Army uses mobile technology, satellite link to track supplies

As part of the war with Iraq, the U.S. Army has deployed 64 mobile units equipped with portable systems that are being used to scan information about combat and supply vehicles and send the data via a secure satellite link to the Army's central asset-tracking system.

The deployment of the units in Kuwait and unspecified other locations marks the first time the Army has connected mobile users to the asset-tracking system, said Gary Winkler, project manager of the Army's Transportation Systems Joint Program Management Office.

The application, called the Transportation Coordinator's Automated Information for Movements System II (TC-AIMS II), is built around a Sybase Inc. database that runs on a Windows server. The technology was first used in 1998 and is located at a facility near Fort Belvoir, Va.

Winkler said the mobile units sent to the Gulf region each have a 65-lb. case containing a ruggedized laptop PC, wireless bar code and radio frequency identification readers, a printer and other peripheral devices.

The equipment can be stationed at roadsides or intersections and used to scan vehicles in army columns and supply convoys as they approach, he said.

Wireless Transmission

The data is sent to the TC-AIMS II system via the U.S. Department of Defense's secure wireless network, which is provided by Iridium Satellite LLC in Arlington, Va. When TC-AIMS II gets a feed from the Iridium network, it automatically creates new entries and updates information in the Sybase database, Winkler explained.

From there, the data is presented to military officials in the field and at the Pentagon via map-style graphical user interfaces. "It gives commanders real-time information about where people and equipment are," Winkler said. "And they know when they get to the final destination." Up to 15,000 end users access the system at any given time, he added.

By comparison, earlier applications used to track materials "did not provide ëin-the-box' visibility," Winkler said. "They simply documented that a container was shipped and arrived. Consequently, all that was known was that there was a box container in a [military] theater, but no one knew exactly what was in the box."

TC-AIMS II was developed in the aftermath of the first Gulf War in a joint services project led by the Army. The Navy deployed the system in December and used it to prepare manifests of cargo and military personnel on ships that were sent to the Persian Gulf, Winkler said.

Global View

The Army is also working to integrate TC-AIMS II with two other logistics and transportation systems in an effort to provide a consolidated view of the location of military personnel and materials in the air and on sea or land, he said.

One of those applications, called the Automated Air Load Planning System (AALPS), calculates the amount of cargo space available on aircraft. An integrated version of TC-AIMS II and AALPS is now in testing, according to Winkler.

The integration project is also due to include the Integrated Computerized Deployment Execution System, which manages the loading of ships. Winkler said IT managers plan to seek approval from the Pentagon to put the combined system into production in December.

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