Marine Corps Revamps Troops' Supply Chain

Military branch rolls out Oracle's enterprise apps to simplify supply operations

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

October 29, 2004

3 Min Read

A modern military needs more than high-tech weaponry. It requires an IT-driven supply chain that delivers the right information and the right supplies exactly when troops need them. To that end, the U.S. Marine Corps is overhauling its supply chain, which serves troops in Iraq and around the world, with new business processes and Oracle's enterprise applications.

The Marine Corps last week said it has selected Oracle's E-Business Suite, including supply-chain planning, procurement, and logistics apps, for its Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps/Logistics Chain Management program, which was launched in July. Oracle's software is replacing decades-old legacy systems and will be rolled out to more than 7,500 troops and support staff by 2007 and eventually the entire Marine Corps.

The supply-chain overhaul was prompted by a number of logistics problems. The Marine Corps still is using 1970s-era batch-processing supply-and-maintenance legacy systems, which don't interoperate well and can tangle communications between different units, headquarters, and suppliers. Because they're mainframe and client-server apps, they can't easily be used on the battlefield. "The legacy systems were built to enable old processes," says Randy Delarm, program manager for global combat support systems and information systems and infrastructure at the Marine Corps Systems Command. "Not only are our IT systems built on old technology and architecture, they no longer support the vision of where we're going with logistics modernization in the Marine Corps."

The Marines' effort to reengineer its supply chain should make it easier to assess logistics information.Photo by Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz/USMC

For example, inadequate systems have meant that the Marines haven't been able to locate surplus supplies in one unit that could be transferred to another, Delarm says. The logistics problems have even led to supply delays and shortages in the Iraq war. In March, Brig. Gen. Edward Usher, director of logistics plans, policies, and strategic mobility for the Marines, testified before Congress that the lack of visibility "made it difficult to identify actual shortages, to locate needed items within stocks for reallocation, and to direct and track the movement of ordered items to requesting units."

The Marine Corps' reengineering project should make it easier to find supplies as well as assess and share logistics information, such as the arrival time of certain supplies. The increased visibility and data sharing should cut excess and "just-in-case" inventory, Delarm says.

Oracle's E-Business Suite will run on the corps' supply and maintenance system, which amasses information from multiple sources among the corps, other military branches, and the U.S. Department of Defense. Marines will be able to check on maintenance and supply requests via a single Web-portal interface. The Web architecture will make it easier to deploy in the field, and the software will automate many supply, maintenance, and logistics functions. For example, when a specific item runs low, the software can automatically place an order to replenish it, Delarm says.

The Oracle suite can interoperate with systems at other Defense Department branches. That means the Army, Navy, and Air Force could access Marine Corps supply-chain and logistics information if they're engaged with a Marine unit, Delarm says.

The entire reengineering project is expected to wrap up by 2007. "We're trying to take better care of our war fighters and see that they get the supplies that they need in order to succeed on the battlefield," Delarm says. "We're striving for greater combat effectiveness for our Marines, and that's the bottom line."

About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

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