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Utilising SOA in defence logistics
The logistics function within the defence arena presents distinct and complex challenges which can be mitigated through the adoption of a SOA architecture
By: Quocirca
Published: May 2010
Logo for Quocirca

Defence logistics have multiple touch points with logistics systems operated by civilian and quasi-civilian organisations, and must be able to operate effectively, rapidly and transparently with these systems. However, as defence logistics approach the battlespace, the capabilities and needs change: communication lines become less predictable, physical drop points for reprovisioning and carrying out in-field repairs may be moving in real time. Further complications are introduced through the sheer scale of maintaining a successful operation, with the need to maintain supplies of items ranging from personal supplies of rations, razors, mail from home and so on, through armaments and ammunition to the likes of lorries, tanks and helicopters. Such complexities cannot be allowed to compromise the supply chain and the logistics flows: today's battlespace requires an end-to-end approach to processing supply needs and providing the logistics to fulfil these. Cost remains a major issue, and as such, battlespace logistics must also ensure that all actions are financially optimised, while kept in balance with the real time critical needs of the assets in the battlespace itself.

Using open standards to enable defence logistics to operate effectively in a rapidly changing environment
The defence environment presents a set of distinct and complex issues when it comes to logistics in the battlespace. The range of items required in an ongoing operation ranges from the very small and relatively fragile, such as rations, through to the very large and less fragile, such as tanks and heavy machinery spares. However, integration with civilian organisations is a key requirement, and a mix of commercial and home-grown systems used here adds further complexities to an already difficult environment. Using SOA to underpin logistics processes can help address many of the associated problems, such as:

Ensuring granularity of response: The battlespace requires rapid response in many cases as replacement parts and a continual provision of consumables including food, water, ammunition and small armaments are required. However, wherever possible, logistics have to be aggregated to ensure that items are not being supplied at too high a cost - both at a pure monetary level and also at a risk level, as supply chains to the battlespace will have their own risks to contend with.

Creating and maintaining a battlespace logistics capability: No battlespace situation can be sustainable unless there is a capability to maintain suitable logistical support. Having the wrong assets in place, or having assets that are missing key components, will not just compromise a battlespace capability, but could lead to the loss of a strategic position or capability.

Using just-in-time in a real time response environment: Building up large quantities of items in a battlespace is not recommended. Not only does it lead to poor inventory management and the probability of assets not being available where they are needed within a reasonable period of time, but it also opens up problems around the security of the assets themselves. If the inventory is compromised, either through theft or through damage incurred through enemy action, then it is lost. Better to keep the assets away from the threat zone, but be able to get the assets to where they are needed rapidly and effectively.

Enabling micro-distribution sites for rapid response: In an active battlespace environment, it will be necessary to ensure that certain items are continually provisioned, for example ammunition and rations. These sites may need to move as the battlespace changes, and large stocks of items will either compromise the depot's capability to move rapidly, or will just have to be left behind or destroyed as the depot moves. By keeping small, front-line sites provisioned from a larger behind-the-lines depot, such more immediate needs can be effectively managed.

Monitoring of equipment for proactive logistics: Larger assets, as well as items such as communication equipment, can often be continually monitored to warn of an incipient problem, or to show the root cause of an existing problem. Through the use of remote monitoring, asset utilisation can be maximised, and failure requiring complete removal of assets can be minimised, with the logistics chain providing spares support on-demand as required. Shared logistics with other defence forces needs to be managed in a secure manner: Few battlespaces exist where it is one single party in an operation against another single party. Formal or loose coalitions of friendly groups, often involving in-theatre teams of military, police or private security assets are far more the norm, and a means of ensuring that logistics capabilities are not overlapping and that supply chains are not overly redundant is an important consideration.

Integration with existing civilian logistics systems: Much of a supply chain's contents will be supplied from purely civilian or quasi-civilian suppliers. Military systems must be capable of providing information into these systems and receiving information from them in a manner which makes the whole set of logistics processes more effective, flexible and supportive of the needs of the battlespace.

Logistics in a defence environment has to embrace standard commercial systems, yet also needs to be able to deal with the specific issues arising from conditions at the front line of the battlespace. The use of an SOA architecture enables the rapid exchange of information required to ensure that massive inventories of equipment are not kept in multiple large distribution depots, yet also ensure that items are available within the short timescales necessary within such a dynamic environment.

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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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