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What can NEC do for logistics?

Understanding NEC (UK Ministry of Defence)
PA Consulting Group Nick Burton
April 2009

“The battle is fought and decided by the quartermasters before the shooting begins.” Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. Nick Burton of PA Consulting Group outlines how innovations in logistic IT networks are making life easier for the operational commander.

Expeditionary operations are fundamentally constrained by the process of supplying the participants with all the resources necessary to succeed – in other words, logistics. For contingent (unforeseen) operations, the build-up of required stores is a major factor in determining the start date of the mission. For enduring operations, such as Afghanistan, the logistic footprint can appear to be disproportionately large, compared with the size of the operational force. In all instances, visibility, both in transit and storage areas, is vital – NEC seeks to build that visibility.

Brigadier Jonathan Downes, Head of Defence Logistics Operations, recently described five clear requirements for a support chain that could overcome these constraints and meet the needs of both current and future operations:

Agility - Rapid realignment to meet operational plan changes

Efficiency - Matching the required operational tempo

Effectiveness - Resupply of force elements in accordance with operational priorities

Simplicity and robustness - Easily understood by all parties

Total co-operation within the support chain - End-user transparent

However, these operational requirements must be delivered against the ongoing MOD objective of increasing cost-effectiveness. One of the best ways of achieving this is to minimise the amount of stores held globally and in theatre.

Realising the benefits of NEC

“Logistics have been a leader in the use of networks for sharing information ever since the first systems providing remote asset visibility were deployed in the Air environment in the 1970s. This pioneering capability predates the modern joint approach, and has therefore become a constraint on reallocation of in-theatre stocks.”

NEC, through interoperable and networked systems – CONVIS1, JAMES2 and MJDI3 – will replace this existing array of incompatible systems and help logisticians to meet their Joint operational commanders’ aspirations.

Greater agility can be created by more informed risk-taking, based on improved information, which can reduce the ‘overinsurance’ on logistics. CONVIS is already improving the tracking of material. It now covers 99 per cent of critical outbound items, thereby increasing confidence in the supply chain. MJDI Pilot Operating Capability is deployed in the Air environment, allowing direct electronic ordering from the ‘Land’ wholesale inventory. The benefits will be more evident after
it is rolled out to land units from 2012, particularly as its increased visibility of deployed inventory will provide that much-needed clarity that field commanders require. Of course, there will be some cultural challenges to overcome.

The need for an exchange of information is not just a one-way process though. Greater efficiency and greater effectiveness will be achieved by logisticians having better access to operational information, improved knowledge of logistic status and better planning tools. Parallel operational and logistic planning will provide both commanders and logisticians with the ability to develop and discount options more rapidly, effectively synchronising the logistic effort with the desired tempo of the operation. JCS (Logs)4 is already producing improvement in this area, but is limited by the JOCS5 infrastructure both in-theatre and in the UK.

Further improvements can be achieved by increasing the availability and access of logistics Information Systems (IS) planning tools. This is especially true of the first NATO LOGFAS6 suite of modules, which will augment this capability. Although LOGFAS is already available in standalone mode, the first networked version will be available later in 2009. However, the solution is not only in better IS. A wider-ranging approach to further requirements, covering all aspects of the problem and all Lines of Development, could be more effective than raising another Urgent Operational Requirement. Simpler and more robust systems will be enabled by the FLIS7 programme. This will rationalise logistics applications from the current multitude of legacy systems using a single contracted supplier for all logistic services. Simplification will also be enhanced by the further deployment of the Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) to all areas of the supply chain, and the wider use of Shared Working Environments, enabling the sharing of information with industry.

Each of these programmes, unlike some of the legacy systems, has, or will have, a contracted requirement for availability to meet robustness targets. There is still, however, an outstanding requirement for a Battlefield Information Architecture to provide a framework for further improvements.

Increased transparency and co-operation is starting to be provided by systems such as the JAMES 1 programme. From 2010, JAMES (LAND) will expand its functionality to allow for failure patterns to be analysed. It will also include small arms and the Bowman radio as its first complex equipment. Crucially, JAMES (LAND) will provide 100 per cent visibility of equipment availability and status to all levels of command and provide feedback to industry, improving co-operation
throughout the support chain. This total visibility of equipment status through the length of the support chain, to the UK and industry, will represent a significant culture change, especially within the Land environment.

Volumes, and therefore costs, of material deployed to theatre will be reduced by the combined effect of greater confidence in the supply chain, greater visibility of in-theatre stocks, and better equipment support information. It is expected that this will reduce the number of duplicate demands and the unnecessary movement of stock from the UK, thereby reducing the burden on those who have to transport it.

Logistics will continue to benefit from NEC

NEC in the logistics space is starting to aid the delivery of Operational Commanders’ requirements for the front line. However, there are still challenges if the rate of improvement is to be sustained.

  • Limitations in available bandwidth, creating a reduced ability to communicate with frontline units needs to be overcome. This is a common problem for all aspects of NEC, but has the potential to impact on the tempo of rolling out the new logistics systems.

  • Improvements to the logistics function are perceived to be in competition with other effectiveness.

  • The pace of the DII roll-out is a constraint on accelerating the roll-out of the programmes described above. That said, much logistics information is still of
    value even if it is not always updated over a live network. For the future, there is a need to understand and develop how to transfer the right information in the right time-scales to support both end-to-end and through-life logistics.

  • Better planning tools are also needed to move beyond improved situational awareness into the ability to rapidly test and assess different courses of action. This will increase the confidence of commanders in the field in the ability of logistics to support their aims and bring about successful operations.

As has been seen elsewhere, NEC can generate valuable changes to doctrine and behaviour. This type of change needs to be embraced and developed by logisticians, as they continue to aid the operational commander by delivering the flexibility needed to meet the challenges of asymmetric warfare.

1. Consignment Visibility (CONVIS) provides visibility of important consignments of spare parts as they travel through the MOD supply chain. It is currently provided by systems such as Total Asset Visibility (TAV). In the future, it will be provided under the Management of Materiel in Transit (MMIT) programme.

2. Joint Asset Management and Engineering Systems project – Joint (initially Land) IT tools to manage equipment: its readiness, maintenance, and upgrading.

3. Management of Joint Deployed Inventory – Allows easier access to, and provides visibility of spares in stock across the three environments.

4. Joint Command System Logistics.

5. Joint Operational Command System – UK only system which limits its use in coalition operations.

6. Logistic Functional Area Services – Toolset covering combat supply, medical and other logistic planning tools and reporting.

7. Future Logistic Information System – Programme to rationalise and improve the IT systems across the total logistics function.

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