NDIA Logistics: Senior Air Force Leadership Acknowledges ECSS Challenges
In his keynote address before this week’s 27th NDIA Logistics Conference & Exhibition, Gen Norton Schwartz, United States Air Force Chief of Staff, highlighted a range of recent logistics accomplishments by the air force and their partners around the world.
He also acknowledged an uncertain future for the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS). As part of the service’s Expeditionary Logistics for the 21st Century (eLog21) transformation campaign, ECSS is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) effort that promises to transform the air force logistics information technology environment by replacing legacy logistics systems with a single solution set of business processes, software applications, and data.
The pilot version of the new system ‘went live’ in July 2010 at Hanscom Air Force Base, near Boston, Massachusetts.
‘ECSS was designed to replace more than 240 Cold War era systems that are still in use today, none of which exchange data with each other very well, if at all,’ Schwartz explained. Offering a small sampling of the legacy systems, he described them as ‘a veritable alphabet soup of disparate and largely incompatible systems, making it hardly a surprise that we suffer from unnecessary duplication of effort and costly inefficiency.’
‘ECSS’s potential to improve air force logistics operations represents a potential quantum leap in supply chain management,’ he stated. ‘Along with Total Asset Visibility, ECSS stands to standardise logistics processes and provide an enterprise-wide view of the supply chain, making efforts more efficient and our data more precise.’
‘Now I’ll be frank: Fielding of ECSS hasn’t been easy,’ he added. ‘It’s been difficult and occasionally frustrating work, largely because it represents a comprehensive transformation in our information technologies to revolutionise our air force supply chain architecture. But the basic [existing] structure is generations old and is well past the stage where we can hope to yield effective solutions to evolving challenges merely by adding new applications to our disparate systems.’
‘I would argue, as I have to the GAO and others, that we need to replace the basic foundation, even if only at one attainable bite at a time. With Total Asset Visibility and ECSS we would be able to leverage off the shelf information technologies that are readily available to us. And once this becomes a more robust capability the next step, visibility and accountability in the terminal phase of the distribution pipeline – what I call ‘the final five miles’ – is an equally challenging problem that we must address.’
In a follow-on question and answer period, Schwartz was asked whether he anticipated ‘a new roadmap for the future of ECSS’ as well as a possible interim period that might see the ‘selective funding of some of the existing legacy systems.’
‘The reality is that ERPs are hard as nails,’ he replied. ‘And maybe there has only been effectively fielded within the Department of Defense – and that’s at DLA [Defense Logistics Agency]…The Marine Corps has fielded a somewhat smaller ERP but the bottom line is that these are hard to do. And certainly we demonstrated that with ECSS.’
‘I don’t know whether ECSS is going to get beyond the scrutiny that will occur toward the end of April with Ash Carter [Ashton Carter, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics]. It’s beyond its window for development. It’s an $890 million programme. Hey, this is software, right? That’s serious money,’ he said.
Acknowledging historical problems on both government and industry sides, he added, ‘The bottom line is that we have got to pull this together. It’s possible. We know it happens in the private sector. I remain committed to trying to husband this through. But I’ll tell you something, given the fiscal pressures we are facing and the lack of performance thus far, you can understand why people on the hill [Congress] and in the building [Pentagon] are sceptical.’
He noted that current plans call attacking the problem ‘in bites,’ through the fielding of four ‘pilot’ efforts.
‘And if we can not pull it together through those four pilots then ECSS is dead in my view,’ he said.
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