IT and GIS Trends in Defence Logistics Management

IT and GIS Trends in Defence Logistics Management


A revolution in military affairs is incomplete without a revolution in military logistics (RML). IT and GIS play an important role in military logistics because they help in moving the supplies, equipment and troops where they are needed, at the right time.

Around 500 BC, Sun Tzu quoted, “The line between disorder and order lies in logistics.” More than 2,500 years later, the maxim still stands in the battlefields of today. Globalisation has created a complex web of interdependencies and threats. To protect the economic and geopolitical interests, countries are focussing on creating a battle-ready force that is responsive to the asymmetric nature of threats and is designed to be extremely agile in the battlefield. Recent events have indicated the growing importance of acting together with all the allied forces rather than conducting independent missions. This demands a high level of interoperability, both at the command and systems levels. Such operational requirements and trends are driving investment in advanced logistics information systems including GIS.

Drivers for Change in Defence Logistics
Defence Logistics Information Systems (DLIS) are at best fragmented, and for many armed forces, still a distant reality. Potential issues affecting the global defence market are driving the adoption of cost effective processes to better manage information and optimise day-today operational needs. The consequent austerity measures have not only struck the future order books, but also impacted the R&D spending.

In such challenging times, the enduser and the industry are exploring alternate methods of funding future R&D and procurement. This need is driving the adoption of effective management systems throughout the product lifecycle, from development to operations, focussing on supply chain management, cost, and operational efficiency. As a result, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)/ Through-Life Cost (TLC) and Performance- Based Logistics (PBL)/ Contracting for Availability (CFA) have become the buzz words for defence stakeholders and decision-makers.

Absolute cost, sustainability and life-cycle support are the future procurement priorities of ministries of defence across both developed and developing markets. However, regional dynamics, political and industrial, dictate the approaches to reaching the end goals. European and North American countries like the United Kingdom, Norway, Canada and United States are driven by an imminent need to reduce costs, whilst not risking operational capabilities and national security. This has led to the adoption of alternate procurement models, such as CFA and Total Solution. The success of these models is based on real integration of the industry within the end-user environment including operational environment. In such markets, both OEM and the end user no longer look at platform and platform sustainment as separate, and are moving towards undertaking an integrated approach towards procuring these capabilities to ensure improved availability.

In Middle East and Asia Pacific (APAC) markets like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Singapore, Indonesia and India, there are indications of similar trends for integrating industry and end users and in some cases, platforms and sustainment. However, the trend is primarily a capability gap issue, rather than cost, although not discounting the impact of economic climate on these markets. Procurement of complex next generation platforms and adapting to the evolving defence doctrine and lessons learned from experiences of ISAF in Afghanistan and Iraq wars demand industry skills to be applied directly into the end-user environment.

Latin American countries have similar challenges. However, obsolete inventories, relatively modest defence budgets, and low industrial base are limiting the uptake of a revolutionary approach to military procurement and operations. Brazil is an exception to the rule where there are currently nine PBL contracts across various platform and system levels, and countries like Chile and Colombia are working to imitate.

DLIS in Defence Environment
Based on research on the global DLIS market, below are some examples summarising the anticipated and actual benefits of implementing advanced DLIS into the defence environment.


As a result of introducing advanced DLIS, Singapore Air Force has improved responsiveness and reduced process cycle time by more than 50 percent for some key processes, such as supply chain management, engineering and maintenance, and financials. Within the Singapore Navy, an evaluation of the process before and after the implementation of the enterprise system shows a 54 percent reduction in procurement cycle time and a 57 percent decrease in the required number of manual interventions throughout the process.

A major reduction in logistics depots, a direct supply chain from the global network of suppliers/OEMs to the units/ end user, not only reduced the process time, but also reduced considerable numbers in man resources. For example, efficiencies gained from the DLIS has enabled nearly 50 percent reduction of the F-16 fleet, from 120 to about 60, with flight hour reduction of only about 7.5 percent. Furthermore, the serviceability and availability of the fleet were at around 70 percent. The savings enabled ongoing modernisation of defence force by procuring the latest equipment.

The Italian Air Force’s requirements for the information system led to the provision of a full outsourcing service, where the supplier is responsible for the realisation, distribution, operation and management including maintenance of all hardware and software parts. This kind of service also foresees the increasing integration with other subsystems already in use, the centralised management of information flows, and the coordination of different operational phases for the system and the aircraft.

Logistics Automation in Indian Armed Forces
For evolving a DLIS, India’s three services have individually launched their systems. The Army Computerised Inventory Control Programme (CICP) provides online inventory management system for the army. The Navy has its Integrated Logistics Management System (ILMS) which was implemented in March ’97. The Air Force has commissioned its Integrated Material Management On Line System (IMMOLS) which is an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution. The objectives of IMMOLS has been to create total asset visibility, provide a quality tool, standardise business processes and inventory carrying costs. IMMOLS also provides for centralised spares databank, price history, online audit and visibility and accountability. It enables optimal inventory holdings, effective demand management, realistic provisioning, dynamic supply status and online concurrence and transactions.

Table:1-Region wise comparative shipper and 3PL percentages

GIS in Defence Logistics
GIS has found numerous civil niches but has increasingly penetrated into a range of military and security applications. The most recent step in this progressive evolution is the fusion of GIS with Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) products forming an integral part of the Network Centric Warfare (NCW). Since military logistics is closely linked with warfare, this revolution in military affairs has to be supported by a corresponding RML. Spatial data is of crucial importance to the military commander in a battlefield. The regional conflicts, rapid deployment and flexible response impose heavy burden on military commanders, their staff and supporting system to keep themselves up-to-date with the situation on the ground. Digital mapping and GIS take center stage in activities such as communications planning, logistics management and command control. The Distributed Geospatial Intelligence Network (DGI-net) technology employed by defence and intelligence organisations provides an enterprise solution for publishing, disseminating and exploiting geospatial intelligence data.

To implement the concept of focussed defence logistics, the logistics fraternity needs to lay emphasis on four areas: a logistics data network, a responsive distribution system, a robust modular force reception capability, and an integrated supply chain. A high speed logistics data network coupled with application software on GIS platform will provide not only in-transit visibility in real-time but also total asset visibility (TAV). This will allow commanders to adjust resupply operations while en route, determine supply and maintenance requirements and act appropriately before the critical time, and make the current distribution system truly responsive.

Role of GIS in defence logistics planning can be highlighted as:-

  • IT in conjunction with GIS technology helps in providing a fully secure, web-based multi-component display, reporting and analysis application able to monitor military cargo across the transportation networks and overseas.
  • GIS based system generates highly detailed maps useful for troop and cargo transport. It helps in moving supplies, equipment, and troops at the right time and place.
  • It can also be used to determine alternative routes if mishaps or traffic jams occur on the direct route.
  • System can also track vehicles/shipments in real-time. Alerts are provided if cargo deviates from a charted course.
  • GIS based system also caters to emergency response capabilities.
  • Internet mapping capabilities of such a solution enable effective decision making, logistics and asset management.
  • A single interface to visualise assets critical to security such as airports, dams, water plants, bus and commuter rail lines and facilities, nuclear power plants, and power grids.

IT in Civil Logistics Sector
The proliferation of information technology has provided impetus to the logistics challenge. New technologies present new means to manage the flow of information. IT as a productivity tool can be utilised to both increase the capability and decrease the cost. It has been widely accepted that firms with the proper implementation of IT can achieve competitive advantage by cost reduction or differentiation. Logistics powered by IT has become a source of competitive advantage for many firms. Two streams of research are identified that highlight the role of IT in logistics. First stream relates to just-in-time (JIT) logistics information system. The other stream is the third party logistics (3PLs). A recent survey found that 83 percent of the surveyed Fortune 500 companies reported having at least one contract with a third-party logistics provider. Similar survey of Fortune 500 companies taken in 1991 had only 38 percent of the respondents reporting the use of 3PLs provider.

Third Party Logistics (3PLs)
3PLs operators attempt to harness the capability of information technology to provide superior services to their customers. Table 1 gives region wise comparative shipper and 3PL percentages which clearly indicates a preference for 3PL approach.

Supply Chain and Logistics Technology Trends
The ability to optimise the logistics cost and service levels are affected by the LIS of the firm and its partners. Firms which provide better logistics services at a lower cost have competitive advantage over their competitors. Two classes of LIS have been recognised. Logistics Operating Systems (LOS) refer to transactional applications such as order entry, order processing, warehousing and transportation. Logistics Planning Systems (LPS) refer to coordinating applications such as forecasting, inventory management and distribution requirements planning.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) has successfully enhanced the communication between firms which is essential for logistics. Early applications of EDI have been on transmitting vehicle location information by railways to their customers. Other types of logistics information carried by EDI are purchase orders/releases and changes, advanced shipping notices, bills of lading, and invoices. Timely and accurate information is crucial in decision making about complex logistics problems. Japan Airlines (JAL) adopted EDI to manage their complex value chain logistics required for their operations, including procurement and just-in-time delivery of aircraft fuel, repair and maintenance aircraft parts, food catering and other customer requirements.

Some of the key IT enablers in logistics are as follows:-

  • Bar Coding: – It is one of the most impostant IT enablers to date and provides a strong foundation for integrating the corporate logistics and the supply chain.
  • RFID: – The use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is expected to increase rapidly in coming years for the automatic data capture and identification market.
  • E-Commerce in Logistics: – The group of technologies and processes for coordinating logistics information flow has been named e-logistics. For example, UPS is exploiting the power of the web services to streamline its information flow for logistics activities such as RFQ, shipping and tracking.
  • Collaborative Technologies: – Collaborative technologies for supporting e-logistics would greatly enhance the future logistics. Multi-Agent Systems (MAS) provide an interesting avenue for supporting logistics technologies on the internet.
  • Transportation Management Systems (TMS): – Characterised as one of the fastest growing enterprise application markets by ARC Advisory Group, the TMS sector has been growing at a double-digit rate over the last couple of years.
  • Wireless Trends: – Today’s logistics professionals are equipping delivery drivers with ruggedised devices, using handheld computers to track inventory, and relying on mobile devices to monitor movement of goods as they make their way through the supply chain.

Best Practice Trends in Logistics
The key results of a study conducted by BVL International on trends and strategies in logistics and supply chain management in 2013 are summarised below:

  • Customer Expectations: While increasing customer expectations were ranked as the most important trend, meeting their requirements was ranked as the number-one logistics objective.
  • Networked Economy: In today’s networked economies, companies have to collaborate with partners both vertically and horizontally in extended supply chain, to adopt network thinking rather than company thinking.
  • Cost Pressure: Logistics costs are playing an important role in reducing overall costs. Logistics costs share of overall revenue is as low as 4 percent and 6 percent in the electronics and automotive industries respectively, and 8 percent on average for manufacturing industries.
  • Globalisation: As global footprints expand, logistics performance as measured by delivery reliability faces complexity, particularly in regions of growth such as Russia, Eastern Europe, India and Africa.
  • Talent Shortfalls: Across all regions and sectors, talent shortages in logistics are considered one of the most important challenges in the coming years. Shortages are seen at the operational, planning and controlling function.
  • Sustainability Pressure: This trend has emerged as a very serious topic. Green issues are part of the logistics strategy; and corporate social responsibility has also emerged as a key factor.
  • Increased Risk and Disruption: Majority of companies consider the mitigation of internal and external risks essential. Solutions focussed on improving transparency of tier two suppliers; inventory and demand impede mitigation and force companies into reactive strategies.
  • New Technology: Majority of companies are recognising the growing need for investments in new technology, with about 60 percent planning to invest in big data analysis tools within the next five years.

Logistics operations of future will operate under an integrated logistics system or supply chain management which will govern logistics decisions and operations. Logisticians of future will become aware of the entire ‘bench-to-battle’ segment of interactions which will deliver the needed item rapidly and efficiently. Increasingly, an awareness of the cost of logistics trade-offs will impact logistics decision-making, especially in trading inventory for information.

To have efficient logistics support, it is essential that the operational environment is backed with an efficient information system that can provide real-time information for effective decision- making, on and off the battlefield. The key decision making factor is based on the ability of the IT system to fully integrate the operational support activities across the three services.

The writer is an author of a book titled ‘Transformation in Defence Logistics’