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The Support Leader Digital Assistant

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 on classes I (subsistence), III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants), and V (ammunition).

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).

LOGSTAT Report

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 battalions.

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 now.

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 support battalion.

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.



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 holly.west@us.army.mil or elizabeth.schott@us.army.mil.
ALOG


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.