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Joint Force Logistics:
Keeping Track of Forces on the Move

The more logisticians know about pinpointing the locations of deployed forces, tracking the supplies en route to them, and monitoring relevant logistics information, the better they can provide support to those forces.

“Location, location, location!” This phrase, frequently the mantra of realtors, also resonates among logisticians, who need to know the locations of airports, seaports, transportation hubs, container consolidation points, container-holding areas, container-receiving and shipment points, containers, 463L pallets, multipacks, supplies, equipment, and units. Perhaps more important, they need to know how to find logistics information about all of these.

As this article will show, we still have a long way to go in order to track accurately the locations of items in shipment. However, in a follow-up article in the March–April issue of Army Logistician, I will discuss how far we have already come in our ability to locate items that are in the military supply pipeline.

Location Identification

Identifying locations sounds simple; however, identifying the locations of our military forces is not. That is because of their expeditionary nature, which means that their locations are always changing. A 200-man unit might be at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, one week; Ram-stein, Germany, the next; and Bagram, Afghanistan, the following week. The ports support-ing this unit would change as it moved and so would the trans-shipment areas of supplies destined for it. Similarly, the locations of some of the computers and servers used to track logistics information related to those sup-plies also would change. The same applies to ships at sea and Air Force units at temporary bed-down sites.

In the United States, we usually identify locations by street address, city, state, and ZIP code. However, there are no such addresses associated with units in the deserts of Afghanistan, the jungles of the Philippines, or the frozen tundra of Siberia, where the streets—if there are any—have no names. Worldwide, we identify the locations of the computers and servers that track supply and transportation information by phone numbers and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Consequently, the better we understand the complexities of identifying the locations of transient forces, the equipment and supplies destined for them, and related logistics information, the better we will be able to support our deployed forces.

Location Coding

Besides street addresses, there are many types of addresses; some identify physical locations and others identify virtual addresses. They include U.S. Postal Service post office box locations, supplementary addresses, billing addresses, in-the-clear addresses, Army post office and fleet post office addresses, email addresses, mark-for addresses, IP addresses, and type address codes.

Many military addresses are in code for ease of processing by Defense Transportation Regulation (DTR) software, electronic data inter-change formats, and logistics management information systems such as the Global Transportation Network (GTN) and the Joint Operations Planning and Execution System (JOPES). For instance, JOPES uses a coding convention known as GEOLOC (an acronym for “geographic location”) to represent locations. (See “JOPES and Joint Force Deployments” in the May–June 2004 issue of Army Logistician.)

GEOLOC codes are four-character, alphabetic designations that represent specific places in the world, including airports, seaports, and military installations. About 55,000 different GEOLOC codes (maintained by the Defense Information Systems Agency) are stored in the JOPES database. Along with the GEOLOC codes, the JOPES database displays a truncated (less than 20 characters) data element called the “GEO name,” which is the abbreviated name for the GEOLOC.

In contrast, the DTR (Department of Defense [DOD] Regulation 4500.9–R) uses airport codes (also called aerial port of embarkation codes and aerial port of debarkation codes) to identify locations. These three-character, alphabetic codes are used within DOD transportation documents to portray the name and city or military base of air terminals worldwide. For instance, the airport code for Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, is NIP. The airport code for Robert Gray Army Airfield at Fort Hood, Texas, is GRK. The GEOLOCs of these two locations are LSGE and UHGN, respectively. You will notice that the two coding methods are incompatible. Some DOD data-bases use the airport code, while others use the GEOLOC. Although the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) has software programs that can convert the two, doing so requires manual intervention.

Besides airport codes, the DTR also uses water port identification codes. As is often the case, the difference in the construct of the data elements results from the use of legacy, stovepiped logistics management information systems.

Not surprisingly, the commercial transportation sector also uses multiple methods of coding locations. This directly affects DOD since most military cargo is carried by commercial transporters. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) codes are four-character alphabetic airport identifier codes that identify individual airports worldwide. They are used in flight plans to indicate departure, destination, and alternate airfields. There are about 2,815 ICAO codes. The first two letters of the ICAO code usually identify the country. In the continental United States (CONUS), however, ICAO codes normally consist of a “K” followed by an airport’s three-letter International Air Transport Association (IATA) code. At least 10,000 airports around the world use IATA codes, although the majority of these airports are simply dirt strips or fields with no international traffic.

While some codes identify air and water ship-ments, others identify ground shipments. Standard point location codes (SPLCs) are used by the National Motor Freight Association to provide each point originating freight and each point receiving freight in North America with a unique code number that identifies the point with its geographic location. An SPLC includes two digits that denote state, county, and city and an additional seven digits that identify areas within the cities and counties more specifically. “Point” refers to a particular city, town, village, community, railroad station, or other named area.

Joint logisticians not only need to be familiar with the location codes used by DTR software, JOPES, and GTN but also to understand commercial codes since the private sector moves over 85 percent of all DOD cargo. Because DOD and the commercial sec-tor do not use standardized methods to indicate locations, identifying delivery points is much more difficult than it first appears.

The use of diverse location codes leads to logistics management systems that are not interoperable. Non-standard, location-related data elements lead to non-standard databases that, in turn, lead to flawed and unreliable information systems. This is one of the reasons that total asset visibility is inadequate and overarching information systems such as JOPES, Joint Total Asset Visibility, and GTN are incompati-ble at times. It is no wonder that it is so challenging for contractors, service members, Government civilians, and vendors to obtain correct location information.

Physical and Virtual Ordering and Shipping

Tracking the location of supplies and the information about them is complicated because military units move frequently, equipment and supplies destined for deployed units are carried by both commercial and military transportation systems, and various methods are used to identify locations. In the civilian sector, the person ordering an item is usually the only one interested in tracking the progress of its delivery, and he is the sole contact for decisions affecting price and delivery terms. In DOD, on the other hand, many players may be interested in maintaining situational awareness of an item from the time it is ordered until it is delivered. Also, people other than the person ordering the item are tasked with selecting the supplier, the transporter, and the delivery route.

For example, look at the physical and virtual locations associated with ordering a repair part for a high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle (humvee). The primary operator of the humvee is probably the first person to notice if a headlamp is out. He informs the repair parts (class IX) ordering clerk in his unit. If the part is not stocked at the unit (as indicated by information in the Unit Level Logistics System computer), the clerk informs his counterpart at the supply support activity (SSA), which is the class IX direct support unit (DSU), of the need for a headlamp. If the part is not stocked at the DSU, the SSA class IX clerk enters a requisition into the automated parts-ordering system. At this point, the vehicle operator, the unit repair parts ordering clerk, and the SSA repair parts ordering clerk do not know which supplier will be filling the order, which transporter will be used, or which delivery route will be taken.

The requisition is transmitted by a service-related automated system, such as the Army’s Standard Army Retail Supply System or the Marine Corps’ Supported Activity Supply System, to the Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA’s) Defense Automatic Addressing System Center (DAASC) and then to the appropriate inventory control point. Subsequently, it is routed to the DOD controlled-storage depot that stores the headlamp. As a general rule, the entire order is automated. If the part is not available at a DOD storage site, the order for the headlamp is sent to the commercial vendor under contract to provide it.

This repair parts ordering process is accomplished virtually by moving electrons through automated logistics management information systems. Information about the status of the delivery of the part also involves electrons, but the physical delivery of the part depends on transportation. If the unit is deployed overseas, moving both the information-related electrons and the actual repair part becomes much more complex.

Civilian Versus Military Delivery

Why is it so much harder to track the delivery status of an item ordered through DOD systems than it is to track an item ordered through commercial systems? One of the major reasons is the greater number of locations, both physical and virtual, that are involved with military orders. Let’s compare the military parts ordering process with the process used for a simple civilian order.

Civilian delivery. When a headlamp burns out on a civilian car, the owner visits his local auto parts store either to purchase the part if it is available or to request that the store order the part for him. The owner can choose to order the part himself from a manufacturer or from a mail-order parts distributor using the Internet. If the Internet is used, the owner, as the requester and decision-maker, is aware of all pertinent supply and transportation information. He knows the purchase price, the name and addresses (email and street) of the vendor, the date he ordered the part, the nomenclature and related part number, the cost of shipping, the estimated delivery date, and the delivery street address. He also knows the vendor order number, which will help him track the delivery of the item. During the ordering process, the owner knows if there is a minimum order quantity; if so, he may have to purchase two headlamps instead of one. He also is alerted if the part he wants is no longer available and if a similar part can be substituted. As a general rule, only the car owner (the requester), the vendor, and the vendor’s shipper have an interest in this order.

Military delivery. In the military, many people other than the requester are interested in the ordering, delivery, and receipt of a repair part, and they (or those who work for them) will visit the virtual storage locations of appropriate logistics information to find answers to their questions. First, the humvee driver wants to know when his headlamp will arrive so that he can drive at night again. The repair parts clerk wants to know so that he can close out the order. The unit maintenance officer wants to know because he hopes to use this type of information to improve readiness. The unit commander wants to know about the status of the part so that he can brief his battalion S–4 and commander on the status of his unit’s equipment readiness. (He also wants the headlamp so that he can use his vehicle at night.)

The battalion commander and S–4 want to keep abreast of when the part will arrive and when it will be installed; so do the DSU repair parts-ordering clerk, the DSU support operations officer, DAASC, the division materiel management center, the corps materiel management center, and the Army Materiel Command’s Logistics Support Activity. The final three organizations review aggregate parts-on-order data to uncover trends affecting entire fleet readiness.

If the repair part is needed to restore a pacing item, such as an M1A2 Abrams tank or a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, to fully mission-capable status, commanders at many levels will be interested in knowing the current location of the part, when it will be arriving at the unit, and when a mechanic will install it. (A pacing item is a major weapon system, such as a tank or an aircraft, that is central to an organization’s ability to perform its assigned mission.)

Unlike the civilian driver, the humvee driver is not aware of much of the logistics information that others need to know in order to track the status of the head-lamp delivery. He and the unit repair parts requester know the nomenclature, part number, and ordering date, but they do not know the DSU requisition number, who will supply the part, who will deliver the part, the estimated delivery date, or if there are any associated delivery costs or special requirements, such as minimum order quantities, potential substitutions, or additional transportation costs. Not readily knowing this type of information or the virtual location of this information makes it difficult for logisticians to track the location of the repair part via logistics management information systems.

Tracking movement information about the repair part and the physical movement of the part itself involves many more virtual and physical locations in the military sector than in the civilian sector. Military supply personnel track supply information by the document number (derived from a unit’s DOD activity address code [DODAAC], the Julian date the item was ordered, and the item’s serial number). Military transportation personnel track supply movement information using the transportation control number (TCN) and Government bill of lading. Supply personnel think in terms of national stock numbers and nomenclatures, while transporters think in terms of trucks, containers, ships, aircraft, and pallets.

Military financial personnel track costs and payments by account processing codes, fiscal station numbers, and DODAACs. Unless accurate and thorough financial information is included in the documentation, the item will not be moved. Neither the commercial sector nor TRANSCOM moves cargo for free.

Impact of Size on Supply

The size and location of supply items significantly affect the process used to transport them. Suppose that a CONUS-based logistician, Sergeant Makit Happen, is tasked to ensure delivery of two critical repair parts to her unit, which recently departed for Iraq. One of the items is a 1-pound flywheel available only from a commercial vendor. The other is a 300-pound engine that is located at her installation’s SSA. Both items are needed immediately by the deploying unit for a newly fielded vehicle.

A few days before its departure, Sergeant Happen’s unit had used standard requisitioning procedures to order both items. Among the many data elements captured in the supply request was the unit’s DODAAC. (Most units assigned a unit identification code have a DODAAC. Some units, such as DSUs, have more than one.) Within DOD, the DODACC is used to identify a unit’s location. Actually, for each DODAAC, there are three different addresses, known as type address codes (TACs). TAC 1 identifies the mailing address for letters and small packages. TAC 2 identifies the “ship to” address, which is also known as the freight or supplementary address. It can be the location of the container consolidation point (CCP), container receiving and shipment point, or SSA. Large packages (usually over 60 pounds) are sent to the TAC 2 address. TAC 3 identifies the billing address.

The DOD supply, transportation, and financial communities use TAC addresses in their automated processes when items are ordered using Military Standard Requisitioning and Issuing Procedures (MILSTRIP) and shipped via the Defense Transportation System. The three TAC addresses for a given DODAAC are contained in what is known as the DOD Activity Address Directory (DODAAD). When units change locations, they must contact a DODAAD central service point to update their location information. The central service point is the official point of contact that military services, Defense agencies, and non-DOD Federal agencies use when creating, changing, or deleting DODAACs. During the first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom, many units failed to update their TAC addresses as they changed locations within the joint operational area. As a result, supply and transportation logisticians did not know where to send supplies for these units.

Large item, military delivery. Typically, a unit’s request for a 300-pound engine is routed to the SSA that habitually supports the unit at its CONUS home station. When the SSA receives the engine, it places it in a bin for unit pickup. However, in this case, the unit deployed before the SSA received the engine. Therefore, the engine is sent to the TAC 2 address that was current when the requisition was processed. After the unit reaches its overseas destination, it has to notify the appropriate central service point that it has new TAC 1 and TAC 2 addresses (the latter indicating that the unit will now be supported by a different SSA, this one based in Kuwait) in order to receive the engine. Of course, it might take awhile for the logistics personnel of the deployed unit to obtain their revised mailing and ship-to addresses.

Sergeant Happen probably has these questions: Is my unit currently in Kuwait or Iraq? Does it have a conventional mailing address? Which SSA is supporting it? Has this SSA updated its own location information, such as its air terminal identifier code, water port identifier code, and breakbulk point location, so that higher levels of supply can support it? What is the military post office address? How will national providers, such as DLA, the Army Materiel Command, DAASC, and TRANSCOM, track the location of the unit as it moves from the aerial or sea port of debarkation through a staging base to its tactical assembly area and on to its first and then subsequent deployed locations?

Since the engine is heavy, someone (normally a commander or an item manager but not the junior service member involved in ordering the part) decides if the engine will be shipped by air or by sea. Shipment by sea takes much longer than shipment by air but is much less expensive. The nodes through which the engine will pass will be quite different, depending on whether air or sea transport is used. Items shipped by air are placed on pallets, treated as breakbulk cargo, and routed through airports. Items shipped by sea are placed in containers and routed through seaports.

Shipping the engine solely within the Defense Transportation System would simplify the process. If commercial transportation is used, shipping labels must contain civilian, location-related data elements, such as street addresses. The names of the intended recipients of the cargo must be identified clearly on the label since TAC addresses, DODAACs, unit identification codes, and military post office addresses are not readily understood by the civilian sector. Moreover, small-package carriers, such as DHL, United Parcel Service (UPS), and Federal Express (FedEx), usually do not accept a contract for delivery of items weighing more than 60 pounds. These commercial carriers may not have established routes at a unit’s deployment location, or they may choose not to deliver items during wartime because of the danger to employees or cost-prohibitive insurance policies.

Some international transporters may be unwilling to provide service to a remote part of the world if delivery is not cost effective. Therefore, the military sometimes must arrange delivery to units far forward of typical commercial shipment destinations. If a combination of commercial and military lift is used to ship the engine, both civilian and military location data must be included on the DOD (DD) Form 1387, Military Shipment Label (MSL).

Small item, vendor delivery. Ensuring the correct delivery of the 1-pound fly-wheel from the vendor is even more complex. Before the unit’s departure, Sergeant Happen and the higher level supply source order the item from a commercial vendor. The vendor probably will attempt to deliver the flywheel to the unit’s CONUS address using a small-package carrier such as DHL, FedEx, or UPS. However, if Sergeant Happen inter-venes and asks the vendor to ship the item directly to the unit overseas, the vendor will want to know the following: Should he attempt to send the item to Kuwait or Iraq? If so, what civilian address should he use? Who will assume ownership of the item as it passes through customs? Who will pay the import tariffs? Who will pay the additional international shipping costs? How can the vendor ensure delivery of the flywheel if the unit has moved from Kuwait to a staging base in Iraq and then to a tactical assembly area?

Suppose Sergeant Happen instructs the vendor to route the flywheel to the CCP at Defense Distribution Depot Susquehanna in Pennsylvania for entry into the Defense Transportation System. If the vendor addresses the package for delivery to the CCP, how will logisticians know where the package should be sent subsequently? Will they know if there is a central receiving point in Kuwait or Iraq?

How will the vendor, the transporter, and Sergeant Happen identify the flywheel? The vendor uses invoice numbers, the transporter uses a TCN, and the supply sergeant uses a system that is based on the document number.

Sergeant Happen is fully engaged in ensuring delivery of the flywheel to her unit overseas. Can you imagine if she also has to deal with tens, hundreds, or thousands of requisitions containing incomplete location information? She probably wishes she had gone with her unit to the deserts of Iraq instead of remaining in CONUS and resolving these systemic problems.

Military Shipment Labels

Since Sergeant Happen does not yet know the eventual street address of her unit, it is difficult for her to ensure that the information on the MSL is adequate. As pointed out earlier, completing the MSL correctly is not always easy, especially when the ultimate destination is unknown.

The MSL is the primary data source for the logistics management information systems that are used to track supplies and equipment. The appropriate destination data can be incorporated in the label or at-tached to the container using several different methods. The data can be printed in words that are readable by humans, inscribed in bar codes that are read-able by machines, or programmed into radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that are read by RFID interrogators. A combination of all of these methods can be used.

Since many different organizations are interested in tracking the movement of military items, the MSL must contain much more information than a civilian package label. Unlike FedEx-type shipments, there is no single number that can be used as a reference for all of the pertinent information about the package. Military supply logisticians need to know, at a minimum, the nomenclature, national stock number, document number, quantity, and serviceability of items in shipment. Those tracking the item’s movement want to know its current location, the date and time it arrives at each transshipment point, its TCN, the number of the container storing it, the voyage or flight number of the vessel or aircraft that is carrying it, and so on. In addition to the MSL, DD Form 1384, Transportation Control and Movement Document (TCMD), is used to capture supply, transportation, and financial information. However, the TCMD normally describes data associated with a container or pallet, not the individual items inside it.

Asset Visibility: Why So Hard?

Establishing an effective logistics management information system to track the locations associated with the movement of an item is quite complex and can be manpower intensive. Think of how many transshipment points there could be for the 300-pound engine as it is shipped from a CONUS location to a deployed unit overseas. There are the CONUS SSA where the engine is initially stored, the truck (military or civilian) that transports the engine to the port, the 40-foot container that holds the engine, the vessel that transports the container (and the engine inside it) across the ocean, the seaport where the engine is off-loaded and transferred from the 40-foot container to a 20-foot container, a smaller ship that carries it through the Suez Canal, a second seaport, another truck, a theater distribution center, a third truck, the in-theater SSA, and a fourth truck, until finally the engine reaches the unit and the mechanic installs it in the deadlined vehicle. At each trans-shipment point, some type of data reader (either an automatic reader or a human) captures the information contained in the MSL, TCMD, and/or RFID tag. The data captured by the data reader are downloaded into a computer that is linked to a telecommunications system so that the logistics information can be transmitted to a server that integrates all of the data into a network.

A single container can have hundreds of items in it, each with different MSLs, and some state-of-the-art ports can unload thousands of containers per day. Incorrect or incomplete location data are one of the primary causes of “frustrated cargo,” which is cargo that requires additional involvement by logisticians before it can be processed successfully for onward movement. With this volume of logistics information to process, it is no wonder that obtaining thorough in-transit asset visibility is extremely difficult.

Processing all of the pertinent data elements associated with moving supplies is incredibly challenging. Whenever possible, data elements should be captured on the initial requisition and then processed and retained by the logistics information network maintained by DAASC. (See “Transforming Joint Logistics Information Management” in the January–February 2005 issue of Army Logistician.)

At the various transshipment points, the number of different data elements that can be processed is limited. Bar code readers and RFID interrogators can interpret only a few lines of data. If these devices are unavailable, it is not cost effective for humans to en-ter the numerous data elements for each item they receive. Consequently, it is crucial to design future logistics management information systems so that the number of different data elements is kept to a minimum. (For more information, see “Names, Numbers, and Nomenclatures” in the September–October 2004 issue of Army Logistician.)

One rightfully could conclude from reading this article that military logistics management systems are extremely complex and often do not provide visibility of parts in shipment. The truth is that the current systems are infinitely better than earlier systems. In the March–April issue of Army Logistician, I will discuss how far we have come in our ability to locate items that are in the military supply pipeline.

Lieutenant Colonel James C. Bates, USA (Ret.), works for Alion Science and Technology and serves as a sustainment planner for the U.S. Joint Forces Command, Standing Joint Force Headquarters (Standards and Training), at Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia. 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 by email at James.Bates@jfcom.mil.