Imagine an enterprise management tool that provides the ability to link the entire network of transportation nodes within the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise within one single platform. Imagine that this tool is not only efficient, but also adds combat effectiveness and the ability to synchronize scarce resources against the Secretary of Defense's priorities -- on a global scale. Now imagine that this is currently being tested in the field.
That is exactly what the U.S. Transportation Command, the U.S. Army, and the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command are currently doing during the final phase of a 24-month assessment of a new commercial-off-the-shelf Transportation Management System prototype that will do all of that and more.
Simply called TMS, the system is intended to allow transporters to order, ship and track unit moves through a single system that will allow them, port operators and commanders to have end-to-end in-transit visibility of a unit's equipment.
Real World Testing
Beginning in winter of 2018, the first major TMS release brought end-users on-line. The second release incorporated the booking and shipping of cargo within the Continental United States.
In July 2019, the system was used for the first time for a unit movement from outside the Continental U.S. to a CONUS base when the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
SDDC's 842nd Transportation Battalion from Beaumont, Texas supported this movement at the Port of Port Arthur, Texas, working side-by-side with USTRANSCOM and Army personnel to test the prototype. The tool was put in the hands of end users who are helping assess its capabilities, which is why the 842nd's participation is instrumental.
Shconda Ponds, a transportation planner, and Luis Ramos, a transportation specialist, both with the 842nd, were SDDC's leads at the Port of Port Arthur during the testing.
Both agree that the system took some time to initially learn, but over time they became comfortable with its features -- especially the prototype's single platform capabilities which keep everyone on the same page at the same time.
"This is one system versus the five systems that we have to use to reconcile data and get information, which can cause communication issues. It has been good having one standardized system for these movements," said Ponds, who has worked with system since January 2019.
"The system is great to utilize globally in helping us with unit integrity, tracking equipment and to help us reconcile data and get information," she added.
Ramos, who started using the system in April 2019, concurred.
"This is a system that will facilitate and allow us to do all of the activities we need to do during all phases of transportation -- it will be simple for everyone to track and coordinate movements," he said.
What The Experts Think
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sandra Rodriguez, the U.S. Army Transportation School Deployment and Deployment Systems Department deputy, says the capabilities within the new TMS system have created a user-friendly, end-to-end picture across the transportation pipeline that improves communication between all stakeholders involved.
"When you know what's coming, you can put the right Soldiers in the right place at the right time to receive the equipment," she said. "You are also able to identify the resources you need to put in the right place."
The improvement in communication is one of the biggest takeaways from the prototype, according to Rodriguez.
"Normally a move is a series of pitches and catches from one entity to another. The information isn't transparently shared across the transportation pipeline and that causes problems with which version of the 'picture' each stakeholder is viewing," she said.
"With accurate information flowing through improved communication, personnel management and resource allocations will significantly improve," she added.
Rodriguez said that a significant benefit of the prototype is allowing commanders to fully see where their "stuff" is at any time -- thus holding people accountable, and improving readiness.
How To Measure Success
It begins with matching the functionality of the prototype to fit the needs of the end-user.
The questions being asked throughout the prototype include, "Is there sufficient applicability of a COTS TMS system to the JDDE?" "Could the Department of Defense get sufficient match of the functionality of a COTS TMS relative to the tasks that must happen inside the power projection apparatus?" And when you include the interface with the services, "Who are the predominant shippers of the force?"
Answers to these questions from users and leaders that are participating in the prototype will be used to determine if a TMS will provide a common platform to globally integrate the transportation enterprise.
Moving Into The Future
This fall, the TMS prototype will be utilized in the Indo-Pacific Region as sustainment cargo from the west coast is moved in partnership with the U.S. Navy to Japan, and the Defense Logistics Agency moves air cargo from their west coast distribution center to Hawaii.
The combination of movement scenarios over the 24 month prototype are providing key data and benchmarks from USTRANSCOM, U.S. Army, DLA, and Army & Air Force Exchange Service participants.
Culminating with a comprehensive assessment, the USTRANSCOM Commander and JDDE leaders are expected to determine the way ahead in early 2020. Ultimately, the TMS prototype seeks to find new and innovative deployment and distribution solutions for the enterprise to support the Joint Force.