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USTRANSCOM seeks industry solutions for contested logistics

A railcar loaded with M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks is inspected by a Soldier with the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division during railhead operations on July 24, 2022. Every railcar is inspected multiple times to ensure proper safety protocol. (U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Kenneth Barnet)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — Working with commercial partners could be the answer to modernizing the Department of Defense’s (DOD) in-transit visibility capabilities, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, director of U.S. Transportation Command’s (USTRANSCOM) strategy, policy, programs, and logistics directorate, said April 26 at an Industry Day event, on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

“From the port of debarkation forward, we lose visibility … [military services] make do to track their equipment,” Sobeck said. “But contested logistics … an adversary can reach us at home guard, they can reach us at every port and node we have and get after every one. We lose without having that discrete visibility.”

Twelve commercial organizations attended Industry Day, armed with solutions to meet USTRANSCOM’s cargo tracking needs. Each presenter had one hour to solve three scenarios aimed at supporting the warfighter and Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise (JDDE):

— Unit movement and deployment;

— Sustainment;

— And vehicle shipment.

To protect company secrets, the presenters had the conference room, joined by only the audience of military members and government civilians from across the JDDE. The remaining eleven gathered in a common area to wait and mingle. One by one, they’d enter, pitch, and answer why their technology or process was perfect for the DOD.

In the room was subject expert Josh Hunt, logistics management specialist in USTRANSCOM’s in-transit visibility and automatic identification technology branch. He said industry days are vital because they offer unique and modern solutions to close in-transit visibility (ITV) gaps and better track cargo across DOD’s supply chain.

“Industry Day is a chance for commercial organizations to show off their technologies and processes that could help shape the ITV requirements to more effectively provide information to users, operators, and the joint warfighter at large,” Hunt said.

Today, the Defense Department leverages an active Radio Frequency Identification, or aRFID, network that is less data-rich, fast, and flexible than newer non-modal technologies. To solve this problem, the panel of experts presented several questions to the industry sector to see how they would provide ITV using multimodal transportation methods.

“The hope is that these organizations can help the JDDE develop a better ITV network that will support improved data and, in time, feed data repositories that could leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence tools for better decision making,” Hunt said.

The benefit of leveraging ITV is that customers know where their stuff is and when it will arrive. Hunt said this process is similar to a consumer making an online purchase. The main difference is that in-transit visibility provides an in-depth awareness of the product’s location in the supply chain.

“This [visibility] is incredibly important for the joint warfighter as they need to know when they will receive the weapons system they need to execute the fight, or sustainment to sustain the fight,” Hunt said. “The same can be said for exercises, normal operations, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and more. The current network that helps create in-transit visibility is a system of systems. It is large, inflexible, and not very agile.”

Tracking where things are is key to knowing when operations can be executed, assets can be fixed, and when sustainment will arrive. Hunt sees Industry Day as an opportunity to build partnerships and evolve a critical DOD capability.

“We are using older technology and processes that need to be modernized,” the logistician said. “Industry Day is a step in the right direction.”

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