Logistical Support the Key to Modern Warfare
In war as in business, victories are won and lost in the balance between supply and demand. Throughout history armies have struggled to feed their soldiers and deliver supplies while waging war. Today’s modern warfare is no different, depending on logistical support. With multiple fronts and thousands of soldiers in the mix, managing stockpiles is a necessity for survival. The amount of ammunition, energy reserves, food, and water required to support daily operations at bases worldwide is as important as choosing a plan of attack.
Airmen in the United States Air Force go where the fight is, and battlefields are usually inhospitable for a hard-line or even wireless connection. Still, logistical information must get through. Maintaining equipment and delivery of world class logistics must happen smoothly, all in the hectic real-time environments. The United States Air Force therefore requires a mobile computing and architecture solution that can meet these requirements and adhere to the strict U.S. Department of Defense security standards and standardized Air Force Automatic Identification Technology (AIT), all while operating without the safety net of a reliable wireless network.
The Path Towards Success
The Air Force AIT provides an accurate and efficient means to track and account for goods. For some time, AIT has used technology such as linear bar codes, two-dimensional bar codes and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to do so. Air Force AIT capabilities are tied to specific logistics systems. These custom applications are expensive to develop as well as to maintain. While one system caters to ammunition, another specializes in warehouse management. The disparate systems mean that hardware dedicated to one system is may not be available elsewhere. For the Airmen on the ground, finding the right propeller blade or MRE (meals ready to eat) means switching between hardware and interfaces, all while relying on wireless connections that may be intermittent at best.
In order to coordinate these myriad Air Force AIT capabilities used by logistics applications, the U.S. Air Force began to develop the Enterprise Data Collection Layer (EDCL), a collection of commercial software applications that would sever as a centralized data collection transformation layer. The EDCL project would enhance the ability for users to collect data on site. Whether at a stock room shelf or in a bomber bay, the USAF could support Airmen as they tracked goods with handheld devices. Even in the mountains of Afghanistan, Airmen as well as other branches of the armed forces that the Air Force supports would benefit from a tool that operates the same way a soldier does – remotely and responsively.
Selecting Sybase Mobile Platform Technology
The biggest challenge to develop the EDCL was to architect a commercial solution into the Air Force GCSS environment, meeting all of the required security policies. The mobile and computational aspects leveraged Air Force AIT technology already in place, but a more effective and efficient data collection process was warranted. After an extensive search and testing period, the U.S. Air Force selected Sybase mobile platform to serve as the software synchronization foundation for mobile computing in the EDCL.
Sybase supports EDCL in the following areas:
- Remote device management
- Mobile Web application deployment
- Secure sychronization of transactional data
- Integration with the GCSS framework
Once Sybase was selected to provide the desired security and mobility, the AIT Management team was ready to implement the solution. Although the puzzle pieces were in place, the EDCL team had to also prove that sustainment costs would be reduced.
New Standard in Mobile Applications
“Sybase technology will allow the USAF to provide its war fighters with the basic vital resources they need in order to fulfill their day-to-day jobs of protecting our nation. Without this technology innovation Airmen would be restricted by a lack of wireless access and rudimentary data. Sybase technology makes the efficient and accurate tracking of military goods and maintenance a given, rather than a maybe”, says Mark Reboulet, program manager of the Air Force Automatic Identification Technology Program Management Office, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Previously, the variation in hardware alone caused issues when switching from systems such as warehouse management to maintenance. The EDCL solution ensures that the interface and mobile architecture remains the same regardless of what hardware or device is used, and data is easily transferred between users. With potentially over 15,000 different handheld and laptop devices in use throughout the USAF, it is an astounding feat to enable all to record supply chain data simultaneously.
In addition to the immediate effects on supply chain data collection, the EDCL made broad changes to the way software systems operate. It is a rare case when a product requires no customization, especially for the military where security and functionality standards are paramount. However, that is the case with the EDCL, as it uses out-of-the-box functionality. The EDCL system architects have effectively created a solution which enables them to stay on top of the latest versions of each aspect of the implementation phase with ease. Impacts to systems is lessened through the use of commercial products supports the ability for the USAF to move along with advances in industry.
Setting a New Standard
The Sybase mobile platform enables applications to deliver the same experience whether connected to a network or not. This ability is absolutely necessary to the men and women of the Air Force whose offices are the likes of tarmacs and heliports and whose desks are laptops and handhelds.
The mobile computing capabilities also require fail-safe mobile security. Although the Sybase technology offers such security, the EDCL was forced to meet the strictest of requirements in order to mesh with the USAF Global Combat Support System (GCSS) and its many security layers. Therefore the EDCL mobile computing and enterprise architecture ensures that the collection of data occurs as close to the point of data collection as possible. This kind of close range functionality is also complemented by a remote aspect. For the times that a handheld device is without a network connection, an Airman can still continue with the job at hand, feeling confident that the data is stored and ready to be passed up the supply chain once back in range and connected.
The collection of all supply-chain data into a single database means that Airmen can focus on business intelligence applications, not data entry or management. For example, a maintenance technician can obtain more specific information about where a part is, rather than where it should be. The EDCL can effectively collapses the supply-chain by offering better visibility to the user through AIT capabilities, allowing for more educated decisions about how to expedite requisitions.
The ability to "move data to the sand" and minimize the work required to manually log it, increases the time Airmen have to accomplish more critical tasks. These capabilities allow Airmen to concentrate on developing the unique business logic and processes of their mobile applications without worrying about hardware integration, network connectivity, or application and data synchronization that must span substantial security layers.
The EDCL, powered by the Sybase mobile platform, has therefore changed the way the U.S. Air Force and the Armed Forces think about collecting data at the source. By standardizing the architecture and how applications are delivered, and keeping sustainment costs low, the project was effectively accredited by the Department of Defense, sparking the interest of other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
EDCL Delivers Confidence to Airmen
Prior to EDCL, all AIT capabilities called for users to be connected, data to be manually logged or keyed in, and certain information read from bar codes. In war zones, lines of communication are a precious commodity and wireless connectivity is hard to come by. The EDCL provides the opportunity for Airmen to consistently utilize a tool that operates according to their environment and disposition. Likewise, peacetime operations such as maintenance of equipment and inventory cataloging are equally functional on an airbase, in a secure wireless environment. Either connected or disconnected, the EDCL architecture ultimately frees up man hours once required for data logging by remotely collecting and storing it as it happens.
USAF Airmen will reap the benefits by spending less time managing data and more time where they are needed. The back-end management of AIT data provides more descriptive information regarding the supplies that keep troops on the move. A robust supply line that is highly visible means that jets fly, ammunitions are accounted for, and the war fighters maintain confidence in their logistics system. Confidence and time well spent puts USAF Airmen where they are most needed – fighting the fight or at home with their loved ones.