U.S. plans to upgrade logistics in Iraq

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The U.S. military plans to revise its logistics effort in Iraq.

The revision was ordered in wake of a U.S. Army report that the combat supply system fell short of expectations during the war in Iraq in 2003.

Officials said the overseas logistics suffered from a lack of communications between supply procurers, transporters and customers.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Dail, director of operations at U.S. Transportation Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., said the war in Iraq revealed communication problems between front-line combat units and their rear-line suppliers. He said better integration across the supply and transport chains was required.

One problem identified was that combat commanders were held responsible for the delivery of supplies and troops. The U.S. Army found that the system did not work well in Iraq amid the rigidity of the logistics support system.

Officials also attributed the supply problems in Iraq to the use of separate information and command and control systems by logicians and combat commanders.

The Defense Department has decided to introduce a new information technology system, termed Transcom, into overseas operations, including Iraq. Dail said this would produce "a tremendous improvement" in how the military provides supplies and services to soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in the field.

"No longer are we just looking from the national level at providing forces and delivering goods to overseas airports and seaports," Dail said.

"But now, we're looking at delivering them and tracking them all the way to forward locations, and northern locations in Iraq, far-forward locations in Afghanistan."

U.S. officials said the Pentagon also wants the military to maintain a close watch on expensive equipment to ensure that they are not lost and stolen. The officials said the Pentagon has helped U.S. Central Command, responsible for the campaign in Iraq, to introduce technology that would track equipment at all times.

The Pentagon has been testing what officials termed radio-frequency identification technology that would allow logistics units to track down equipment. The project would seek to develop radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags that would send signals that could be tracked for short distances.

"It will give us better tracking of inventory so we'll know what we have in stock, where it is and where it is in motion," Alan Estevez, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for supply chain integration, said. "When the troops overseas order supplies, we'll be able to get our hands on the supplies they need and move it to them in the most effective manner."

The tags would contain microchips that, when scanned, send out a unique identification signal. The tags, which equate data with an item, could be quickly added to inventory databases and provide a real-time picture of logistics and supplies. Under the new system, RFID would automatically relay information to an inventory accountability system, eliminating the need for troops to scan these items.

Officials said the Pentagon first used a form of RFID to track container shipments during the U.S.-led war in Iraq in March 2003. They said the tags would be used on items with a value of more than $5,000, including key components of major weapons platforms and weapons tracked by serial numbers daily.

On April 8, Defense Department officials met hundreds of vendors to discuss plans for implementing RFID technology in the military. Many U.S. retail stores and chains already use RFID tags to track products and control inventory costs.

"We don't think our requirements are significantly different or different at all from those in the commercial sector," Ed Coyle, chief of the Pentagon's Automatic Identification Technology Office, said. "And from that perspective, we need to play very heavily with those in the commercial sector to make sure that the product we come up with collectively meets DoD's requirements. We don't want to have to be unique."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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