2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team successfully converts to GCSS-Army entirely on VSAT: Proving the VSAT is up to the challenge
By CW3 Jerry T. Loera
The Army has been improving its systems to better serve their logisticians for years, adjusting over time to help units better track supplies, spare parts and equipment readiness. In the 1990’s, the Army introduced the Unit Level Logistical System-Ground (ULLS-G), a database system that had users sending up maintenance updates through data packages. Each maintenance section had to learn the procedures for processing the data and send it to the next higher headquarters.
In 2005, the Army came out with a new system called Standard Automated Maintenance System-Enhanced. Unlike ULLS-G, SAMS-E brought the different levels and systems into one. SAMS-E was designed to act as a bridge linking current systems functionality to the U.S Army’s future Global Combat Support System. This also supported the transition to Field and the Sustainment Maintenance concept (Two-Levels of Maintenance).
Introduction of Global Combat Support System-Army
Within the last five years, the Army came out with the GCSS-Army, a state of the art, web-based, logistics and finance system developed from commercial best business practices and off-the –shelf software. GCSS-Army replaces several aging and outdated Army management information systems across the tactical logistics environment.
Every conversion creates the requirement to migrate data. Users must prepare and transfer data from the old system to the new one. GCSS-Army conversion takes a year of planning with monthly uploads of SAMS-E backup files.
The biggest concern for conversion is bandwidth of the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT). VSAT is the standardized system for logistical information but has limited band-with. Since GCSS-Army required more bandwidth, logisticians were skeptical about the speed and reliability.
The Conversion Challenge
During our yearlong data check and migration period into the GCSS-Army, the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division focused on insuring the information was correct for a smooth conversion. It wasn’t until 60 days before conversion to GCSS-Army, we started to discuss the logistics of data validation for the conversion.
With limited NIPR access in our consolidated motor pool, we thought about using a combination of NIPR and VSAT. The Sustainment Automation Support Management Office (SASMO) section submitted trouble tickets to get more NIPR lines installed. The only problem is that we wanted all the production boxes in one area during our fielding and data validation. This would give the Brigade Managers (Support Operations (SPO) Maintenance Section and SASMO) better control over connectivity, validation, and user issues. The feedback we received from other units kept insisting the VSAT would hinder with the validation process and GCSS-Army would run at unacceptable speed.
WO1 Angel Santiago SASMO OIC, 225 Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division monitors the Brigade’s VSATs during the 2nd IBCT’s GCSS-Army data validation process.
Using our equipment to its full capabilities
The units started by setting up their VSATs to identify broken or missing parts. At this point, three of the six units identified broken and inoperable VSATs. SASMO was able to fix two of the three VSATs and coordinated with the VSAT Logistical Assistance Representative (LAR) to fix the third.
The next step was to identify where the VSATs would be setup during and after conversion. This would play a vital role since the direction of the VSAT determines which satellite is available to the system. Once we identified the placement of the VSATs, SASMO proceeded to the maintenance conference room and setup a “VSAT Network Hub”. They placed the internal parts of the VSATs in a centralized location on U-shape conference table. This allowed them to have easy access to the VSATs and the production boxes.
SASMO collected all the Juniper Routers from the units and configured four production boxes to each of the VSATs. They were not worried about VSAT ownership but rather keeping units organized for easier management. Once the tactical image was installed on the production boxes, SASMO placed them on the network and conducted a systems check. All the required VSATs and production boxes were configured and tested prior to GCSS-Army validation.
Data Validation Success
During data validation, we used a couple of NIPR systems; one was for the instructor and one for myself. There seemed to be little difference in the speed and accessibility to the GCSS-Army website. Some of the minor differences occurred when units tried to run full scale reports without filtering them down to the battalion level. I experienced the lag time myself, but it was not as significant as the production boxes.
The brigade successfully completed its’ validation entirely on VSAT and the units continue to run GCSS-Army off their own VSATs with little to no issues, proving that VSAT could handle bandwidth demands from the new GCSS-Army system. The brigade was able to “Go Live” three days ahead of schedule, which enabled the clerks to receive three additional days of “Over the Shoulder Training” from the fielding group.
The brigade maintenance managers learned the importance of maintaining their VSATs. They have now incorporated VSAT sustainment training and PMCS their VSATs on a regular basis. We have also determined that weather and time likely impact the speed and connectivity. Heavy clouds will delay the signal speed on the VSAT system and both systems (VSAT and NIPR) increase in the afternoon when the CONUS units are off the website.
- For any unit preparing for the GCSS-Army conversion, we would recommend the following checks:
- PMCS all VSAT systems prior to conversion
- Configure all Juniper routers prior to conversion (match the VSAT with the production boxes)
- Connect the production boxes and log into the GCSS-Army program for a connectivity check
- Centralize all units into one area, this helps SASMO identify and fix issues quicker during data validation.
- Have your VSAT LAR present during setup, testing, and conversion
CW3 Jerry T. Loera is the Senior Brigade Maintenance Warrant Officer for the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Warrant Officer Course, Warrant Officer Advance Course, and the Warrant Officer Intermediate Level Education Course.