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RFID Plays Crucial Military Role in Middle East
Major General James L. Hodge says the technology helps move cargo into and out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite bad weather, theft and pilferage, attacks and other problems.
Apr 29, 2009—Radio frequency identification, along with satellite and cellular technologies, is playing a critical role in the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Major General James L. Hodge, commanding general of the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) division at Scott Air Force Base. At RFID Journal LIVE! 2009, held this week in Orlando, Fla., Hodge explained that RFID enables the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to track the movements of cargo to and from these regions. He urged technology providers to continue researching and developing products that can help the DOD's U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) division ensure that materiel such as food, fuel and clothing safely reaches combat troops when needed.
The SDDC, a subdivision of USTRANSCOM, is focusing on several new logistic challenges in the Middle Eastern wars, including providing visibility as the DOD adds a northerly route for cargo into Afghanistan through Europe, as well as the lack of a government-managed RFID reader infrastructure in Pakistan, and the recurring problems of theft, attacks on supply providers and other delivery delays.
The SDDC, Hodge explained, has a mission to deliver sustainment (support) and equipment on time, with 100 percent in-transit visibility. "We can't do it without automated information services," including RFID and satellite technology, he told attendees. Most of the supply chain into and out of the Middle East is managed through fixed RFID portals, he noted, though in some cases—when portals are not available, or if closer management of a supply chain is necessary—the DOD employs more expensive satellite technology.
According to Hodge, shipments to and from Iraq and Afghanistan can typically be obstructed by weather, border delays, theft and pilferage, political unrest, attacks, labor issues and road conditions. RFID data helps the SDDC determine the impact of these types of events, he said, adding, "Every piece of cargo means something to someone out there."
At present, military cargo is tagged with passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags for warehouse tracking, while cargo containers are tracked by means of 433 MHz active RFID tags, which are read along the trade route by fixed RFID interrogators. Active RFID tags typically transmit an ID number that, in the DOD's back-end system, is linked to the shipment's identity and destination, as well as the time and location of each read. In Afghanistan, a new logistics route has been established originating in Latvia, through Russia and Uzbekistan, and into Afghanistan from the north. The Department of Defense does not yet have RFID readers deployed along this route, so the military must rely on handheld or fixed interrogators operated by third-party commercial logistics providers.
The DOD tags approximately 16,000 cargo items each week, Hodge said, and those tags serve three major purposes. Strategic data provides key leaders with visibility of the supply chain so they can make key decisions regarding the war effort, such as "Do we have enough fuel in Afghanistan?" Operational data from the RFID system helps the military answer such key questions as, "Where's my stuff?" And tactical information helps those on the battlefield make decisions based on which supplies they have available.
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