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Why BCS3 “Doesn’t Work”

The Army has spent millions of dollars creating the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3) and fielding it to an Army at war. In my opinion, the return on investment has been low because of a limited understanding of what the system is, what it can do, and how it should be employed.

BCS3 is not a Standard Army Management Information System (STAMIS). Instead, it is a system that pulls information from our current STAMISs and from in-transit visibility servers. The STAMISs provide us current updates on supply, maintenance, and ammunition, and the in-transit visibility servers provide us with data from radio frequency (RF) interrogation devices and satellite transceivers on vehicles using systems like the Movement Tracking System (MTS). BCS3 takes those data and allows them to be shown graphically on digital maps.

BCS3 operators can view the supply stockage levels in warehouses and track the movement of supplies as they travel through the distribution systems via air, land, and sea. These capabilities provide a platform for a logistics common operating picture, which is the most important feature of the system. But, so far, it is also the least used part of the system. If it is so important, then why is it not being used? BCS3 must overcome certain hurdles in order to reach its potential. To maximize the use of BCS3, we must improve operator training, standardize operational views (OPVIEWS), and ensure that the Army’s communications infrastructure is conducive to BCS3 operations.

Operator Training

The improvements needed to operator training are not in terms of the program of instruction but in terms of who attends the training. For BCS3 to reach its potential, the right people need to understand how the system works and what it can provide. Staff officers and senior noncommissioned officers working in operations (S–3), logistics (S–4), and support operations positions should become proficient in using BCS3. They need to know how to research information, track convoys, and develop OPVIEWS that meet the commander’s needs. They also need to understand the basic system maintenance that must be performed daily to ensure BCS3 is operating correctly. Battle captains must have a firm understanding of the system so that they can manage the battle update brief and provide the commander with the right information.

Operational Views

The power of standardizing OPVIEWS is threefold: First, it provides a consistent picture of what the commander deems important and helps focus the efforts of the staff and subordinate commanders. Second, it allows geographically separated commanders to maintain situational awareness and view the same picture as their leaders. Finally, in situations where outlying commanders are not on the same communications network, it simplifies the process of keeping that same picture by eliminating the need to push large amounts of data through narrow communications pipelines.

OPVIEWS in BCS3 are graphic displays of tactical operations similar to earlier versions that were displayed using multiple layers of acetate on a paper map. BCS3 OPVIEWS are electronic “layers” of information on a digital map. The overlays can include current information on stockage in warehouses or on movements, such as near-real-time updates of the location of convoys (based on their MTS satellite feeds) and the current status of en route supplies (based on their most recent RF tag “ping” at an RF interrogator along the distribution network).

The best things about OPVIEWS are that they include whatever the commander wants to see and are limited only by the operator’s imagination. One commander may want to focus his OPVIEWS by using separate filters that show all classes of supply as they flow in to the area of operations. Another commander may want to focus more specifically on certain class IX (repair parts) items, such as aircraft on the ground parts, as they are tracked into the theater on strategic lift assets. The point is that OPVIEWS are determined by the commander, and the operators work to create a picture that best displays the intent of the commander in order to keep him effectively updated on the tactical situation.

By standardizing OPVIEWS, a common set of filters created at the higher headquarters can be distributed to lower echelons and used routinely in the subordinate commander’s tactical operations center. It is easier for the higher commander to command and control the tactical situation and to communicate his intent when all of the commanders are able to view the same picture. This lessens confusion and decreases the fog of war.

A good example of how the proper use of BCS3 can greatly assist dispersed commands is the distribution of a route status OPVIEW. The route status of main supply routes and alternate supply routes are critical in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) because enemy and weather activity can cause closures on the supply routes. BCS3 is capable of displaying the segments of routes in different colors—such as green, amber, red, and black—to signify the level of safety and security of the route. That OPVIEW can be maintained and updated at one level of command and shared with all the other levels for an instantaneous update of the tactical situation. The dispersed commands will probably still rely on their immediate battlespace owners for the most accurate and up-to-date tactical information, but the OPVIEW will be valuable, especially for the commands that push convoys longer distances, traverse multiple battlespace boundaries, and require more expansive intelligence and route status reports. The units that battle track their convoys can immediately contact their convoy commanders with updates on the routes ahead of them.

The OPVIEW can also provide a picture of all the RF interrogators in the area of operations. The filters are designed and focused to determine whether or not supplies are flowing correctly through the distribution system. For example, the distribution system and routing plan for class IX in OIF is set up to deliver parts to supply support activities using the fastest means available. During OIF 05–07, the 101st Sustainment Brigade was located at the Q West base complex in the northern part of Iraq. The 3d Corps Support Command decided that all Department of Defense activity address codes (DODAACs) that were supported by the 101st Sustainment Brigade would receive their class IX by air using the network of theater aircraft and standard flight routes. Movement by ground required a convoy to traverse a minimum of two convoy support centers and potentially endure delays in the Anaconda distribution center for 24 hours or more while waiting on the next convoy or flight going north. It made sense to transport the parts by air.

Therefore, a BCS3 filter was created to identify any RF tag burned with data for a DODAAC supported by the 101st Sustainment Brigade that “pinged” at the Kuwait border. If a class IX part with an RF tag was shipped by ground and showed up on the interrogator at the border crossing, it meant that the part had been misshipped; an RF tag with that DODAAC should have been moved from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to Ali Al Salem Airfield and then shipped by air to the northern hub. BCS3 allowed support operations personnel to identify the problem quickly and contact Camp Arifjan to fix the problem so that future supplies were properly shipped. This is just an example of how BCS3 can support distribution management, but, more importantly, it demonstrates the system’s potential for future, more expeditionary missions.

Communications Infrastructure

Finally, in order for BCS3 to maintain the logistics common operating picture across a theater of operations, the communications infrastructure has to support the system. The Army has to decide if it is going to operate BCS3 on the Unclassified but Sensitive Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet) or the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). Great strides have been made to get the system on the SIPRNet, but the slow progress has contributed to the lack of use of the system. If BCS3 is going to continue to operate on the NIPRNet, then the Army has to provide a large enough “pipeline” to make the system more effective. The NIPRNet is a less attractive option because the classified network is more of a necessity in the combat zone and, without a dedicated and sufficient amount of bandwidth, BCS3 is almost rendered useless because it takes too long to change OPVIEWS or the filters that construct them.

The entire theater needs to be on the same network. Kuwait and Iraq use different servers, preventing the easy transmission of data between the two countries. Even though we are living in the 21st century and enormous improvements have occurred in the field of information technology, it is still a challenge to email someone from Iraq to Kuwait, and it is often a challenge to communicate even within Iraq. So far in OIF, the communications network has kept BCS3 from reaching its full potential.

BCS3 is a good product, and, if it is properly em-ployed, it can revolutionize how we command and control the logistics fight. Commanders must demand the use of the system, training must be offered at the appropriate level, OPVIEWS must be standardized, and the communications network must support the concept. Once these steps are taken, the return on the investment will be high and the ability of leaders to command and control logistics will be greatly improved.

Major Thomas E. Sachariason is currently attending the Intermediate-Level Education Course at the Army Command and General Staff College. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and pre-law from Methodist College and an M.S. degree in management from the University of Maryland University College. He is a graduate of the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.