By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 18, 2013) -- For just about a year now, employees at the Joint Manufacturing Technology Center at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., have been making it easier for military units to get the sensor and laser equipment they need to equip their Soldiers.
The Project Manager Soldier Sensors and Lasers Staging Facility at Joint Manufacturing Technology Center, or JMTC, Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., stood up in September 2012, and is coming up fast on its one-year anniversary, Sept. 28, 2013.
The government-owned, government-operated facility serves as a staging area to more efficiently move equipment procured by Program Executive Office Soldier's "Project Manager Soldier Sensors and Lasers," or PM SSL, section from the manufacturer to the end user, said Joe Pearson, director of logistics for PM SSL.
"The individual vendors are very capable," Pearson said. "But having a staging facility like Rock Island allows us the capability to receive and repackage the shipment just prior to each hand-off to the gaining commands."
Pearson said it would be possible for manufacturers of equipment like thermal sights, or night-vision goggles or laser-designator rangefinders to send the equipment they manufacture directly to receiving units. But units preparing for deployment are authorized to be issued equipment that comes from multiple manufacturers. If the manufacturer sent items directly, units would receive items at different times and on unpredictable schedules.
"Trying to orchestrate all the vendor shipments would be a challenge," Pearson said. "That would tie up the gaining commands. They wouldn't know when the shipments would arrive. We wouldn't know how long our fielders would be on the ground to issue the equipment because they would be waiting for separate shipments to come in."
With the efforts at JMTC at Rock Island Arsenal, a commander's entire order for equipment is packaged at the same time, verified to be accurate, and sent all at once; and commanders know when it will arrive.
"It's a staging facility," Pearson said of employees at the JMTC. "We track everything, individual serial numbers, that's what they do for us using an inventory database system. They are able to track items that come in 'first-in-first-out,' from the vendors, which actually serves the Soldiers. You want to make sure that for the equipment that is bought under warranty, if something breaks, Soldiers are able to send it back to the vendor without any cost. We can't easily do that without depending on Rock Island Staging facility."
Sensor and laser equipment wasn't always fielded out of a government-owned, government-operated facility. In the past, Pearson said PM SSL has staged and distributed the equipment they procure from a variety of locations, but never one both owned and operated by the government -- which Pearson refers to as an "organic" capability.
The JMTC at Rock Island, which began just a year ago doing work for PM SSL, is part of the U.S. Army Tank and Automotive Command, or TACOM. The command had already been supporting PEO Soldier with "lifecycle management" of SSL systems. And Pearson said that TACOM personnel had also been fielding PM SSL equipment to gaining units.
"It was just a natural fit," he said of the choice to use JMTC at Rock Island for the staging facility. "We were looking for organic support -- and they are a totally organic organization."
Pearson also said that by moving onto a military base, they have increased their level of security. Rock Island sits in the middle of the Mississippi River, near Moline, Ill. Its location on the river makes it a difficult target.
"It's very hard for somebody to get there that doesn't belong there," Pearson said.
The PM SSL fields about 18 different types of equipment to Soldiers out of JMTC Rock Island, including thermal weapon sights, enhanced night-vision goggles, monocular night-vision devices, aviator's night-vision imaging systems, clip-on sniper night sights, multifunction aiming light, integrated laser white-light pointers, weapons-mounted lights, aircrew laser pointers, laser target locators, and lightweight laser-designator rangefinders.
Each day the JMTC ships out about 2,000 pieces of equipment to receiving units, though Pearson said that number fluctuates. Once, he said, at a prior facility, and during a surge, nearly 30,000 pieces of equipment were shipped in one day.
The now nearly year-old JMTC staging facility at Rock Island doesn't just enable PM SSL to deliver critical war-fighting equipment on time to gaining commands. It also saves money, Pearson said. A recent Lean Six Sigma project showed that the facility, from fiscal year 2012-2016, is expected to save the government "at least half a million a year."
In the last year, efforts at JMTC to use item-unique identification tracking tools have also drawn the attention of Headquarters Department of the Army. The advanced inventory tracking systems in use there were lauded by Army leadership because they better enable transparency in the supply chain, Pearson said. The JMTC is able to maintain a 100-percent success rate in tracking all its gear.
"There is a big thing with transparency, not only with the units wanting to know what items that they have on their property books, but also from an HQDA (Headquarters, Department of the Army) perspective, in knowing what Congress appropriated, and in knowing what items were bought with what dollars," Pearson said.
With budgets tightening, accurate accountability of equipment is important, Pearson said. But even more important is the PM SSL mission of supporting Soldiers in the war fight -- and that's something efforts at JMTC Rock Island enable them to do.
"All of this is very important when it comes to timing and supporting units. The units usually have a complicated pre-deployment schedule. Without having what JMTC does for us up there, we couldn't easily support the units. The goal is to get them everything from our specific portfolio that they need to go to win the fight."