they needed to get the job done.

"These locations are remote and austere," Jones said. "There's no infrastructure. Units were filling out logistical paperwork, but it wasn't going anywhere into any kind of reporting system. People just couldn't tell where and when the things they needed would arrive."

The effort to support the warfighter and provide near-real time ITV began in earnest right after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, Jones explained.

That is when USTRANSCOM's Brig. Gen. Gil Hawk headed up a "cell" or task force whose job was to resolve differences in tracking and reporting procedures throughout the different branches.

"They resolved fire wall and data exchange issues throughout all the different services," Jones said. "The team consisted of active-duty military, reservists, government civilians, and civilian contractors. They worked 24/7."

By December, Hawk's group laid the groundwork for ensuring critical information exchanges were clearly passed to USTRANSCOM's Global Transportation Network. GTN links the services and defense agencies logistics systems throughout the DOD and the commercial carrier information into one integrated database. GTN is the DOD's designated in-transit visibility system of record.

That done, the effort took on an operational flavor and focused energy to ensure CENTCOM locations had needed capability to report movements into and out of the theater, Jones said. Air Force Maj. Gen. William Welser III led the cell in putting reporting and tracking procedures in place for logisticians throughout the military -- with an emphasis on getting people in the remote and dangerous areas of USCENTCOM plugged into the system.

Air Mobility Command, part of USTRANSCOM and also based here, sent special training teams into Afghanistan. The teams installed equipment and trained aerial port workers on how to use the latest technology.

Jones explained that within weeks the teams brought the ability to receipt and process critical movements into and within the theater supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Though that was a priority, Welser's group continued -- and continues today -- to train logisticians across the DOD, in order to get everyone more fully plugged in to GTN.

Discipline and compliance with documentation procedures is the key to the system. As with any automated system, garbage in equals garbage out, said Jones. Training of personnel is vital so that they understand the key role they play ensuring senior leaders and troops across the board have the necessary information for decision-making.

"So we're constantly training, tracking and refining the system," she said. "All with the goal of 100 percent in-transit visibility across the board.

"We've had several days in a row of 100 percent ITV," Jones reports. "On Aug. 22, we had the cargo and passengers reported on 53 of 53 intratheater missions, and on 21 of 23 intertheater missions (97 percent ITV). This is just a portion of the total spectrum."

"We never expected this level of success so soon," Jones said. "Back in January we were hoping for a 60 percent ITV rate by summer."

Though USTRANSCOM and DOD officials have made logistical improvement in ITV, they are still only about a third of the way to where they want to go.

"Total asset visibility is our ultimate goal," Jones said.

She explained that while GTN can report on items in transit, material in storage or in repair is a different story. Discussions and research are currently under way on TAV. (Courtesy of USTRANSCOM New Service)