Updated: Feb 8, 2019
The following vignette is part of an article entitled “Data-Driven Logistics: Transforming Logistics From Exploitable Vulnerability to Lethal Competitive Advantage” which first appears in the March 2019 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette (highly recommended reading!). This fictional short story leverages current Marine Corps logistics focus areas and envisions a future in which much of those aspirations have been achieved. Can we get there…?
Gunny Ellis jerked awake. It was 0348, and her wrist comms were buzzing. A priority message from higher headquarters that bypassed her do-not-disturb setting. "Seriously?" She murmured, as she clawed her way to the surface. OpTempo had been high, and her team had been working late into the night all week. Today was supposed to be a recovery day. She quickly flicked her left wrist over to activate the projection screen function on her wrist comms to see what the issue was. Blinking several times to remove the sleep from her eyes, she read the encrypted email message projected onto the inside of her forearm. For the hundredth time this week, she was thankful for that mobile server stack in the truck that was about the size of a 1.5 cubic foot dorm room fridge.
As she read the message, the rest of the sleep cobwebs were swept away. An unscheduled mission—a big one—and they had less time than usual to prepare. She eagerly sat up in her cot and ran through a quick mental checklist of all the things they needed. This is what they had trained for, and why they were stationed in this remote area far away from any other unit. With the mission at hand, she knew her team needed some key things that could not wait until the unmanned submersible arrived at the dock next week with their scheduled resupply. They had lots of prep to do. Throwing on her boots, she stepped out.
After she had Sgt Meyer get the team moving and checked in with Capt Velazquez, who had also received the message and was doing his mission prep, she set about getting ready. They had most of what they needed (and very little extra), as the predictive algorithms they used for planning were quite accurate, and the automated push-resupplies based on their LOGSTAT reports (an automated report generated from their on-hand inventories using a network of sensors) had been right on time. However, with their heavier than anticipated OpTempo, combined with the nature of this upcoming mission, they were going to be short infrared chem lights, batteries, energy cells, and some other critical items. They also couldn't wait on the scheduled delivery of that repair part for the truck. She needed to order them now, and the supplies and parts needed to be on hand within the next several hours. Among the items they were short, their 3D printers could solve a few … but not all of the shortages. Once again flicking her wrist to activate the projection screen, she swiped left on her forearm until she got to the rapid resupply screen. After a few drop down menus and swipes, she selected the items she needed, added in the location and requested time, and hit submit. Within seconds, she received a notification that the order had been received. The message contained a link that she could activate and track the status.
120 nautical miles away in the South Pacific, an unmanned cargo vessel sprang into action. These ships were relatively small. While they couldn’t carry huge volumes, there were lots of them that could be spread all across the Pacific; and they had low signatures to make them less visible. Plus, if you lost one … well, that wouldn’t be the end of the word. Back in the States, the supply chain designers and planners had used modeling and simulation software to design the distribution network and optimize their inventory nodes (of which this ship was one). Using the enormous amounts of data that the planners and data scientists had access to, they had built a number of models and used discrete event simulations to predict needs for a number of different scenarios with a high degree of accuracy.
Having received Gunny Ellis’ order, the rails and robot arms in the cargo hold whizzed and whirred in dizzying motion. The robotic arms picked out the items ordered and dropped them into the small shipping container. Closed and sealed, the box whooshed away on the conveyor belt to the loading area, where more robotic arms attached it to the medium-sized electric cargo drone. Another robot, this one on wheels, pushed the cargo drone out of the hangar to the small flight deck, where it launched into the night sky.
Gunny Ellis looked at her forearm again as it buzzed with a notification. The cargo drone was inbound. "Reminds me of my pizza delivery status notifications back home," she thought wryly. Perfect, that put it exactly on the schedule she needed. Things were looking up.