Marines Revamp The Supply Chain That Serves Troops

The branch is rolling out Oracle's enterprise apps to streamline its supply and logistics operations.
A modern military needs more than high-tech weaponry. It needs 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 soldiers in Iraq and around the world, with new business processes and Oracle's enterprise applications.

The Marine Corps this week said it has selected Oracle's E-Business Suite, including supply-chain planning, procurement, logistics, and other apps, to sustain its Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps/Logistics Chain Management program 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 to the entire Marine Corps.

The supply-chain overhaul was prompted by a number of logistics problems. The Marine Corps is still using batch-processing supply and maintenance legacy systems from the 1970s, which don't interoperate well and can tangle communications between different units, headquarters, and suppliers. Because these are 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 inadequate systems have meant that the Marine Corps hasn't been able to, for example, 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 Iraqi war. In March, Brigadier General Edward G. Usher, director of logistics plans, policies, and strategic mobility for the corps, testified before Congress that the "lack of asset visibility on unit stocks and in-transit visibility on ordered items 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 reengineering project should make it easier to find supplies as well as assess and share logistics information, such as the arrival time of a certain supply. The increased visibility and data sharing should cut excess and "just-in-case" inventory, Delarm says.

Oracle's E-Business Suite, which was selected from among several other vendors' software, will run on the Marine Corps' supply and maintenance system and electronically link Marine units in the field with supporting units. Troops will be able to check on maintenance and supply requests via a single Web-portal interface. The Web architecture makes it easier to deploy in the field, and the software will automate many of the supply, maintenance, and logistics functions. For example, when a specific supply runs low, the software can automatically place an order to replenish it, Delarm says.

In addition, the Oracle suite complies with the Marine's Logistics Enterprise Architecture and can interoperate with supply and logistics systems at other Department of Defense branches as well as commercial partners. That means the U.S. Army, Navy, and the Air Force could access Marine Corps supply chain and logistics information if they're engaged with a Marine unit, Delarm says. The Marine Corps already uses Oracle Database and Oracle Application Server. Now it's in the process of selecting a systems integrator that will "integrate the Oracle solution with the rest of the Marine Corps' infrastructure and systems," Delarm says. The entire supply chain and logistics re-engineering 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. We're striving for greater combat effectiveness for our Marines and that's the bottom line."