Total asset visibility (TAV) in Iraq is within
reach. The current TAV structure focuses on tagging individual
pieces of cargo and telling the user the last known location
of a piece of cargo. However, the system does not tell the
user where that cargo is right now, who has it and where it
is going, or who signs for it once it is received. An effective
TAV and its component intransit visibility (ITV) system must
be able to answer all of those questions.
With the assistance of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff,
G–4, Department of the Army, the 1st Corps Support Command
(COSCOM) was able to address many of these TAV/ITV issues
by integrating the Deployment Asset Visibility System (DAVS)
into its TAV/ITV architecture. The integration of DAVS (a commercial
off-the-shelf technology) into a TAV/ITV architecture is not
a new idea; the effort to do so began more than 2 years ago
and has been advocated by three consecutive COSCOM commanders
supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Although DAVS addresses
many of the TAV shortfalls encountered by the 1st COSCOM,
it may not be the Army’s final solution for achieving
TAV within a theater. What is important to note now is the
TAV functionality that DAVS brought to the 1st COSCOM and how
it was used in support of OIF 04–06.
What Is the Current TAV Process for OIF?
Currently, cargo coming from depots in the continental United
States (CONUS) is tagged with a military shipping label
(MSL) at the depot and aggregated for shipment by routing
code (RIC). A RIC designates the location of the supply
support activity (SSA) that will service the cargo when
When the cargo is placed on RIC pure pallets [pallets going
only to one RIC], it receives a radio frequency identification
(RFID) tag that identifies all items down to the national
stock number level (level 6 detail). When the cargo is
shipped, it is tracked by its transportation control number
If the cargo moves by air, the Air Force’s Global
Air Transportation Execution System (GATES) tells the user
TCNs and RFID tags are on every aircraft. When the aircraft
lands in Kuwait or Iraq, a fixed-site RFID interrogator
reads the tag on the cargo. If the cargo goes to the theater
center (TDC) in Kuwait, it is aggregated with other loads
destined for the same RIC and put on a truck for onward
the unit. Once the cargo arrives at the unit’s supporting
SSA, it is read by the SSA’s fixed-site interrogator
and repalletized into unit LOGPAC (logistics package) pushes
or picked up by the unit at the SSA.
What Are the Shortfalls in TAV?
The current TAV process sounds simple, but it
can result in loss of visibility of cargo en route to the warfighter.
There are several reasons for this loss.
Lack of standards for tagging and labeling cargo. While
CONUS depots generally do a good job of labeling and tagging
shipments, SSAs at the tactical level do not. Training tactical
SSAs and enforcing standards play a large role in maintaining
Lack of common visibility in tracking cargo movements. TAV
must include a system to make all movements in the corps battlespace
visible to the movement control teams (MCTs) at the division
and corps levels. That currently is not the case in Iraq. The
COSCOM tracks movements using the Movement Tracking System
(MTS), which feeds the Battle Command Sustainment Support System
(BCS3). That system currently operates on the Unclassified
but Sensitive Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet).
Divisions in the XVIII Airborne Corps track movements using
the Blue Force Tracker system, which operates on the Secure
Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). The result is that
no one ever has a true picture of what is moving on the battlefield.
Lack of connectivity between critical ITV systems. At
present, the automated architecture at transportation hubs
into Iraq consists of—
• Fixed-site interrogators, which feed ITV data to the U.S. Army Europe
ITV server to update information on the flow of shipments.
• The Transportation Coordinators’ Automated Information for Movement
System II and TAV/ITV Processing Station (TC–AIMS II/TIPS), which is used
to create RFID tags.
• BCS3, which provides a capability for tracking convoys.
The void in the system is the lack of connectivity needed to—
• Produce and send a cargo manifest to the BCS3 server so that it can be
linked to an ITV device for tracking.
• Send a manifest to a gaining activity using a Transportation Control
and Movement Document (TCMD).
• Create and read a “trip ticket” that MCTs can use to identify
convoys. MCTs identify convoys by reading a 2D barcode containing convoy information
to pinpoint the convoy’s last known location or track status en route.
[A “2D” barcode uses a grid of square cells of information rather
than a bar of information. The latter is a “1D” barcode.]
Lack of ITV flexibility to change cargo carriers while en route. The
ITV system must be able to adjust to changing conditions on the battlefield
convoys or modifying their schedules. An example would be a convoy that comes
across an improvised explosive device. A module is needed within BCS3 that would
allow MCTs to transmit instantly to all stations and convoys where the delay
has occurred. This would let all units on the route know that a convoy is delayed,
permit follow-on convoys to be rerouted, and allow MCTs to manage convoy routes.
What Is Needed?
TAV is more than just knowing where cargo is while it is moving. It also must
be a complete system that allows all SSAs and transshipment points to use complementary
hardware and software that feed the logistics common operating picture (LCOP)
with “last tactical mile” visibility—that is, visibility until
the cargo is signed for by the receiving unit. What is needed is a system that
can aggregate all the RFID tags that arrive at a shipping point (such as the
TDC or an SSA), match them with a mode of transport (a specific truck or convoy),
track them all the way to the end point, and provide accountability on who receipted
the cargo when it arrived. And all of this should be achieved using the current
logistics command and control systems wherever possible.
COSCOM goal this year is to achieve TAV from the
materiel release order (MRO) at the depot to receipt
of the cargo at the unit. This plan ties the TAV
timeline in theater to the time-line for establishing
direct delivery from the theater level to individual
forward operating bases (FOBs).
What Can Be Done?
Make BSCS3 the common baseline system for tactical ITV. For
the 1st COSCOM pursued a tactical ITV solution using BCS3 as a precursor baseline
LCOP system to the next generation of automated logistics systems. The COSCOM
incorporated existing, fielded tools to provide tactical data and strategic
information, the current logistics posture, and status of critical items en
route to the theater and to anticipate unit needs before they reached critical
Use a system like DAVS (or a similar functionality in the Army’s
final solution) to track cargo as it moves, and use BCS3 to view movements. The
1st COSCOM worked toward a total TAV solution by using the Army RFID tag system
coupling it with DAVS. The COSCOM chose to use DAVS since it already performed
most of the functions needed to achieve the command’s TAV goals. While
many other systems are in use, COSCOM personnel could find none that incorporated
all of the functionality needed in one, easy-to-use package.
For OIF 04–06, the COSCOM fielded 18 DAVS systems to use in aggregating
cargo in convoy units and allow the commodity managers in the COSCOM Corps Distribution
Command “fusion cell” to track cargo as it moves. (For information
on the fusion cell, see article on page 12.) Currently, cargo is aggregated
using DAVS at the first point within the corps battlespace. Ideally, the aggregation
should be done at each step along the way, beginning at the CONUS depot, and
modified at each transshipment point. In particular, more comprehensive results
could be achieved by deploying more DAVS systems to the theater.
Even with limited DAVS fielding, the COSCOM today is manifesting and maintaining
visibility of over 70 percent of its combat logistics patrols (including both
cargo and personnel). This is an unprecedented level of situational awareness,
gained by using DAVS and BCS3 as an ITV system and as a command, control, and
communications system. With the fielding of the Standard Army Retail Supply
System (SARSS) upgrade that enables SSAs to write RFID tags and the ability
to aggregate those tags in convoy units, the Fusion Cell has been able to gain
ITV from CONUS depot to foxhole.
Establish standards and enforce RFID tag training. If in-theater SSAs
are going to tag cargo with the same efficiency as depots, they must be trained
and they must ensure that tagging of all shipments is part of the SSA mission
statement and performance criteria. The standards for labeling and putting
RFID tags on shipped equipment must be the same at all depots and SSAs throughout
CONUS and in the theater.
Field RFID tag burning (read and write) capability across all SSAs. The
between TAV and ITV is the MSL and the RFID tag. The Army currently is fielding
an upgrade to SARSS across the corps that will allow all the SSAs in Iraq to
write data to RF tags. Their tags will be similar to the tags arriving on cargo
from CONUS depots.
Use the types of functionality displayed in DAVS (or a future successor)
refine corps and theater TAV processes. The TAV functionalities incorporated
into the 1st COSCOM TAV/ITV architecture through DAVS have great merit. These
same functionalities need to reside in the final Army solution for gaining
TAV from the national provider to the warfighter. They include the ability
• Create a convoy manifest in one of four ways: by collecting data from
RFID tags as convoys pass or as a Soldier walks down the convoy line; by scanning
MSL or TCN barcodes and adding the data to the manifest; by manually entering
MSLs or TCNs; or by scanning the common access cards of personnel and using the
data to produce a convoy manifest of cargo and personnel.
• Transmit the collected convoy-manifest message (using an Iridium or other
satellite-based modem) to the DAVS Server and Message Router (DSMR). This will
facilitate query options and pinpoint an item’s last known location or
en route status. Creating a free-text message similar to a standard email will
allow the user to enter attachments to furnish an automated TCMD to the gaining
• Send a transportation movement request from a remote MCT to the COSCOM,
and send the approved trip ticket back to the MCT over a DAVS link. MCTs will
be able to read a trip ticket that a DAVS-type system or BCS3 has created,
and convoys and cargo will be marshaled by reading a 2D barcode containing convoy
information. The MCT will transmit the data to BCS3 and ITV servers and create
a free-text message that provides the movement control battalion with a positive
inbound clearance (PIC) for validating and tracking convoys. This will be an
easy, common-sense use of DAVS as a command, control, and communications tool
by an MCT in a less mature theater where NIPRNet communications links are unavailable.
• Create an inventory manifest for container, commodity, rail, or port
storage facilities. This will be done by having DAVS (or a similar system) interrogate
RFID tags, MSLs, and 1D-barcode pallet IDs and transmit the resulting data to
the DSMR. The DSMR will automatically create an inventory listing viewable on
the DAVS Web site, DAVSWeb, and linked to the Defense Acquisition University’s
TRANSLOG International Web site, or it will send an inventory manifest message
with spreadsheet attachment to any desired email address. The MCTs of the 1st
COSCOM routinely scan all storage facilities in Iraq every 12 hours, providing
excellent visibility of any potentially stalled or back-logged cargo at any location
at any time. This level of situational awareness is unprecedented.
• Create an aircraft cargo and passenger manifest through which DAVS can
interrogate all RFID- or MSL-marked pallets; scan military identification cards;
and transmit data to the DSMR. The DSMR will automatically create an aircraft
manifest listing available on DAVSWEB and linked to the TRANSLOG Web page, or
it will send an aircraft manifest message with a spreadsheet attachment to any
desired email address. Where this feature presently exists, the 1st COSCOM chose
to concentrate its limited DAVS systems on the convoy-manifesting mission. Given
additional DAVS equipment (48 systems for Iraq and Kuwait), capabilities could
• Deploy a DAVS or similar system to a remote (non-NIPRNet) location and
display BCS3 functionality using the low-bandwidth (Iridium satellite) link.
Developers of DAVS or the final Army solution need to complete a GATES interface
to replicate critical functionality at the austere site. This would be highly
desired and would make DAVS (or a similar system) a true BCS3 remote equipment
• Use a DAVS handheld interrogator to send a convoy or inventory manifest
over MTS. Contractors from ConnectedWireless and Comtech have conducted studies
on integrating DAVS with MTS. This is quite achievable and would allow manifesting
to take place at any MTS-equipped location.
Significant gains have been made in TAV in the 1st COSCOM’s area of responsibility
in Iraq over the past year by combining the standing Army RFID system with BCS3,
MTS, and the off-the-shelf technology of DAVS. Although DAVS may not be the
final Army TAV solution, it has brought the needed TAV functionality to the warfighter
now. The utility of this combination has been proven beyond a doubt during combat
operations in the Iraqi theater. More complete integration of DAVS (or the future
Army solution) with BCS3, to include personnel manifesting and multiple destinations
for convoy and aircraft manifests, will only enhance TAV.
Colonel Mark W. Akin is the Commander of
the XVIII Airborne Corps Distribution Command, 1st Corps
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