The advent of online purchases with links to track their progress has provided consumers with direct, easy-to-use access to state-of-the-art shipping software. Imagine expanding this convenient feature into a full logistics decision-making capability that tracks a multitude of cargo, equipment and convoys for the military—often in dangerous battleground territory and during emergency deployments. The joint forces perform this task daily using the Army’s Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3), which provides affordable end-to-end solutions allowing users to track the logistics common operating picture (COP) in near real-time.
The combination of high-tech capability and joint forces usage makes BCS3—and its expanded distribution management derivative system, BCS3-Node Management (BCS3-NM)—a smart logistics management choice for deployed forces and in the garrison environment during fiscally challenging times. More than 5,000 systems have been deployed throughout the U.S. and internationally.
“This system is built on an economy of scale because the application can be used by joint forces; they don’t have to develop new capabilities,” said Leonette Peters, chief of operations of sustainment C2 for the Army’s Project Manager Mission Command (PM MC), which houses BCS3.
Most of the joint forces employ BCS3, but the Marines are the second largest user of BCS3 and BCS3-Node, following the Army. Calvin Pilgrim, product director for sustainment C2, referred to the Marines as “power users.”
Before BCS3, commanders, soldiers and Marines had to view multiple in-transit visibility (ITV) and asset visibility (AV) systems that did not present near real-time information in one place. Today, BCS3 provides users access to a logistics reporting tool and a visual logistics picture of the battlefield. This picture provides near real-time accountability of status reports, in-transit visibility of supplies and equipment, and resource asset visibility with the units and supply points. Commanders can see what is in the pipeline and visualize cargo and equipment deployment. This Microsoft Windows-like COP for logistics (log) that is modular, tailorable and scalable meets the full spectrum of battlefield Log Mission Command requirements.
“It is also a force-protection combat multiplier,” said Richard Schwartzman, of the Sustainment C2 product office. “It displays intransit visibility data that reflects convoy movements and provides alerts when convoys reach their destination, go off-track, or are late to support movement.”
BCS3 is currently fielded to approximately 92 percent of active forces, and currently 100 percent of the deployed forces have BCS3 systems on-hand. The BCS3 system is also fielded to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), National Guard, and Reserve training institutions along with the majority of the Army’s mission command training centers.
Users are not left to their own devices to operate BCS3. A comprehensive new equipment training (NET) program has been established to train receiving units on the capabilities of BCS3. The NET is backed by web-based computer-based training and field support representatives (FSRs) who deploy with units to assist them in answering questions or resolving technical issues that occur during use of the system.
“The FSRs are the critical link between the product office and the users,” Pilgrim said. “They reside with the users and are crosstrained on BCS3 and BCS3-NM; therefore, they are fully aware of the challenges that users encounter.” The reach-back system to PM Mission Command allows the FSRs to transmit those challenges to the product office, and thus achieve a comprehensive, joint resolution.
To address the need for distribution management software, the Army—with support from its joint partners from the Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and Pacific Command—took the core BCS3 application and in 2006 collaborated in an advanced concept technology demonstration to create Node Management Deployable Depot, the forerunner to the Battle Command Sustainment Support System-Node Management.
By leveraging the lessons learned, knowledge and experience of joint, deployed forces, this heavily modified version of BCS3 integrates additional joint ITV and AV data sources and provides a COP for distribution management that is focused on distribution nodes and supply storage activities end-to-end for both inter- and intra-theater materiel movements. Once integrated and associated through detailed business logic, these data sets provide the BCS3-NM user access to almost all cargo moving in the Defense Transportation System via air, sea or land, including:
- Vehicles and containers equipped with satellite transponder technology and associated content level detail of cargo when available.
- Shipments moving through the Northern Distribution Network/Pakistan Ground Line of Communication, even when non-instrumented and reported through manual update means.
- Cargo moving through commercial shipment systems such as UPS and FedEx.
Ryan Roberts, BCS3 field support representative for U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), remembers the night of July 7, 2011, when he woke up to track the status of high-priority items—MRAP all-terrain vehicle armor kits—and expedite their delivery. With more than 100 transportation control numbers (TCNs) to track, Roberts was able to load data into BCS3-Node management and locate each TCN’s last location. He said the process of finding the TCNs was performed twice a day for the next week.
“With this accomplishment, node management has proved its worth,” said Captain Israel Camacho, USFOR-A mobility officer. Gunnery Sergeant Carl Thomas, the senior non-commissioned officer in-charge of the Marine Expeditionary Force Distribution Center, said BCS3-NM is the most useful system he has encountered in some time.
“We use BCS3-NM on a daily basis to locate cargo that is being shipped in and out of theater,” Thomas said. “I would like to use this system in the rear at Camp LeJeune [N.C.], because it gives us a one-stop shop for tracking and tracing of cargo coming and going out of the freight section.”
Joint Task Force Port Opening (JTF-PO), managed by USTRANSCOM, has been using BCS3-NM as part of their suite of capabilities for the past four years. JTF-PO has a unique process to quickly open and establish ports of debarkation and initial distribution. This organization was on the leading edge of deployment of BCS3-NM and has strongly advocated for BCS3-NM’s inter- and intra-theater distribution reach.
“Every time we embark on a port opening mission, we incorporate the BCS3-NM,” said Major Armando R. Velasquez- Kuppinger, LG JTF-PO 690th Rapid Port Opening Element commander. “It provides our commander a great logistical situational awareness at the port, of our traffic on the roads, and our customers we are supporting.”
BCS3 continues to evolve into an even more powerful system. The Afghanistan ITV Joint Task Forces recommended BCS3-NM to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the joint staff as a “ready to go” capability to establish a joint distribution COP for the Combined Joint Operations Area–Afghanistan (CJOA-A).
A joint urgent operational need statement for modified BCS3- NM capability has been approved and will lead to new capabilities that will provide the most accurate and responsive distribution management tool available for both U.S. forces and International Security Assistance Force coalition partners.
Project Manager Mission Command Collapse Strategy
The BCS3 product line falls under the Mission Command Collapse strategy, which is converging several Army systems toward a consolidated software product line to ensure streamlined capability. Sustainment C2 is merging and migrating existing BCS3 and BCS3-NM functionality to provide ITV functionality via the BCS3 National Enterprise Data Portal as web services. The objective is to transition BCS3 functionality to collapse client computer or web client as soon as possible to allow existing BCS3 systems to be retired. This means that in the future, BCS3 capabilities will be converted into web services and the user will use a laptop to pull down information and maps for empowered decision making.
BCS3 and BCS3-NM continue to provide unique logistics management capability to the joint forces. In an era of budget cuts, BCS3’s joint development, deployment and utilization will ensure that fiscally efficient, state-of the-art logistics systems continue to support soldiers and joint forces. ♦
Kathryn Bailey is with Project Manager Mission Command.