No Defense for Erroneous DOD Article

An article in the May issue of National Defense Magazine claims—wrongly—that the U.S. Department of Defense is no longer requiring RFID tagging.
Published: June 7, 2007

An article in the latest edition of National Defense Magazine has this startling headline: “Tracking Military Supplies No Longer Requires RFID.” The article gained a lot of attention within the U.S. Department of Defense, mainly because it’s wholly inaccurate. The DOD isn’t backing off its RFID tagging requirement.

The article incorrectly states: “The Defense Department has relaxed an earlier mandate that all vendors that deliver food, equipment and other provisions to the U.S. military affix radio-frequency identification tags on their products.”

The truth is this: The DOD is proceeding with its RFID plans. Alan Estevez, assistant deputy undersecretary of supply chain integration, made that clear at April’s 2007 DOD RFID Summit, and the DOD’s Rear Admiral Mark D. Harnitchek reiterated the policy at RFID Journal LIVE! 2007.

Both did say the rollout is being slowed down somewhat by the focus on the war in Iraq, but the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has outfitted most of its domestic facilities with UHF RFID readers that use EPCglobal‘s second generation air-interface standard. Many of the branches have begun using RFID data to improve their operations, on a small scale.

The article quotes a DOD supplier as saying it uses GPS, not RFID, on the trucks it supplies to the military. However, the writer has clearly confused the active tags used to track the movement of trucks into and out of depots, with passive tags used to track pallets and cartons of supplies. The reality: The DOD is adding an RFID-tagging requirement to new contracts for specific categories of goods. Suppliers are being asked to tag pallets, cartons and some individual items that are either high value or have an expiration date.

The article further states: “Defense officials consistently have touted RFID technology as critical to the Defense Department’s goal of achieving ‘real-time asset visibility’ of all supplies and cargo. Currently, however, other technologies such as bar-coding and GPS satellite tracking are being accepted as alternatives.”

Bar codes and GPS are not alternatives to RFID—they are complimentary technologies that are integral parts of the DOD’s automatic data capture and tracking systems, and will be for a long time to come.

Articles such as this one are damaging because some suppliers will read them and believe them to be true (some, no doubt, want to believe them). It’s unfortunate that journalists who don’t check the facts are misleading people and possibly adversely affecting their ability to comply with DOD requirements.