Since the Cold War, the world has changed in ways that few could have anticipated, not only in the geopolitical sphere but also in the realm of technology. The rise of the all-pervasive internet, the age of big data and many more technical step changes have given the military a range of new tools to improve communication, situational awareness and responsiveness. This technology and the logistics processes it facilitates are essential to bring a multinational force quickly to a state of readiness in order to counter threats that are harder than ever before to predict.

The pressures on military logistics are nowhere more obvious than in the arena of rapid response units. The Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) therefore provides a perfect example of the challenges faced by military logisticians and the opportunities that technology unlocks.

ARRC, which celebrates 25 years as a key asset of the NATO alliance and UK defence this year, was formed in 1992 on the model of British I Corps and began as a rapid reaction corps land force of the reaction forces concept that emerged after the end of the Cold War. The success of ARRC headquarters led it to become the model for the development of other high readiness force (land) headquarters. Based in Germany until 2010 and now at Imjin Barracks in Gloucester, the UK, it commanded the land forces of NATO’s first ever deployment as part of the Implementation Force (IFOR) operation in Bosnia in 1995 and was again deployed as the headquarters commanding land forces during the Kosovo War in 1999.

ARRC sits between the strategic and tactical levels in the operational area of responsibility and planning. It is a NATO Force Structure headquarters, and the framework nation, the UK, is responsible for keeping it trained and equipped. Each participating nation is responsible for sending personnel trained and ready to fill positions at ARRC. As part of NATO, it must be prepared to deploy to a designated area, or to undertake combined and joint operations across the operational spectrum as a corps headquarters, land component headquarters for the NATO Response Force (NRF) or as combined joint headquarters for land-centric operations. The ways in which its logistics operations have evolved in recent years reflect the need to work in an increasingly integrated way, with many different nations and a diverse range of stakeholders in the supply chain.

“In a Cold War posture, everyone was at high readiness. Troops were stationed in forward positions and there were large stockpiles of equipment, so a force could move quickly to counter a threat. Now, with pressure on budgets, the ability to react rapidly has waned. We are now moving back to a state of readiness and rapid reaction,” remarks Major Tom Fortune, who handles supply and services at ARRC headquarters.

“In a state of low readiness, we have the luxury of arranging logistic support when we are warned for operations. At high readiness, we must have our support: military, host nation and contractor prearranged. As part of this, national logistic formations, potential host nations and contractors are more closely involved in our training and exercises to ensure they are more integrated in our logistics planning, and able to support these higher readiness levels,” he adds.

Coordination with contractors goes hand in hand with the need to bring together the requirements and capabilities of many different nations that collaborate as part of NATO.

“One challenge at ARRC level is that different nations have their own logistics systems. They use their own IT and approaches to logistics. At our level, more national systems come together and we need to translate that cooperation to NATO level. We need to dig deep into how countries do logistics – how they move equipment or repair vehicles – so that we are creating a platform where people can understand each other and do business,” says Major Ralph Manders, who plays a key role in movements and transport at ARRC headquarters.

The NATO Support and Procurement Agency handles pan-NATO contracts, covering mechanisms for logistics support for all air, land, maritime and special forces. It is the principal logistical support management agency that maintains weapons, transport and communications systems. The aim is for all nations to connect in order to negotiate a better price and ensure fair distribution of resources so that the contractors’ capacity does not all go to the same country.

“The nature of conflict is changing. With high-intensity conflict, everything must be prearranged by contractors and then you leave the last leg to military logistics. Many logistics units have been disbanded in recent years, so we are more reliant on outside contractors,” Fortune remarks.

Managing this complexity demands a technology infrastructure that can quickly give a clear picture of the logistics supply chain to match the needs of any force with the available material. This is where the logistical functional area system (LOGFAS) comes in.

Situational awareness

LOGFAS represents a set of integrated programs used by NATO for planning, executing and reporting logistics activity.

“LOGFAS includes systems such as the allied deployment and movement system (ADAMS), which helps us plan for strategic movement; effective visible execution (EVE), which provides units with better situational awareness; and coalition reception, staging and onward movement (CORSOM),” says Warrant Officer Tina McGrath, who works with Manders in movements and transport. “They are based on a central database so that all headquarters – from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) down to the units on the ground – have visibility. It shows the infrastructure and equipment that is available to them.”

The logistics database LOGBASE is populated with all the logistics-related data of formations assigned to NATO plans by nations, and that data is communicated through the logistics reporting system LOGREP.

“The database has all of the kit and equipment from each nation,” explains Fortune. “We can see an individual soldier’s rifle and what kind of ammunition it needs. We can see vehicles, so we know their range, fuel type, weapons systems and ammunition, and what rations are needed to feed the crew. Some information needs to be updated, but it gives us transparency in terms of supply and services. It gives us granularity, the ability to drill down beyond the headlines we get in our daily reports, so that we can make better decisions and have better situational awareness.”

“LOGFAS is a tool developed by NATO,” adds Manders, “and it can link to all of the other tools. It can look into battle units and get data on reserves. It can also send information out so that any issues that are raised come up on the system live. It has gateways to national logistics systems so that they can share data. If a country uses SAP, for example, then it can talk to LOGFAS through these gateways.”

The NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA), which was established in 2012 through the merger of the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A), NATO ACCS Management Agency (NACMA), NATO Communications and Information System Services Agency (NCSA), Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) Programme and elements of NATO headquarters, is driving the development of software tools based on information from live operations and exercises. There is also a test bed to address key challenges such as getting radio-frequency identification (RFID) capability linked to the system. McGrath also points out that NATO may move many more functions – including finance and human resources capability – to LOGFAS during the next two years.

“When we deploy, we have a Mission Secret system, and if we get those terminals down to brigade level, then people there can put data on the system so that we are closer to a real-time picture. Fresher data and fewer points of handling mean that we have a better and more realtime understanding of the situation on the ground. That can reduce risk for troops in forward zones and it means we can lean out supplies while reducing the risk to logistics,” says Fortune.

“It is expensive to have a reserve in-theatre. It requires a lot of resources and a lot of personnel. So, we want to reduce overstock and the movement of supplies in-theatre,” he adds.

Speaking the same language

The key to making a complex system work efficiently, and enabling a quick and lean response to the needs of troops on the ground is interoperability across the many units and nations involved. Systems from one nation need to be able to communicate with all other NATO-nation systems. To improve interoperability, there are regular exercises conducted with host nations to enable participants to communicate within a shared scenario. Host nations can improve their planning processes and participants can test the interaction of NATO Force Integration Units, and national and NATO headquarters.

Arrcade Fusion 2015 was one such exercise. It was an Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian event focusing on host-nation support to incoming allied forces.

“It was one of the first to deploy with a force and NATO assets, so it highlighted challenges with troops and host nations. For instance, it showed the importance of knowing whether a supply road can handle a large truck with a tank on it,” notes Manders.

Exercise Trident Juncture 16, which ran from 23 October to 4 November 2016, certified the servicemen and women of ARRC and other NATO headquarters in their roles as the NRF for 2017. The exercise linked ARRC to JFC Naples in Italy, subunits led by four different nations simulated in Norway, an air component in Germany and a simulated maritime force at sea, demonstrating the breadth of command in the NRF to face any number of threats.

“Myself, Ralph and Tina were all in Stavanger and there were ARRC personnel in the UK, Naples and Turkey, all testing the boundaries of the system,” Fortune explains. “The communication and information systems (CIS) are crucial for setting up gateways and protocols. We did similar things during the Cold War but, although the processes are very similar now, the technology is new. Now, we are getting back to Cold War levels of readiness. With the live deployment exercise that is coming up in Europe, we will go one step further. We will be practising movement of troops from their home bases in their home countries and tracking them with LOGFAS.”

The technical and operational challenges NATO’s logisticians face will no doubt continue to change rapidly, but the testing and training are there to ensure that ARRC and other NATO elements will stay at the cutting edge of technological capability and collaborative planning.