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Military Orders RFID Tracking

Gen. Tommy Franks has decreed that all supplies bound for Afghanistan must be tracked with RFID tags to provide visibility and flexibility
Nov 04, 2002Nov. 4, 2002 - If the United States goes to war in Iraq, the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky will play a key role. BGAD, as it's known in Army speak, will have to provide several million tons of munitions during the first 30 days of the conflict. That's a huge logistical challenge. The depot covers 14,600 acres and contains over 1,100 structures, including ammo igloos and warehouses, and it has to ship hundreds of containers each day to the right location in the war zone.

The military supply chain is complex
But BGAD has a secret weapon that makes it well prepared in the event of war: radio frequency identification. Army regulations used to require BGAD to prepare five separate sets of documents for each container, which slowed things down and led to innumerable errors. Now, BGAD uses RFID tags to track containers. Employees need to prepare only one set of documents, and those can be printed out on location, as the container is loaded.

"Our challenge at Blue Grass is to take a 1940s facility and make it operate with the same efficiency as FedEx," says Dane Maddox, director of automatic identification technologies (AIT) at BGAD. "The use of AIT has enabled us to do this. It has completely changed our business processes."

RFID has given the U.S. Department of Defense the ability to track more than 250,000 containers in transit at any moment in time. The Army is so pleased with the improvement in its logistics capabilities that it is dramatically expanding its use of the technology in Afghanistan. This comes at a time when many companies are still debating the benefits of RFID. The military not only has something to teach the private sector, it is lending its network for companies to use to track and secure cargo.

The key reason the military decided to expand its use of RFID is the same reason companies are looking at the technology: the need for visibility. The U.S. currently has about 5,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and about 60,000 military personnel in the region supporting the war effort. To keep them fully supplied, Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of Central Command, recently sent a memo to all the branches of the military requiring that "all air pallets, containers and commercial sustainment moving to/from the theater and intra-theater movements to be tagged with RFID at origin for asset and in-transit visibility tracking."

The memo says that U.S. Central Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, has been forced to use a combination of "work arounds" to figure out what is in containers being shipped to Afghanistan. It says that RFID, when used, "has proven to be the tool most successful" for providing item-level visibility.

In the memo, Central Command spells out requirements for making arrival and departure information for each shipment available in a timely manner and for cutting across "legacy stove pipes" to make data available to anyone in the military who needs its. "This is a CentCom call," says Ed Coyle, head of the IT enterprise integration group at the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). "They had visibility on the Army material, particularly those items moving from DLA distribution sites, and CentCom wants to expand this. They have asked the other services and private companies shipping rations directly to start applying RFID tags."

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