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USAF Boot Camp Tracks Boots

Defense Supply Center Philadelphia is installing an RFID system to ensure U.S. Air Force recruits acquire the proper clothing and footwear for their training and active duty, as well as to track goods though the supply chain from vendors, third-party-logistics providers and military warehouses.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 17, 2010After proving the benefits of RFID technology in tracking inventory of training uniforms and related items as they are issued to recruits at the Lackland Air Force Base's recruit training center, the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia (DSCP)—a branch of the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency—plans to expand the system to include the vendors that manufacture higher-value personal supplies, such as helmets, and the warehouses at which the products are received and shipped to the recruit center. DSCP's RFID initiative is intended to increase the visibility of products as they pass through the supply chain and are received by new recruits, thereby reducing errors and increasing inventory accuracy. DSCP supplies food, clothing, and medical items or equipment, as well as construction and equipment supplies, to U.S. military personnel and dependents worldwide.

Each month, DSCP purchases and ships hundreds of thousands of uniforms and related items to armed services members at nine U.S. recruit training areas. The supply chain is complex; as many as 400 vendors and subcontractors in the United States provide the products, which are sent either to commercial third-party-logistics companies or to DLA warehouses, and then on to a recruiting center when they are ordered. The center tries to provide a 45-day advance of inventory to each recruit training center, at which new recruits receive their basic training prior to military service.

At Lakeland Air Force Base, an RFID reader verifies that a recruit has the correct type and quantity of uniform items.
By installing an RFID system, DSCP hoped to determine a specific product's location in the supply chain, as well as when it was shipped or received. Shipping or warehouse personnel would be more likely to input accurate data into DSCP's management system—which, in turn, would lessen the need to track missing inventory.

Because DSCP pays a vendor only after it verifies the correct order has been shipped by that vendor and received by a third-party-logistics provider or DLA warehouse, an RFID system could also speed the payment process. In addition, it hoped the technology would eliminate inaccuracies that can lead to double orders or missing items. Finally, DSCP gets reimbursed by the recruiting center for the items it supplies as soon as those items are individually issued to recruits, so if items remain monitored by RFID, it would be paid and the inventory replenished once the transactions are recorded.

Another inefficiency in the system that DSCP intended to address occurs at the point at which equipment is acquired by recruits at the training centers. There, a recruit is assigned a series of clothing and other wearable items, which he or recruit center personnel must pick off the shelf and place in a duffel bag, which is then examined by personnel. Typically, the staff must count the items, look at labels, and ensure no mistakes were made—for example, taking too many pairs of socks, forgetting a piece of clothing, or taking inconsistent sizes (one large and one small pair of pants, for instance). As an individual examines the items, other recruits or orders line up, waiting their turn, resulting in delays of up to three hours per person.


Roban Bieber 2010-06-21 01:58:10 PM
Design Engineer What is to prevent enemy combatants from using RFID tags as precision triggers for booby traps/IEDS? We appear to be creating a scenario where an explosive device could be made to trigger on an rfid tag of a soldier's boots. Or worse to not trigger on a single pair of boots but wait for an optimal kill ratio of two or more pairs of soldiers boots.... am I the only one thinking of this as a potential problem or is there something I do not know about RFID tags that would prevent this from happening?
Claire Swedberg 2010-06-21 05:32:33 PM
senior editor Well there are several issues here: the tags could not be used to trigger IEDS or booby traps against soldiers because the tags are attached to packaging, not built into the boot, so they are removed before the soldier or airman wears them. However, even if that weren't the case, the existing booby traps and IEDS are much less expensive and probably more effective than an RFID version would be. For one thing, read range would be an issue -- the reader has to be within range and often must be able to read in a hostile, metallic environment. Secondly, if the goal is to target members of the military, the readers would be unable to discern between an RFID tag being worn by a soldier or an innocent civilian.
Roban Bieber 2010-06-22 05:41:59 PM
RFID can be more precise I find it hard to believe that a device could not be able to distinguish between different tags. As the article states the tags can be read to determine if a shirt is a large or a small. If the programmer knows the unique name of a few tags such as boots, helmets, olive-drab small shirt, etc the trigger could be quite able to discern a military target from a civilian, unless the civi is wearing something from the military that has the unique tag. Also it seems that mfg of RFID reading equipment are always touting the increased range and ability to read in "hostile" environments... all you would need is about a meter anyway.... completely doable with today's RFID technology. I hope you are right that the RFID tags are just in the packaging but unfortunately the article does not give that specific important detail....
Ian Birdsall 2012-02-27 04:46:35 PM
Managing Partner, Titan Education The tags themselves have certain information printed on them in both bar code and human readable forms. However, (and this is important) the only information encoded in the chip on the tag (and thus the ONLY information that is read) is a unique identification number. That number is associated in the database to a certain garment such as the type of shirt, the size, the stock number, etc. Thus, a bad guy could only read the unique ID number and would also have to have access to the database for that number to have any meaning. It is designed that way because it provides more security as well as the passive tags have a very limited storage capability and can handle nothing more than the one unique ID number.

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