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New software to ease Navy's shipping, tracking

Aug. 30, 2013 - 07:18PM   |  
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In three years or less, sailors should be able to schedule and track the delivery of a ship part as easily as booking a vacation online or tracking a friend’s flight status from a phone.

The Office of Naval Research and Naval Supply Systems Command have teamed up to meet this goal by 2016. Sailors are already benefiting from the program through use of what’s called the Transportation Exploitation Tool. But more changes are incoming that will allow logisticians to track and send material around the globe with an Expedia-like interface that could efficiently identify transport options for parts, said Bob Smith, the director of transition initiatives at ONR.

The software will primarily be used by transportation and logistics planners at all levels, Smith said.

It is designed to replace today’s outmoded procedures that are both labor- and time-intensive. In the legacy system, sailors had to manually check individual commercial and military airlines for space for a part; there was no way to make comparisons or check multiple airlines at once. Smith said it was common for sailors to have to grab a binder off a shelf and search offline for requirements for a specific part, verifying space needs and whether the mode of transport allowed certain materials.

“In one case, a ship required the transportation of two props that needed refurbishment. The TET initiative helped that happen at a significant cost avoidance to taxpayers,” said Larry Hubbard, fleet movement and systems support supervisor at NAVSUP. “Instead of having to fly in the props, each of which also requires a special trailer, we were able to find and use space on a vessel already sailing toward the destination to transport the two props.”

Prior to this new software, there was no interface that allowed sailors to do this. Transportation planners would have to access multiple scheduling systems to search for options that might be able to help move a part, Hubbard said.

Greg Butler, division chief at NAVSUP, observed military transportation tools for 25 years and came up with the idea to develop a search engine — akin to travel sites such as Kayak or Orbitz — to “identify transportation solutions faster than the human planner could,” Hubbard said. The TET prototype was developed in 2010.

Phase one of this project is already in place. That was establishment of TET. Using this online tool, logisticians answer some basic questions: where they are, how big the part is and when they need it. The tool helps them find the cheapest and most efficient transportation options on commercial and charter aircraft.

In the old days, these sailors would have to manually look through individual airlines and a space would sometimes be taken by the time they got around to confirming it.

“What had taken him a couple days to figure out ... can be done in minutes,” Smith said.

The next phase of TET involves building a searchable, global list of classified military ship and aircraft schedules. That’s about a year away, Smith said.

In the final stage, which will be available about three years from now, sailors will be able to use the tools on classified mobile devices and track where and when they will arrive like you’d track a package in the mail or the status of a flight, Smith said.

“The future vision is that if a petty officer is walking down the flight line with a classified tablet, she can check then and there on the status of a critical part that they needed yesterday,” Smith said.

By cutting down the manpower needed to organize transportation, the program has already resulted in $30 million in savings to the Navy, Smith said. Increased use of existing transportation options, reduced manpower and more efficient use of limited manpower, all contribute to the savings, Smith said.

The Navy expects that number to rise to more than $200 million over 10 years.

The software interface is user-friendly and requires less training time than the old methods, which means more work can be done with fewer people, Smith said.

The U.S. Transportation Command, Army and Air Force have all looked at the program and are interested, though no one has said they will adopt it themselves, Smith said.

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