Whereas Marines have previously resupplied by transporting a massive amount of fuel, water, ammunition and more from ship to shore and then putting it on trucks for distribution, the Marines’ future operational plans – distributed operations by small units – as well as increasing adversary capabilities will require network innovation in how troops are sustained in the field.
Following the Marine Corps Installations and Logistics Roadmap released last year, the service is pursuing new network tech to advance lift and distribution missions, supply and maintenance work, and other requirements.
So we can have moving targets to practice logistics manoeuvres required to resupply Marines in remote theatres. We can integrate those networks with simulated forces that are moving towards an objective – so you can validate that you can turn off your fires at the right time.
The vision: to embed interconnected, high-power computing capability into a wide array of drones, soldier-worn sensors and vehicle-mounted intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tools. Rather than collect data in the field and ship it back for processing — a time-consuming and bandwidth-intensive process — the Services would leverage the integrated networks to process on the edge.
So, how would tactical network transform the fighting force? Better data, faster Edge computing enables war fighters to gain access to data tools previously available only at large data centers … even when wide area network access is down.
A field commander pulls down drone imagery of a potential danger zone. With local network processing, that imagery could be enhanced by multiple data feeds in real time. “Maybe a squad defused a mine here yesterday and that will be indicated here. Maybe there’s a choke point where you might have an ambush. You could overlay those maps and live UAV feeds with recent intelligence data and recent operational data.
The ability to manage vast swaths of data via computing at the edge could enhance soldiers’ ability to see one another. “Instead of the division command seeing battalion commanders and battalion commanders seeing company commanders, now you can do it with networks at the small unit level. You can see the individual soldiers.
“One, all of the operational design statements we’re making — ‘I’m going to have field located repair’ or ‘I’m going to have logistics support’ — all of those have to be tied to a supply deliverable in that network, so we assure ourselves that not only are we thinking about it, we’re buying it and we’ll deliver it."
We’re taking a look at the requirements our capability officers outline for us in terms of performance characteristics: What are our supply availability measures? What is the mean time to repair, how maintainable, reliable, available should the system be? We’re linking those supply requirements to what we’re calling an operational sustainment review.
Under new Logistics Regime, maintainers would “have historical trends in terms of what parts break, and then you’re only bringing those” from the outset of the deployment, and “you can very accurately calculate what your parts acquisition over the network should look like” for resupply efforts.
Aircraft grounded awaiting replacement parts traced to the predictive network modeling that underlies how DoD and original equipment manufacturers calculate target availability for spare parts. These models are fed forecasts that, while trustworthy in some contexts, are ill-equipped for the volatility that effects DoD operations. Contingency operations, continuing resolutions, and disruptions within the global supply chain unduly impact the demand for parts — sending the best current forecasts askew.
Forecasting aircraft spare parts supply requirements typically calculate ratio of future flying hours to past flying hours for the aircraft using a specific part and then applying ratio to historical demand for part. We conclude this technique results in bad estimates mostly because 1) correlation of specific parts to specific aircraft types is not accurate, 2) does not base projections on many combinations of aircraft employing part, and 3) does not incorporate influence of lengthy procurement times into future flying-hours estimate
Unstable demand puts original equipment manufacturers in a position of producing parts only when other, more certain production priorities can accommodate it. This leaves DoD with lead times of months or even years for certain parts. Long lead times make forecasts even more unreliable.
The F-35 program’s shortcomings in this regard have been observed before. In our support to the logistics network branches over the past decade, we found these models are subject to large errors, both in evaluating the tradeoff between wait time to issue parts against cost and in the recommended mix of spare parts to attain specific aircraft availability targets.
We found a better way forward. In an uncertain world, it’s best to hedge your bets and remove forecasting from the equation. Use a robust network strategy that will likely lead to a good outcome, whatever may happen.
Advanced networked algorithms now make such a strategy possible. Forgoing forecasts and variances as inputs, these hedging algorithms use transactional data to produce control levels that generate a better mix of spare parts regardless of the demand scenario. This means more of the parts requested by maintenance are available when needed and fewer parts sit on the shelf.
Success of new logistics network tech has spurred DoD to pursue hedging models as a means to reduce inventory costs, but it has yet to become the norm. Success within the F-35 program could change that. Certainly the potential for benefits to be realized across DoD exists, as well as support original equipment manufacturers and performance-based logistics outcomes.
Hedging models help decision makers see the tradeoff between key interests e.g., inventory value, average wait time for parts, total annual buy and repair spending and set a path that meets multiple potential demand scenarios — enabling DoD to be better prepared for the unpredictable.
Supply chain hedging may not be a quick fix to the F-35 program, but with the prospect of greater fleet availability and lower supply chain costs, it could be a lasting one.
“It is an exciting time for applying new network tech to field-level logistics operations and we are thrilled to be a part of it. It is exciting to look at things with a fresh perspective and not the entered by existing orders and policies suggest you should do. You can't have innovation if you are beholden to systems that were created years ago.”
ALIS is a high-tech computer system that informs maintainers of aircraft upcoming maintenance and parts required to help sustain the aircraft. Marine Corps is “uncertain how long the F-35 can effectively operate” if the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS network becomes “disconnected from the aircraft.
ALIS looks at “operational data, sorties, it could include weather, the history of the part, was there repair work done on it before? We’re really on a higher level than any of these subsystems, including ALIS.” The hope is to be able to preposition parts and maintainers to make fast repairs or modifications not only in response to what the plane has been through but, perhaps, what it’s about to go through as well.
At an exercise near Twentynine Palms, California, the Corps recorded “issues related to the tents used to house the ALIS” and the “need for maintaining network connectivity, and the limited reach-back support for ALIS. “F-35 using its sensors to share data with legacy platforms” and better stealth capability over other aging aircraft. Classified facilities are required “to meet basic cooling and power requirements for housing the ALIS servers.
DoD plans to continue to evaluation of ALIS's performance, and that it agrees "future testing is worthwhile, so information is made more accessible across the services operating the F-35 has already been accepted by the Joint Program Office and the Pentagon
Controlling maintenance costs has been a challenge because of problems getting spare parts delivered in time, especially to forward locations. Automatic Logistics Information System ALIS has been described by the workforce as being hard to use and requiring the use of contractors for longer periods of time than originally expected.
Contract provides for "air system maintenance; pilot and maintainer training; depot activation; sustaining engineering; Automatic Logistics Information System [ALIS] support, predictive condition management; and supply chain logistics."
We fixed problems with the electronic equipment logs that were showing false positives, so those have been fixed, and the maintainers get to focus on things that are actually broken — not things that are reported as broken.
They fixed the scheduler, which had mismatches between the flight line system and ALIS, and they are currently working on things that are going to help maintainers do their own workflow on the flight line.
There is a lot more to go for them. They’re putting Wi-Fi out on the network line so that you can touch ALIS at the flight line, which currently you can’t. Maintainers have to go do their maintenance and then come back and enter data in the subsequent systems, and it doesn’t make sense to create data once and then replicate it again.
We want maintainers to be able to have ALIS in a protected, secure Wi-Fi network at the flight lines; that data is instantly uploaded. We’ve got work to go to get the accreditation done so that we could reach all the way back into the standard operating unit .
Where’s the chalk line that we switch to the new methodology? We have to have enough development teams to do it and support the level and scope of the network. With agile tool development, you want to have exposure with the user. Once those apps were deployed, what was the feedback like? Did users want to see additional fixes, or were the apps coming out well already?
When final deployment was done, it was digital tools as the users wanted. The users are involved from the beginning. Step one is the coders leaving their coding shop and going out to the flight line and sitting down, walking through how ALIS works and how the rest of the maintenance planning tools work.
Lessons learned from this hybrid network model, as more and more unmanned systems are brought it, could lead to a future model that relies even less on Troops directly moving goods.
On supply and maintenance, 3D printing could help flatten out the steel mountain by reducing the quantity of spare parts units would have to bring with them or order for resupply. With 3D printers at key network nodes in the resupply chain, components could be manufactured closer to where they are needed.
Lessons learned about capabilities and limitations from 3D print experiments will not only inform future logistics decisions but could also get the service out of a tight spot in the near term.
“In our world, if we can get – and we’re really focused on it – unmanned aerial capability, 3D printing, sense-and-respond networked logistics. If we could just really focus on those and mature those, that would be pretty good.”
The 3D printing process is one way to support sustainment programs. The team has a wide variety of things to maintain, including many parts that would require an expensive bulk buy when they really need only one or two. Examples include mic switch knobs, crew compartment panels, sun visor brackets, and armrests.
The unit already uses 3D printers in various sizes, but they want others with flexible network technologies to support making parts that engineers haven’t necessarily thought of yet. The standby compass cockpit panel dashboard is something the unit is currently prototyping.
The in-house 3D networked process is much faster than going back and forth with outside suppliers for parts. “Once you get the geometry, you can print it overnight and have it the next day." With diminishing sources of supply, the benefit for us is the flexibility and the agility to respond to a warfighter need.
“The benefit of the 3D supply network is speed. That’s our bottom line."
Timely parts supply is a problem Marines know all too well.
Every deployment is full of horror stories about lengthy wait times over old supply networks for specific items needed to fix a piece of gear. While high-cost items are generally kept in stock, getting a hold of small, less expensive plastic parts often proves problematic.
Going from a sometimes 60-day wait to printing solutions on demand with same-day-service “has the potential to be revolutionary,” especially for forward-deployed forces, 3D print may not completely replace our current supply chains, but 3D print ordered over new networks is a great opportunity to augment existing capabilities.
Wait times for parts can be especially long for obsolete equipment. Marine squadron recently used a 3D printer to make an aircraft part they needed, That was after the Marines tried to cannibalize the part from a decommissioned aircraft.
Compared to using the existing networks, it didn’t take Marines with the maintenance battalion very long to learn the network scanning and printing process. Once the system was online, Marines were printing solutions within hours.
They've focused on small plastic pieces common to communications gear. For example, the bracket that sits on the front of some radios is known to break with regularity — and it's not something Marines can replace. Tired of cannibalizing other sets, radio operators turned to 3D printers to produce new brackets.
The technology has been used to produce everything from tools and phone jack plates to gas caps and radio brackets. “We can use this technology to quickly manufacture a prototype weekend match up against the actual repair we need to do to test fit, form, and function. If that is good to go, we can move to the next step.
In the near future, 3D Print tech will provide engine and mechanical parts that typically have long wait times over existing supply networks and high costs. The Services are planning to eventually use 3D printing to produce fully functioning unmanned vehicles.
1. Higher Efficiency Rate
Incorporate integrated logistics, and product innovation strategies to predict demand as well as to act accordingly. And this is, without any doubt, one of the main supply chain network benefits. Why? When you implement supply networks you can adjust to emergency markets, and shorter product life-cycles.
2. Increases Output
One of the main benefits of supply networks is the communication improvement. with transport companies, vendors, and suppliers to raise directional info flow and streamline distribution make for reliable for users
3. Boost Cooperation Level:
Most successful units right now all have in common high function network communication to open your doors and embrace technology, you can also take advantage troops not needing to share the same location space
4. Lowers Time Delays In Processes:
With good communication, you can lower any delays in processes and use the network to mitigate any late shipments from vendors, logistics errors in distribution channels, and hold-ups on production lines.
5. Enhanced Information Integration
One of the best ways to maintain supply network do it is by combining all the information gathered on the different sectors of your business to allow forn enhanced operational alliances.
6. Inventory Buffers
Variability customer spending requires taking charge of networking inventories to minimises holding costs, while also providing enough flexibility to meet the customer demand. If your inventory falls too low, you may have to work overtime to produce more products.
7. Mitigate Your Risks
Identify critical risk factors in the field if you areconcerned about product compliance or quality, putting your energy towards a supply network management system to help you to mitigate limiations moving forward.
8. Stay On Top Of Demand
Integrated networked logistics, and product innovation strategies can predict demand for their product and accomodate shorter product life cycles and emerging markets to ensure adequate response to changes of demand.
9. Enhanced Application Design
Supply network applications can make remarkable changes in any organization to provide smooth execution of tasks to achieve long-term mission profitability.
10. Track activity of supplier and distributors
Supply networks linked up all application systems at a remote location automatically improved collaboration between partners gives opportunity to share information. with stakeholders and accelerate other tasks like reporting, forecasts, order statuses, quotation and other transport plans in real time.