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The Army fielded 15 years' worth of comms equipment — now what?

April 19, 2017 (Photo Credit: Jen Judson/Staff)
This is Part I of a two-part series.

Army leaders are coming to grips with the service's enduring problems associated with logistics, maintenance and sustainment of its existing, aging systems. These challenges stem from over a decade of war during which issues like life cycle management of systems was not taken into consideration, one reason being the operational tempo of conflicts forces were engaged in.

As the U.S. is now engaged in far more countries than it was 15 years ago combined with new characters of war – characterized by leadership as multi-domain battle against near-peer adversaries – these problems are coming to a head. It's forcing the Army to retroactively instill better practices while changing the way they purchase, sustain and maintain future portfolios.

One of the offices looking to remedy this problem is the Integrated Logistics Support Center within the Army’s Communications-Electronics Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The center is responsible for providing integrated logistics, sustainment and acquisition support for C4ISR systems. “The responsibility of what we call integrated logistics sustainment, it’s not just the having the right part in the right place at the right time and the movement of those, it is the planning, the projection, the actual procurement of the parts, the delivery of those parts,” Liz Miranda, the center’s director told C4ISRNET in an interview at her office.

“A lot of our systems are fielded for a long period of time. So our ability to project out and forecast the needs of our Army is a challenge. It’s definitely a challenge,” Miranda said. The Army has struggled to forecast both for itself and the members of industry from whom they purchase their systems from, what parts they’ll need to maintain systems, timelines for parts, etc.

Read Part II: Army to address gaps with home station training

“How do you do sustainment for rapid acquisition? It’s a real challenge. It is a huge challenge,” Maj. Gen. Kirk Vollmecke, Program Executive Officer for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors, said during a November conference. “I would offer that the experience the Army had in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that in spades.”

Vollmecke teed up the scenario by describing how small companies would approach the next brigade commander going down range with a new, innovative technology. The commanders would take it but if it broke, that was it — there was no replacement parts, no supply manuals, nothing, he said. If the next guy or unit fell in and didn’t like it or didn’t use this capability, they shoved it into a container. By the time the war was over there were tons of these, dozens and dozens if not hundreds of containers with systems that soldiers brought down range because of rapid acquisition, Vollmecke said.

The goal should be to identify useful solutions and make them into programs of record to develop tactics, techniques, procedures and sustainment packages, he added. This was done for some systems and ultimately, this is what has to happen. If they find something they really like, make that transition so it moves into a program where a sustainment process kicks in, he said.

Some of the initiatives the Army is undertaking to remedy these issues involves including sustainment with procurement. “What we are moving more toward, more recently, [is] trying to use the same procurement contract for the sustainment,” Miranda said. “That gives us more continuity and we now understand from a system perspective what industry can do and it’s easier for them or beneficial for them because they also have continuity and they see how the system process evolves once it’s in sustainment.”

Miranda acknowledged that logistics could be a significant vulnerability both internally — focused mainly on the self-inflicted wounds of the Army – and externally — the ability of adversaries to deny forward and austere units supply.

“As we talk about multi-domain battle, the area that concerns me the most is not necessarily the tactical fight, but it’s our ability to logistically support and sustain over vast distances and over long periods of time when our logistical support can be attributed by kinetic operations or disrupted by cyber operations working against us,” Paul Rogers, director of the Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, said at AUSA’s Global Force Symposium in March. “If we want independent operations, we have to ensure logistical operations in a near-peer fight.”

Miranda explained that the Army is working to modernize and harden communications such as radios to prevent them from being jammed or interfered with crypto modifications.

Secondarily, she explained discussions with the Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon to discuss cyber training and technical assistance. “We do have a lot of expertise and resource available for cyber. We want to transform that into some organic capability in the Army with the cyber [logistics assistance representatives] — start providing that support to units be it at home station or deployment,” she said.

Additionally, the Army has field support elements forward with units. While this is not a new concept, as in conflicts during the past 15 years, units had sustainment and technical assistance with them, what has changed is that the Army is faced with reduced funding and resources, but the same responsibilities. No longer can all units rely upon highly skilled personnel or a logistical backbone behind them to worry about moving and repairing equipment. While the Army is looking to make the individual soldier more proficient in systems (more in Part II), for issues that are a level above the individual soldier’s proficiency, they have regional support.

“We have folks in the units themselves,” Miranda said. “So when the units go to training, they have a cadre of support in various skill sets to train them, help them and guide them through their own training. Then we also have reach back capability regionally. So if certainly they are faced with one issue and we did not provide one person to go with them, there is reach back capability to address their issue.”

“We’re regionally aligned, so it’s not like we have to fly someone from here to Poland to do something,” she added.

Part II will focus on the technology and training aspect the Army and Integrated Logistics Support Center is undertaking.
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