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U.S. Military Ramps Up Adoption of Satcom-RFID Kits

Most of the nation's military branches have deployed the technology, which combines RFID and satellite communications, to track and manage supply shipments in the field.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 21, 2007A year and a half after the U.S. Marine Corps placed orders for Savi Technologies' Portable Deployment Kit (PDK), the system is now being used by most of the nation's military branches for improved supply chain management. The PDK contains a handheld or fixed RFID interrogator with a foldout antenna and an Iridium Satellite 9601 Short Burst Data modem.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is currently using about 300 PDKs. The Army plans to equip all Movement Control Battalions and Movement Control Teams—tactical units responsible for convoy and movement management for deploying and sustaining Army units—with PDK capability. In addition, the Army National Guard is analyzing requirements to use the technology in support of civil affairs missions.

David Stephens
"It is currently being used to track shipments, build and manage convoys, and provide mobile operational support to civil emergencies," says Alan Estevez, principal assistant deputy undersecretary of defense (logistics and materiel readiness). "The current fielded PDKs are functioning properly and meeting DOD's requirement to provide asset visibility in austere/mobile environments."

Packaged as a 56-pound "suitcase," the system also incorporates a GPS location system, a laptop computer, a power bus and a label printer for creating military shipping labels. The interrogator reads active RFID tags attached to weapons, vehicles and other military assets at 433.92 MHz, and complies with the ISO 18000-7 air-protocol standard. It can be taken into the field for military use, and is designed to withstand a drop of up to 4 feet.

The PDK can be utilized in multiple applications, depending on the software installed, Estevez explains, but its basic capability is to let users quickly set up a mobile site to collect active RFID tag data and report that data to visibility systems using the Iridium modem. The PDKs are not being employed to read or encode passive EPC RFID tags, says Greg Ewert, Iridium's executive vice president, but could be augmented to do so if needed. Although Savi intends to add multimodal handhelds for passive RFID in future PDKs, there is no specific timetable for doing so at present.

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