by Captain Joseph M. Colacicco
The Army's move toward a digitized force is giving warfighters increased situational awareness and better tools for planning and executing operations. For logisticians, this creates a greater need for real-time information, faster reporting, and a smaller logistics footprint. All three of these requirements involve improved connectivity to the Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMIS) used to provide logistics support to our soldiers. The logistics community has reached another significant step in accessing information with the development of the wireless Combat Service Support Automated Information System Interface (CAISI).
Some people undoubtedly will ask, "Why do we need this new technology? Our information flow is just fine in garrison." The answer is twofold. First, the information flow in garrison typically uses the garrison local area network (LAN) and is radically different from the information flow in a field environment. The second reason we need the CAISI is that systems in the field need a network architecture in order to interact with each other and pass information. Unfortunately, no practical solution has been found to replicate the garrison capability in a field environmentuntil now.
The Army first realized its need for a network solution while reviewing lessons learned from Operation Desert Storm. There, connectivity was provided by soldiers carrying disks from one computer to another. Though effective, this method obviously was not the most efficient. The Army began to look at newly developed technologies and rapidly evolving network systems for a new way to connect its logistics systems.
In 1992, the Army demonstrated one connectivity solution in the 1st Corps Support Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It was called "near-term fix" (NTF), and it eliminated the need to transfer disks. The NTF consisted of Sun computer workstations that consolidated the data transferred from STAMIS and used the "send mail" function to send it over the tactical network.
This solution had several flaws. The biggest problem was that a concentrator was required at each end of all network communications links among various STAMIS, even if one of those systems was network capable. Another problem was the sheer size of the NTF. The Sun workstation consisted of 17 separate components and associated cables and connectors, which made it difficult to move quickly in a high operating tempo environment. The NTF also had a complex user interface, but there was no formal training available on its use in Army Training and Doctrine Command schools. The final problem was that the "store and forward" e-mail function did not support the real-time data communications required by the Objective Supply Capability, Total Asset Visibility, and Total Distribution System programs.
In 1995, the CAISI Mid-Term (CAISI-MT) replaced the NTF. CAISI-MT allowed users to make direct file transfers instead of having to use "send mail," thus providing a great first step toward creating a functional logistics field network. CAISI-MT provided LAN technology to units in the field, enabling continuous network connections without using modems. It consisted of a ruggedized transit case containing a Cabletron MMAC-8 modular hub (eight-slot chassis), a terminal server, and a management module. The keyboard and monitor were separate. Although this system was effective, STAMIS users considered it bulky and extremely heavy at over 148 pounds. It was demonstrated successfully at Fort Bragg, but a better modela smaller Cabletron MMAC-3 modular hub (three-slot chassis)was developed before its actual fielding. The MMAC-3 weighed only 84 pounds and used a laptop computer that could connect 82 users.
The Cabletron MMAC-3 modular hub represented a huge leap forward in network technology for the Army. Fielding of the CAISI-MT began in October 1996, and the 46th Corps Support Group (CSG) (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, used it with great success during a field training exercise in early 1997. It enabled the supply support activities to transmit data between the field site and the 2d Corps Materiel Management Center (CMMC) in the garrison. This proved the ability of CAISI-MT to facilitate data transmission over the tactical network to a garrison. The 46th CSG could send data to the CMMC as well as "telnet" to various sites at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and to the CAISI-MT contractor in Fairfax, Virginia. The CAISI-MT went on to have operational successes in Haiti and Bosnia.
A supplement to the introduction of CAISI-MT was the development of Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) technology. CAISI-MT, coupled with TCP/IP, enabled logisticians to pass information to multiple users anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds by taking advantage of the Internet. This was the beginning of web-based logistics.
CAISI-MT provided new capabilities to the logistics world, but it was limited to the capabilities of its thin coaxial cable. This meant it had to be located within a 185-meter radius of a mobile subscriber equipment small extension node switch. STAMIS users beyond that distance connected to the system with field wire that weighed 95 pounds for every mile and transmitted data at extremely slow speeds.
Although CAISI-MT was easier to transport than the NTF, its dependence on coaxial cable and field wire made it extremely difficult to jump locations without abandoning the cable and wire. The wire had to be reconnected every time the system was moved to a new location, which added considerable time to set-up operations. Therefore, CAISI-MT served as a functional system for units that remained in one location. Units that moved continuously found its wire requirements and set-up times prohibitive. As a result, CAISI-MT was ignored in training environments.
The difficulty of setting up and operating CAISI-MT caused units to find other ways to pass data in the field. For example, STAMIS users in a brigade participating in a rotation at the Combat Maneuver Training Center at Hohenfels, Germany, had to connect to the data network to pass requisitions and receive status information. However, the existing phone lines in the brigade support area (BSA) were substandard and could not support large transfers without losing data. The solution to the problem seemed obvious: the brigade would write its data to disks. With that decision, the brigade immediately fell back to the system that had proven cumbersome during Desert Storm in 1991.
Here's how the information flowed in that brigade using the Unit Level Logistics System-Ground (ULLS-G). Units prepared their requisitions and maintenance updates once a day and wrote those files to disks. This took two disks per companyone for requisitions, which went to the warehouse, and one for maintenance updates, which went to the maintenance shop office. The shop office input the information on the maintenance disks into the Standard Army Maintenance System-Level 1 (SAMS-1), and those files were stored on a consolidated maintenance disk. The requisition disks were passed to the supply organization to input the information into the Standard Army Retail Supply System-Level 1 (SARSS-1). Unfortunately, if the SARSS-1 was located in the garrison because of field connectivity difficulties, the consolidated maintenance disk had to be sent to garrison for input into the SAMS-2 and transmission to the division support command. A truck driver returning to home station would carry the disks in a "weatherproof container" (Ziploc® bag) to the warehouse and to the support operations representative in garrison. The data then would be loaded into the respective STAMIS. For status information to flow back down to the customer, the new disks then had to be placed into the same weatherproof containers and sent back to the field with the next day's deliveries for distribution to the customers.
This clearly was not an effective way to use our logistics technologies. The Army needed a way to replicate garrison networks in the field. Enter the wireless CAISI. The CAISI project engineers took full advantage of available technologies and developed a wireless CAISI. The new system is flexible, easy to use, and connects an entire brigade's STAMIS without wires. It transports easily and links unclassified logistics systems together through a wireless network.
CAISI consists of commercial, off-the-shelf technologies in a modular system, which permits components to be replaced without difficulty and will allow easy upgrades in the future. The system can function in garrison to extend the LAN to units without connectivity and to tactical environments without changing network addresses. The same system is used in the field and in garrison without changing anything. In a forward support battalion, the CAISI can establish a wireless LAN that can connect up to 294 systems that are widely dispersed throughout a support area and rapidly transmit the information through the tactical network.
The CAISI for division and below consists of a service support representative kit, 9 CAISI bridge modules, and 30 CAISI client modules. A CAISI will be assigned to each support battalion headquarters and will be used to set up wireless combat service support LANs from the brigade, through the division and corps, to the echelons above corps. It will connect all logistics STAMIS, including those used by maneuver units. The CAISI will provide industry-standard connectivity for all computer users in the BSA. This means that any unit in the BSA will be able to use the Internet or any other network system to support its operations.
The client module, which weighs only 9 pounds, is the actual user level of CAISI. It consists of a base unit that can connect seven computers and allow them to transfer information via line-of-sight radio to the bridge module. The actual user interface with the client module is simple to operate: plug a computer into it, set up the antenna, and turn on the switch. The system can transmit information securely up to 2 kilometers with a data transfer rate of 11 million bytes per second.
The bridge module serves as a relay station for the client module. This component weighs 25 pounds, including the antenna. It can transmit data at speeds of 11 million bytes per second to a distance of 6 kilometers. In addition to relaying signals from client modules, it can support up to 14 computers wired directly into it. The bridge module is maintained by the support battalion S6 (automation officer) and monitored by the STAMIS user. One bridge module is located with the signal section in the BSA. There, CAISI interfaces with the network encryption system and enters data into the tactical packet network (TPN). The data move through the TPN to other LAN locations and systems, providing a theater logistics network. This permits real-time data transfer and assists with meeting the Army's goals for Velocity Management, Total Asset Visibility, and just-in-time logistics. This digital network upgrade increases transmission speeds and enables the use of web-based logistics.
Here's how information would flow in that same brigade at Hohenfels using CAISI. The ULLS-G computer would connect to a client module located in the BSA. When the operator ran the requisition and maintenance processes, the signal would transmit data to the bridge module. The information for the maintenance update would travel through the BSA to the SAMS-1 computer and enter the system. The supply data would move through the base bridge module, through the signal node, and into the TPN, where it would connect with the SARSS-1 computer at home station. The SAMS-1 computer would conduct a maintenance update, and its data then would be transmitted to the SAMS-2 computer at home station. The updates would pass back through the TPN to the ULLS-G system in the BSA. The entire process would take just a few minutes, and no one would have to get up from his chair!
CAISI also supports garrison logistics operations. The system can be used to transmit data without using the Directorate of Information Management's LAN. This will greatly enhance capabilities in areas like Germany, where many installations do not have networks and still use modems to interact. A major benefit of CAISI is that the network addresses used in garrison remain the same when the unit goes to the field or deploys. This prevents blackout periods while the systems are reconfigured or wire is put in place.
The new CAISI does have some limitations. The first is that it is a line-of-sight transmission system. This means that transmission distances are dependent on terrain features and manmade obstacles. Increasing the number of bridge modules in the support areas minimizes this problem. However, each bridge module can relay the signal of any client or bridge module; there is no one path for a client module to reach the root bridge module. Instead, the signal automatically follows the quickest path from the client module to the root bridge module into the mobile subscriber equipment network.
Another limitation is supporting bridge modules that do not have a small extension node (SEN) switch operating in the area. (An SEN switch consists of an S-250/E shelter mounted on a high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle. The SEN switch contains switching, multiplexing, and communications security equipment that supports the secure digital communications of a command post.) This problem can be alleviated somewhat by limiting the distance from the bridge module to the forward support area and eventually will be overcome by more advanced signal technologies.
The wireless CAISI fills a critical role in logistics support and advancement. By providing wireless communications, CAISI reduces set-up and tear-down time, covers a broader area, and supports more users in a given area with data speeds high enough to support web-based logistics. It puts the logistics community on the path to providing real-time logistics data and enabling faster requisitions. This makes CAISI an important tool in providing responsive and efficient support to our combat operations. ALOG
Captain Joseph M. Colacicco is the Supply and Services Officer in the office of the XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery G4 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Airborne School, the Aerial Delivery Materiel Officer Course, and the Petroleum Officer Course.