War games: Modernizing the military supply chain
Lockheed Martin and the US Marine Corps join forces to keep combat supply lines open using a powerful weapon — SAS® Business Analytics
Amid the physically grueling and hostile terrain of southeastern Afghanistan, an exhausted platoon of US Marines begins its 10-mile march back to a small outpost camp following a routine patrol. During a bridge crossing, with about half of the unit safely across, the structure explodes under a barrage of mortar and small arms fire raining down from the mountains above. With the platoon split in two, both sides take up their positions and engage the enemy insurgents in fierce combat. As the battle rages, ammunition, water and medical supplies begin to dwindle. Without a resupply of these basic necessities soon, the platoon will record significant casualties before the day is through.
Faced with this outcome, the platoon commander asks for a situation report on efforts to reinforce his unit with the supplies it will need to overcome the enemy forces who are relentlessly slinging fire down from the surrounding mountains.
While fictitious, this scenario is just one of many combat situations US military personnel are trained to face while deployed in an active combat zone. Thanks to 24/7 cable news reports, delivered to living rooms around the world, the perils of modern day warfare – be they deadly snipers' bullets fired from afar or buried improvised explosive devises awaiting the footfall of battle-weary soldiers or a convoy of fuel tankers – are well documented. But what if soldiers were suddenly left without supplies to accomplish their mission?
Logistics is a crucial aspect of military operations that often goes unnoticed. Without an informed and efficient logistics strategy in place, the lives of combat troops would hang in the balance every day. In the world of military leaders, maintaining supply lines – while disrupting the enemy's – is one of the most critical success factors in mounting and winning wars. After all, what good is a military force without food, water, fuel and ammunition?
Lockheed Martin partnered with SAS to support their business analytics requirements for a proof-of-concept project to modernize battlefield logistics capabilities for the USMC. Mission goals were to integrate disparate sources of mission-critical data and develop an information dashboard and reporting system that would provide leaders with critical logistics information in real time.
"SAS played a key role in the Expeditionary Logistics War Game, which resulted in several significant achievements for data analytics and dashboard development to help military commanders with their decision making," says Thad Beckert, Logistics War Game Lead, Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics.
"Starting with raw military logistics data and rudimentary dashboard design concepts, the SAS team rapidly built dynamic, self-updating dashboards that mirrored the detailed information commanders typically receive in a static format. Critical information could be easily accessed and immediately actioned through the dashboard interface."
Life-and-death decisions in an ever-changing environment
During the exercise, every detail mimicked a real-life scenario to recreate the kind of pressure the military is under to make the right decisions when lives are at stake. The SAS specialists worked in real time, integrating crucial data feeds to generate analysis and reports under tight deadlines. They were even challenged by the limited technical infrastructure and bandwidth one might expect when communicating with remote combat outposts, forcing the SAS team to calculate what type of information and how much could be sent at any given time.
"I was impressed that SAS was able to replicate our existing process and automate the delivery of data and information into a real-time dashboard. By compiling data from all of our critical data systems, we're able to derive additional insights into what is actually happening on the battlefield."
—Lt.Col. Terry Hagan,
"The combat environment is always changing, but the chain of supplies can never stop," says Lt. Col. Terry Hagan of the Marine Corps. "As soon as you stop providing supplies, the military stops – people's lives are at risk. We're combining logistics data with operational and intelligence data to deliver real-time information that is consumable by the different levels of military personnel, who have to make fast, accurate and confident decisions to ensure the continuous supply of things like ammunition and water during critical situations."
"I was impressed that SAS was able to replicate our existing process and automate the delivery of data and information into a real-time dashboard," says Hagan. "Not only did we get the statistics and performance measures that are important to us in real time, but we also received the ability to perform trending analysis, which we couldn't easily do before. By compiling data from all of our critical data systems, we're able to derive additional insights into what is actually happening on the battlefield."
According to Hagan, efficiency and productivity are crucial benefits that can be derived from applying business analytics to support real-time decisions, at the most critical moments of war.
"When I was in Iraq, I worked with a corporal who got up at 3 a.m. to manually compile 30 spreadsheets of data every day to have them ready by 7:30 a.m. – and that's just one example. The power of business analytics is its ability to bring data sources together and combine tables easily, and then serve it up all in one dashboard – it's very flexible and customizable. When a general looks at information on a chart, we want to be able to assure him that the data is accurate and current to make the most informed and confident decisions.
"We've always completed our missions, but the amount of labor it took to produce the same level of insight before was significantly reduced using SAS," he continues. "With better productivity and efficiency, we can better support our soldiers in the field. We've proved that our concept of automating information delivery is valid – I think this is the first time ever in the military that we have been able to do this from a logistics and operational perspective."
As for the future, Hagan says the proof-of-concept project performed by Lockheed Martin and supported by SAS will support the military's aim to have inventory, consumption and transportation of supplies monitored using real-time sensors, which will transmit data back to the supply chain system to support ongoing decision making.
"Waging and winning wars is heavily reliant on the bravery and skill of the soldiers that fight for freedom. And success with as few casualties as possible is our goal," concludes Hagan. "With intelligent people and systems supporting our troops on the front lines, we have a better opportunity to achieve that goal."
This story appears in the Fourth Quarter 2011 issue of