By By Andricka Thomas, CECOMNovember 21, 2013
After 12 years of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army is now facing a different conflict--budgetary restraints. The Army, not unlike the Army Materiel Command and CECOM, is working diligently to transition to sustainment while conserving resources. Streamlining CECOM's field support across the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance domain is part of that effort.
CECOM's Logistics and Readiness Center logisticians are working hand-in-hand with their C4ISR partners as part of a C4ISR Field Support Right-Sizing Integrated Product Team to determine an optimum field support structure for C4ISR systems that will be effective, efficient and able to meet the requirements of the FY15 and beyond Army force structure and operational tempo, according to Gary Salomon, LRC associate director for programs.
"The Team is charged with analyzing, studying and observing the current field support structure to create new strategies to support the Army's Combatant Commander's needs in an Army of 2015 and beyond," said Lane Collie, LRC director.
As part of the team's research, logisticians traveled to Fort Drum, Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Fort Polk and Fort Irwin to identify root cause issues affecting field support and to learn more about the perspectives and needs of the Army Sustainment Command's Army Field Support Brigades and Brigade Combat Team personnel.
"We found that home stations' mission command exercise events, leading to Combat Training Centers rotations, are a primary driver of C4ISR field support requirements," explained Jim Risely, LRC associate director for operations. He explained that, with being at war the last 12 years, mission requirements have driven Soldier training to be largely focused on combat skills.
As a result, "Soldiers performing C4ISR-related jobs have become increasingly dependent on external technical assistance, a significant portion of which is supplied by contractor personnel, to set up, troubleshoot and maintain their equipment," said Risely. "A high rate of personnel turnover in BCTs has further exacerbated the situation. This reduces the amount of mentoring junior Soldiers can obtain from their seniors." Based on these findings the IPT developed a proposed tiered field support structure for combat training rotations.
"We're getting back to basics," said Collie. "The new strategy calls for Soldiers to be the primary field service components for the operation and maintenance of C4ISR equipment and systems at the unit level, just as they were before the conflicts started." As AMC continues to be globally engaged and regionally responsive to COCOMs in order to shape the Army's presence, the new field support strategy will aid in strategically positioning personnel and equipment to provide the leanest, most efficient and effective support.
Before this proposed support structure was introduced, there were 37 to 45 support personnel at each rotation that had 'free movement' throughout the entire exercise, Salomon explained. This number includes contractor and government support as well as personnel embedded with the unit.
"With the new tiered approach, there will be 12 multifunctional personnel in tier 1 with the remaining personnel identified as tier 2," said Salomon.
This is where Soldiers would be ultimately responsible for the troubleshooting, operating and maintaining C4ISR equipment at the field level, replacing civilians who were embedded with the units during the height of the conflicts to supplement the field support gaps Soldiers performed before the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Soldiers will be trained to perform those duties, ultimately creating efficiencies. Collie reports that about 85 percent of field level issues can be solved at the operator/maintainer level in the units. Issues not resolved there will be elevated to Tier 1.
As part of the effort to regionalize field support, training efforts are underway to provide more multifunctional personnel who can provide assistance remotely through an Incident Reporting Module, or IRM, trouble ticket system, operating much like a 'call center' would, Salomon said. Support will be provided via phone, or in the field training environment or in the midst of a deployment as requested.
Here, technical experts are responsible for handling issues escalated through IRM, much like a regional help desk, allowing these personnel to return to the home station, saving on travel and overtime expenses, according to Salomon. Most of this support will be done over the phone or remotely, however, technicians can be dispatched to the field if necessary.
At tier 3, engineers and scientists who represent the original equipment manufacturer or the research and development components will handle the more complex issues above field level. Method of response will be telephonic or remote, as required.
To test the proposal, the IPT, in conjunction with U.S. Army Forces Command, conducted pilot programs at the Joint Readiness Training Center in May, and the National Training Center in June. The C4ISR team conducted pre-pilot training with the identified units and with field support personnel. All Tier 1 personnel were brought through the beginning of Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration, or RSO&I, phase. Once the RSO&I phase is complete, all further support will be provided by request using the IRM system to generate a trouble ticket to request support, with the exception of a small embedded team as required, explained Salomon.
Data collected from both pilots at JRTC and NTC were similar.
"At the Tier 1 level, FSRs [Field Support Representatives] and LARS [Logistics Assistance Representatives] provided assistance to the units. Once RSO&I was completed, any remaining issues were elevated to the tiered support system," said Risely. "We found there were little tickets, if any at all, from the unit requesting assistance." Of those submitted, the majority of the trouble tickets were low priority and mainly due to lack of configuration knowledge/training rather than faulty or broken equipment, he explained.
Many LARs showed interest in expanding their current role by supporting the current software-reliant systems to become more multi-functional in the support they provide.
"The idea is to ensure Soldiers are trained to recognize, troubleshoot and resolve issues at the Tier 0 level," said Collie. LRC experts would provide over-the-shoulder training and mentoring to lend greater capability to the Soldier and subsequently decrease the field support footprint in the region, according to Collie.
LARs have the ability to move more freely between units and provide support, but contractual barriers prevent them from doing so on certain C4ISR systems, Risely explained. He goes on to say LARs provide support at a lower cost and would require very minimal training to sustain the programs they currently cannot support. Contract FSRs are not as flexible as LARs and do not focus on training, knowledge sharing or improving the Soldier skill sets, but rather simply fixing the problem for which they are called.
The Team's efforts are in line with the direction the Global Logistics community is headed--employing Global Logistics to support the military forces in 2020 and beyond.
"Our efforts to develop a strategy that ensures our global logistics capabilities are properly structured, aligned and positioned will help us plan to support Army 2020 and beyond and enable us to provide responsive support to the Army and the joint force of the future, said Collie.