Future battalion S–4s and support platoon
leaders in maneuver units may have a new tool to help them
make detailed, quantifiable, and efficient logistics estimates.
Planning for future events is critical at every level of command
in the Army. Combat units plan for future contingencies based
on intelligence gathered about enemy operations, and logisticians
plan for supply operations based on the plans of combat units.
Typically, logistics planning for an operation is conducted
by school-trained logisticians (officers in positions identified
as functional area 90 [multifunctional logistics]) who work
on Army-, theater-, corps-, division-, and sometimes brigade-level
staffs. This planning usually results in logistics estimates
or concepts of support and includes detailed plans on how,
where, and sometimes when units will be resupplied.
When a “pull” system of resupply is used (supplies are delivered
by truck or rail to a central point and redistributed according to known requests),
some of the most important planning occurs at the maneuver battalion level. There
are no trained logisticians at this level, and seldom is there a system in place
to assist the battalion S–4 and support platoon leaders in forecasting
and requesting daily supplies. As a result, inaccurate forecasts from supported
units create problems for the logistics units throughout the supply chain.
The experiences of support platoon leaders in maneuver battalions and company
commanders in divisional forward support battalions have brought to light the
challenges that maneuver units face when forecasting daily supplies. Usually,
the officers making the forecasts are the support platoon leaders or battalion
S–4s. Forecasts are submitted on a daily standard logistics report that
is called various names, such as the Yellow 1 Report, Amber 1 Report, or logistics
status (LOGSTAT) report. Despite the different names, the reports usually provide
24- to 48-hour forecasts and on-hand balances of classes of supply, focusing
I (subsistence), III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants), and V (ammunition).
capture of user inputs and logistics forecasts on
an armored division’s “Yellow 1” report.
Since both the support platoon leaders and the
battalion S–4s are combat arms officers, they have only
minimal formal training in logistics planning. This training
shortfall sometimes causes them to overestimate or underestimate
their requirements, which can have huge “domino” effects
on the supply chain. Obviously, if the forecasts are underestimated,
the entire maneuver mission may be in jeopardy. If the forecasts
are overestimated, the support troops and vehicles bringing
unneeded supplies forward are exposed to risk unnecessarily.
As we have seen in Operation Iraqi Freedom, supply convoys
are often the targets of enemy ambushes.
To help logisticians to forecast requirements more accurately, the Operations
Research Center at the U.S. Military Academy is developing a valuable tool called
the Support Leader Digital Assistant (SLDA).
In developing the SLDA, first consideration was given to the origin of the LOGSTAT
reports. The daily forecast of required supplies is a semistructured decision
that frequently is made under stressful conditions. Since no two missions are
ever identical, no two forecasts are exactly the same. The platoon leader and
battalion S–4 operate in a field environment that affords them insufficient
sleep and too little time to do everything that needs to be done. The support
platoon leader provides a forecast, or request for supplies, to the battalion
S–4, who reviews the request and makes necessary changes. He submits the
request to the brigade S–4, who combines all of the brigade’s requests
and forwards a consolidated request to the divisional forward support battalion’s
support operations officer. The support operations officer forwards the consolidated
request to the company that will actually resupply the brigade’s maneuver
Although formal lines of communication are necessary, the experienced supply
company commander in the forward support battalion typically helps the support
platoon leader in the maneuver battalion to make educated supply forecasts. This
informal contact often is the only help the support platoon leader receives,
and the operational tempo and location of the decisionmaker often make this assistance
sporadic. Although many tools have been developed to assist in forecasting supply
requirements, they were designed for brigade-sized and larger units—until
How the SLDA Works
The SLDA is designed specifically for logistics estimates at the battalion level
and below. Its primary focus is to enable the battalion S–4 in a maneuver
unit to make detailed, quantifiable, and efficient logistics estimates of the
classes of supply usually requested through a LOGSTAT report: classes I,
III, and V.
The SLDA prototype produces a Microsoft Excel
spreadsheet and generates logistics estimates based on user
input, built-in planning factors, and macros. Using buttons,
drop-down menus, and scroll bars, the SLDA user can easily input required data,
such as current unit on-hand balances, unit task organization (either by unit
type or numbers of each type of vehicle and their status), unit strength, and
projected missions for the next 24 and 48 hours. The program then calculates
logistics forecasts based on the user input and built-in planning factors. For
example, the program incorporates the numbers and types of vehicles in the unit,
the upcoming mission type, and the estimated mission length. The fuel-consumption
planning factors estimate the gallons of fuel the vehicles will require over
both 24- and 48-hour periods.
After the estimates are calculated, the SLDA fills in the LOGSTAT report with
the logistics estimates and on-hand balances, and the report is ready for submission
to higher headquarters. The SLDA also can be used to consolidate reports from
battalions at the brigade level or higher for submission to the appropriate forward
A valuable tool programmed into the SLDA is the capability to archive reports.
By saving historical data, the SLDA can
use a unit’s actual historical consumption rates and information about
mission types and durations to provide future logistics estimates. A unit’s
historical data often can provide its most accurate logistics estimate. Unfortunately,
this historical information is not captured adequately by most units and often
is not used effectively in the logistics estimation process.
digital assistant screen capture.
Currently, the SLDA is tailored specifically for armored
or mechanized units and focuses on classes I, III, and V;
however, the SLDA can be adapted easily
to any unit’s specific forecasting and reporting requirements. It can be
tailored to run on a Microsoft Excel personal digital assistant (PDA) application,
or it can be converted to a Palm application written in Palm operating system
code (.prc). The first Palm application prototype, SLDA–PDA, is written
in the Palm operating system code and operates on a Palm PDA. This version
of SLDA is similar to the Excel version. Buttons and drop-down menus facilitate
input, and logistics estimates are calculated based on built-in planning factors.
Now that the first prototype of the SLDA has been developed, the next step is
to tailor it to specific unit reporting procedures and add connectivity. This
will allow maneuver units to make better estimates and automate routine submission
procedures, including rollup of subordinate unit reports, which will result in
faster, more detailed, and more accurate logistics estimates. Future synchronization
of the SLDA with existing brigade-level and higher logistics information systems
will help units make more accurate logistics forecasts. This will translate into
better and more efficient resupply and, ultimately, lead to improved readiness
of maneuver units.
Questions or comments about the system should be sent by email to email@example.com
Major Holly F. West is an assistant professor of systems engineering at the U.S.
Military Academy (USMA). She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from
the USMA and a master’s degree in business administration from the University
of Kentucky. She is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course and
the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course.
Major Elizabeth W. Schott is assigned to the Army Training and Doctrine Command
Analysis Center-White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. She has a bachelor’s
degree in mathematics from the USMA and a master’s degree in industrial
engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a graduate of the
Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced
Course, and the Army Command and General Staff Officer’s Course.