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1st COSCOM Total Asset Visibility in Iraq

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 identifier code (RIC). A RIC designates the location of the supply support activity (SSA) that will service the cargo when it arrives. 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 (TCN) and RFID tag.

If the cargo moves by air, the Air Force’s Global Air Transportation Execution System (GATES) tells the user what 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 distribution center (TDC) in Kuwait, it is aggregated with other loads destined for the same RIC and put on a truck for onward movement to 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 all shipments, SSAs at the tactical level do not. Training tactical SSAs and enforcing standards play a large role in maintaining TAV.

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 moving cargo 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 by redirecting 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.

What Can Be Done?

Make BSCS3 the common baseline system for tactical ITV. For OIF 04–06, 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 levels.

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 and 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 of DAVS 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 link 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) to further 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 to—

• 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 activity.
• 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 be expanded.
• 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 set.
• 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 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.