By David Boone, Malcolm Dougherty, and Matt Smith
Logistics management is critical for the readiness and success of armed forces, with the seamless movement of people and goods throughout military bases necessary for a successful outpost. The largest military installations in the world more often resemble self-sufficient, completely functional cities than bases. North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, one of the largest military bases in the world, covers more than 251 square miles, has a total population of 260,000 and is known as “the center of the military universe.” Each day, thousands of people and goods are mobilized and transported throughout the base.
The military’s complex logistical network needs to operate around the world in uncertain circumstances, with potential threats to operations ever-present. It involves not only getting goods from point A to point B but also design and development, acquisition, distribution, maintenance, and movement of materiel, as well as the throughput of personnel. In that regard, military bases are logistical hubs, with intensive coordination needed to keep them running smoothly. In the civilian world, advanced smart systems technology has allowed connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) to become a reality, greatly increasing the efficiency and capacity of transportation. Within military bases, this technology provides new and exciting opportunities for movement but comes with its own unique set of challenges that must be addressed for successful implementation.
We see the opportunity for CAV enhancements from the beginning of one’s experience on the base: the entry control point (ECP). On any given day, a base could have thousands of Military personnel, civilian staff and visitors passing through the ECP. Anyone coming from outside the base perimeter starts their journey through this ECP before dispersing to their final destination. At the checkpoint, CAV technologies could be leveraged to help identify those in cars to ensure they have clearance for a faster entry process.
In the not-too-distant future, we could be seeing CAVs bringing people to the ECPs in the form of shuttles from downtown or civilian areas, making these locations a logical place to continue the use of CAV technology. Once inside the gate, we can utilize CAVs shuttles to move people throughout the base. We can more efficiently move people along the most-traveled routes, while having the added benefits of reduced emissions and congestion.
CAVs are also an option when we think about transporting patients to/from a base’s hospital. By reducing the contact between patient and a doctor or nurse, we can limit exposure to potentially infectious diseases.
Military bases are a gathering place, with the unique necessity to bring assets to destinations that span from buildings to planes, ships and submarines. With bases potentially spanning miles, the logistical considerations are monumental. Particularly for ships and submarines, which are capable of housing hundreds of Sailors and Marines for six months at a time, these platforms oftentimes need to have a high volume of parts changed, ammunition restocked, and stores replenished in a short amount of time. Currently, materiel is coming from various locations around the base and being moved on tractor trailers or other vehicles, which can cause congestion and a host of other issues when being moved. There is value in changing transportation practices to allow for a more efficient and effective way of materiel movement.
Fort Bragg has an exterior boundary of approximately 70 miles. That is a lot of ground to cover when it comes to keeping the base up to security standards and protected from outside threats. The military continues to invest in research and deployment of unmanned ground and aerial system, adapting those developments to base security is a logical progression. CAVs can be incorporated into security measures, complementing the efforts of those soldiers tasked with keeping the base safe. This can be achieved by using CAVs equipped with the appropriate cameras and sensors to monitor for threats, whether these are land-based vehicles or sea crafts. If we are able to establish strict security requirements for CAVs, we will be able to take personnel out of harm’s way, have more effective tools to mitigate threats as well as create efficiencies to reduce the personnel demand for security.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – have been a debated topic for use in military security. Currently, there are restrictions on flying drones within the vicinity of military bases but utilizing military-owned UAVs flying within certain boundaries provides an added layer of intelligence for base security.
Toward a More Automated Future
While we are seeing more and more CAV technology rolling out in the civilian space, the military has noticeably been more reserved in incorporating this technology onto bases. It’s not surprising: this technology provides clear benefits yet comes with challenges in a military context.
For CAVs to effectively be rolled out on military bases, there needs to be an evolution of infrastructure. Individuals would then be moved around the base much like college campuses resulting in centralized parking versus lots scattered across the base. We would also need to incorporate smart infrastructure throughout the base to control the flow of these vehicles and be flexible enough to incorporate new technology as it is discovered.
Currently, CAVs use a combination of sensors and wireless communications to detect and respond to their surroundings. The future of 5G cellular communications is expected to drastically improve the capabilities of CAVs. However, the very nature of these vehicles opens them to cybersecurity concerns that need to be addressed as we begin incorporating this technology on military bases.
Capital investment is a major hurdle to a full-scale deployment of CAVs on military bases. The infrastructure does not yet exist in many cases and so we need to think about how to fund the projects that could make CAV technology a reality. If there is revenue generation that could be applied, the military could leverage this as a private venture. The private entity would front the cost for these improvements and whichever branch of the military operated the base would pay a revenue stream for the duration of the terms of the agreement.
Much like any new technology or innovation, we need to rally community support around the idea of CAV technology. As it gains momentum for civilian use, we will see more positive use cases that can be applied to using this technology on military bases.
To truly move toward a more automated future, we will need partnership among the military, businesses and research centers to apply the latest developments in transportation to solve military transportation and logistics issues and create bases that are safer and more efficient.
David Boone is Chief Growth Officer at Michael Baker International.
Malcolm Dougherty is National Practice Executive of Transportation at Michael Baker International.
Matt Smith is Program Manager at Michael Baker International.