Logistics paratroopers prove evolving sustainment software ready for prime time
November 14, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- During a recent field exercise, Army logisticians here embraced for the first time a powerful "new" tool for forecasting and distributing supplies on the battlefield.
With the aid of a field support representative described by one of the logisticians as "a force of nature unto himself," sustainment paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team became the first unit on Fort Bragg to stand up Battle Command Sustainment Support System, or BCS3, and its newest feature, the Logistics Reporting Tool, or LRT.
Both are part of an array of over a dozen semi-integrated computer programs that staffers in tactical operations centers use to track and manage today's battlefield.
"We're at a point where the amount of commodities is becoming unwieldy without automated systems," said Lt. Col. Paul Narowski, the brigade's senior logistician and commander of 307th Brigade Support Battalion.
"As a logistician, I have to be able to predict. That's the power that this system can give me," Narowski said.
Although BCS3 was fielded seven years ago, adoption as the program of record for sustainment lagged due to inferior early releases, a non-intuitive learning curve and organizational inertia, according to Maj. Michael LaBrecque, brigade logistics officer and, along with Narowski, a primary logistics advisor to the brigade commander.
Recently, however, a directive to all Forces Command units from General James Thurman to use BCS3 forced the issue.
Shortly thereafter, 1BCT enlisted the aid of Larry Wise, that "force of nature" recently returned from three years in Iraq helping US forces to adopt the automated system in lieu of the ubiquitous spreadsheets updated and emailed up the supply chain of command.
Over the last three months, Wise guided 1BCT from simulations in garrison to supporting a two-week, brigade-wide field exercise.
"Many of these young company commanders now realize it's a strong management tool," said Wise, who spent 25 years in the Army. "Particularly with the LRT, they were able to see how they can get aggregate daily consumptions and build logistics packages (convoys or airdrops of supplies) from them."
LaBrecque and Maj. Dion Hall, a logistics planner with the 307th BSB, particularly appreciated the forecasting capabilities of the LRT.
"As a logistician, what keeps me up at night are the 'what ifs,'" said LaBrecque. "What if something goes wrong? What if a shipment of fuel turns out to be bad? It provides a better sense of awareness so I can provide a better picture to the commander."
Hall, who guides execution of support at the company level, was impressed with the system's ability to predict shortages, he said. During the FTX, Hall "ground-truthed" the shortages reported by the system by calling the receiving unit, and the data was generally good, he said.
For the field exercise, 25 soldiers were trained on how to use the system. By the last day, the system was effectively tracking food and water, fuel, and ammunition, as well as personnel status and some combat power hardware such as vehicles and large weapons systems, said LaBrecque.
The software's best feature, he said, was its instantaneous rollup of logistical data across the brigade once it is entered by the end user. Traditional spreadsheets passed from company to battalion to brigade on up that LaBrecque and fellow logisticians used in Iraq and Afghanistan were often 24 hours old before they arrived at higher headquarters, he said.
The system does rely network connectivity and the discipline of the individual units updating it, however. Efficiently establishing and maintaining connectivity is a challenge that will be ongoing, he said.