On any given morning, the chief executive of Oshkosh Truck Corp.
can look at a computer screen and see how many of the company’s
trucks are out of service.
Army Maj. Gen. John S. Caldwell Jr. says he is jealous.
“Unlike the Oshkosh CEO, [in the Army] we don’t know
how many of our vehicles are down on a particular day and why,”
Caldwell groused during a conference on military trucks in Monterey,
Computer chips onboard trucks and powerful information-processing
software make it possible to monitor the status of the fleet around
the world in real time, said Oshkosh chairman Robert G. Bohn.
But Caldwell, who runs the Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments
Command (TACOM), does not believe that technology alone is enough.
“In the Army, we have the technology,” he said. “[But]
we don’t have the mindset.”
TACOM manages 211 acquisition programs for the Army, worth about
$6 billion, and is responsible for the logistics for 71 percent
of the Army’s mechanized units.
In Caldwell’s opinion, TACOM needs to become more responsive
to customer needs. “We should not fool ourselves,” he
said. “Our customer expectations are too low.” He is
concerned about enhancing the value of his agency to the larger
Army. “It’s time to move off the viewgraphs and get
some work done,” he said. “We need to make some adjustments,
so TACOM can lead the Army transformation.”
A first step in that direction is the adoption of a “digital
framework for collaboration ... to find, manage and use information,”
Caldwell said. The command is in the process of building a “digital
nervous system” for weapon system design.
Leading that effort is TACOM’s National Automotive Center
(NAC), which acts as a liaison between the Army and the commercial
“We’ve been working on a collaborative data environment
for several years,” said NAC Director Dennis Wend. The center
developed a virtual design lab that links NAC engineers in Detroit
with tank operators in Fort Knox. The technology makes it possible
to have digital mathematical models of vehicles that look real,
not “cartoonish,” said Wend at the conference in Monterey.
The goal, he explained, is to achieve “visualization of design—from
concept all the way to engineering changes, in a three-dimensional
Last December, NAC awarded an $18 million two-year contract to
Parametrics Technologies, makers of computer-aided design software.
The contract covered 8,000 licenses of the Windchill collaborative
Web-based software. “We can take any data, turn it into information.
We can work on product development ... [and on] program management,”
Caldwell’s wish for a TACOM-wide network that can provide
instant information on the status of vehicles is not far-fetched,
said Wend. NAC plans to incorporate new diagnostics technology into
military vehicles—essentially computer chips that detect malfunctions
in vehicle components and transmit that information to a user workstation.
The next step, said Wend, is to standardize the technology Army-wide.
Software tools such as Windchill are helpful to manage information,
said Mark Adams, president and chief executive officer of Portal
Dynamics Inc., in Alexandria, Va. The company designs so-called
“integrated data environments” (IDE) for various organizations.
IDE is Pentagon-speak for a Web portal that permits users to share
and manipulate information about a product throughout its life cycle.
The users include designers, workers who develop products, manufacturing
operations, support agencies and suppliers.
An IDE, he explained, includes product information as well as transaction
data such as invoicing and billing.
The Windchill software acquired by NAC specifically manages the
product data, Adams said in an interview. “It’s a robust
tool for technical data product management.” In an IDE, the
data alone is not enough. To manipulate and manage data, the IDE
relies on a so-called enterprise resource planning software tool,
Adams said. Collectively, the data and the planning software form
a collaborative work environment.
“TACOM is going in the direction of IDE,” he said.
IDEs are different from the old client-server or the mainframe application
model, Adams explained. Military customers, for the most part, want
their IDEs to be linked to their existing computer systems. They
want a Web-based “storefront for users and manufacturers,”
Several Defense Department vehicle programs are using IDEs. Portal
Dynamics received contracts to build networks for the Army’s
family of medium tactical vehicles (FMTV) and the M939 heavy truck.
The Marine Corps recently hired the company to build an IDE for
its light armored vehicle program. The vehicle’s producer,
General Motors Canada, also is setting up an IDE to manage the company’s
internal processes for different product lines. Currently, Adams
said, GM has 18 information systems that perform different functions.
The FMTV program manager, meanwhile, was “in a quandary,”
Adams said. “He had no visibility of the status of field-service
reporting for vehicles around the world.” Traditionally, the
field-service reporting, which lists the status of every vehicle
in a particular area, is done on paper. The FMTV manufacturer, Stewart
& Stevenson, would compile the reports and provide a summary
to the program manager. “Generally, they were quite late,”
said Adams. “By the time the program manager got the information,
it was weeks or months old.”
The program office wanted an IDE that would “capture, aggregate
and present the results of field-service reports,” he said.
Consequently, both the program manager and the manufacturer have
“almost real-time information about the status of the fleet
worldwide. They have a feel for which trucks are available for use.”
Users of the IDE portal have profiles and passwords, Adams explained.
Army staffers in the field enter the information into the network.
The program manager thus can track, for example, maintenance trends
throughout the fleet and determine which locations incur the most
problems with vehicles and why.
The Army has multiple computer systems that must be part of an
IDE, he said. There is a system to handle maintenance jobs, another
for supplies and product support, spare parts and financial data.
“Generally, those systems don’t talk to one another,
never have, never were expected to,” said Adams. “In
the IDE concept, the expectation is that the FMTV program manager
gets integrated maintenance information, supply information, financial
data, training, status reporting” even though each item may
come from separate information systems.
Before he became president of Portal Dynamics, Adams was in charge
of the Defense Department’s “CALS” initiative.
CALS means computer-aided logistics support. During the past several
years, he noted, rapid advances in commercial Web-based technologies
have helped the CALS effort.
Weapon system developers in the government and in the private sector
need this technology to be competitive, Adams said.
“The Defense Department is moving along a lot faster than
it had [in the past],” he said. “When I had responsibility
for the CALS program at the office of the secretary of defense,
my team put the policy in place for the expectation of IDEs. There
was a lot of concern from the acquisition community.” In recent
years, he said, “more technology has become available to make
the expectation come to task.”