A united front on logistics

18 August 2011 (Last Updated August 18th, 2011 18:30)

Logistics is critically important to defence - lives are at stake with every decision. Angus MacGregor-Millar, SAP's head of Industry Business Unit Defence, and Systematic CEO Michael Holm tell Berenice Baker how a system that combines benefits of command and control and logistics makes a safer, more efficient operation.

A united front on logistics

To accurately fulfil the needs of operations, logistics should ideally be aligned with command and control (C2) systems to ensure that the exact equipment required, from tanks to bullets, is in place and available for a planned operation.

The system could even be as precise as recording every shot fired to prompt an automatic reorder of ammunition.

This means bringing together the green, or battlespace, world with the white world of support systems.

In the past, this has been done by various ministries of defence as bespoke projects, but the complexity means development can be costly and take many years.

There is also an increasing requirement for the militaries of different countries to share battlespace and logistics information when working together in a coalition, and the differing systems can make this cumbersome.

Logistics and C2 combination

"To accurately fulfil the needs of operations, logistics should ideally be aligned with command and control (C2) systems."

Two companies with longstanding experience in logistics and C2 systems have recognised these challenges and brought the two worlds together to provide an end-to-end offering that they say could save time, money and lives.

German enterprise software company SAP has extensive experience in the supply chain management and logistics sector, and supplies aerospace and defence solutions. SAP recently signed an agreement to resell SitAware, a mission-proven C2 solution from Danish software and systems company Systematic. The joint solution is marketed as SAP defence command and control by Systematic. Systematic CEO Michael Holm explains that he had seen military customers waste a lot of time trying to coordinate logistics to fit the operational requirements on the frontline.

"We realised that if you could combine the two and automate the link between battlefield information through systems in vehicles and up to enterprise logistics, you would free a lot more officer time for decision-making on other matters," he says.

The companies' solution is a fully scalable C2 solution with full integration into the SAP logistics system. It works by feeding reports on the holdings of front line military units into the logistics system, enabling commanders to precisely manage the levels of stock on the battlefield and ensure correct stocks of ammunition, weapons, functional vehicles and other resources are available for planned operations. SAP's head of the industry business dnit uefence, Angus MacGregor-Millar, says that the systems are not just compatible, they are symbiotic.

"On their own, Systematic's defence systems don't do enterprise resource planning (ERP), and SAP does not have a good graphic interface," he says. "In turn, Systematic interfaces with ESRI or other mapping systems. Together, the solutions show a picture that is partially built in ERP and the G3 [operations and planning] world. It displays that in something that an army staff officer would recognise from his days at Sandhurst [UK military officers' academy] studying tactical maps tagged with information."

HQ, tracking and operations

The combined systems operate on three different levels: headquarters, tracking and operations. The headquarters implementation is a C2 system providing situational awareness from the level of operational units to individual vehicles.

It allows collaborative planning of operations, reports on events, orders and authorisations, and gathers information such as status reports and automatically feeds these into logistics systems.

The tracking element targets high-level decision-makers, giving an overview of the entire operating scenario for joint and multinational forces, and enabling planning, tasking, logistics and status management for individual and joint forces.

The operations component provides situational awareness for field commanders and unit leaders to enable rapid tactical decision-making and quick switching to alternative courses of action as conditions change.

Human element

Holm explains this multilevel approach can gather information from a range of sources across a military operation.

"If you integrate it with the battle management system of a vehicle, for example, it can track fuel consumption, weapons readiness, ammunition usage and how many people are available," he says. "When you fire a round, it will automatically count down, so instead of having six small missiles you now have five, for example. You'll be able to build up a total picture of the vehicle's state of readiness and what kinds of weapon and ammunition are available."

However, Holm warns that although the system is able to operate completely automatically, in most situations, a human would be involved in the loop.

Platforms

Because of the way SAP and Systematic's offering supports different parts of the military operation, there are different versions suited to the platform. A stripped-down version can operate on a ruggedised laptop in a vehicle or a regular laptop in a forward operating centre. A full PC portal base can operate at headquarters; in the past, the logistic element would have operated completely independently.

"The logistics world and the operations world are seldom superimposed on one another," says MacGregor-Millar. "SAP does logistics really well – building a picture of supplies, maintenance and personnel. With Systematic, we can add value to what G3 operators and staff officers are doing by adding logistics information behind the C2 icons you see on the screen."

Single picture

SAP and Systematic point out that their offering is not completely unique as many defence forces have carried out bespoke work to integrate C2 and logistics systems to support a specific country's military operations.

"What is unique about it is the majority of those bespoke C2 systems work in one area," MacGregor-Millar explains. "So they might support the Link 16 [military tactical data network] air picture, the military operations picture or a maritime picture. Systematic enables all of those to be displayed in a single picture. Add the integration into the back-end SAP and you begin to see the uniqueness of it."

Defence cuts

As well as improving the outcome of military engagement, a closer alignment of C2 and logistics is increasingly important to manage assets and reduce costs in an era of severe defence budget cuts.

"Logistical awareness means you are alerted that you need to resupply to do a specific operation."

"Officers doing the planning will know exactly what assets they have available when they are planning," says Holm.

"The systems offer a new way of planning fighting – you can cut down your structural costs, and you don't buy too much stock when you know it can be resupplied within a specific lead time under the resupply cycle you have with the contractor.

You can start cutting down the assets you stock because you can resupply faster, and that resupply is now linked directly with the actual use of it in operational scenarios."

MacGregor-Millar points out that as the militaries of several countries have already invested in SAP or Systematic, the reseller agreement brings added value for armed forces looking to bring C2 into the operational area.

Resupply on demand

Whatever financial benefits linking C2 and logistics brings, the critical factor is that it could optimise planning for the improved success of military operations. "You cannot plan with something you do not have," says Holm.

"You cannot plan an attack with three helicopters when you only have two available. You cannot carry out a bombing if you do not have the right kinds of bombs available. Logistical awareness means that you are alerted that you need to resupply now if you want to do a specific operation."

This article was first published in our sister publication Defence & Security Systems International.