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The DOD Spells Out Its RFID Plans

Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense met with representatives from some 200 suppliers to begin explaining its RFID strategy. RFID Journal provides a complete report of the meeting.
By Mark Roberti
Dec 08, 2003—Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense held a meeting with some 200 suppliers to begin spelling out its plans for using RFID to track everything from missiles to boots and to solicit feedback on its initial plan, outlined in October, from suppliers and RFID vendors. The meeting was attended by representatives from a cross section of the military's supply base, which includes large weapons makers, pharmaceutical companies, consumer goods manufacturers, and large and small companies from many other sectors.
Michael Wynne

At 9 a.m., Alan Estevez, assistant deputy under secretary of defense for supply chain integration, opened the meeting by explaining its purpose. He said that the DOD wanted to "open a dialog" with suppliers. Specifically, it wanted to explain the DOD's policy and begin to solicit feedback. Although there were many vendors and systems integrators in the packed room, he said that the focus was on the companies that would have to tag the supplies they ship to the DOD.

Estevez then introduced his boss, Michael Wynne, the acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Wynne talked about the military's goal of becoming a faster, more mobile, high-tech fighting force. "If you want to transform defense and you don't transform logistics, you're [foolish]," he said.

"The DOD talks about knowledge-enabled warfare, which means you have great situational awareness [about battlefield conditions] and therefore have the greatest opportunity to overcome any enemy," he said. "In the same way, I want to have knowledge-enabled logistics" so that the DOD has complete information about its supplies. He said his view was to one day be able to drive down the middle of the warehouse in a golf cart and have the supplies tell him what's in the warehouse.

The DOD manages 4 million stock keeping units (SKUs) and needs a better way to manage and identify the items it buys, ships and consumes, he said. The military wanted to get better control over original equipment manufacturer parts (OEM), so that it knows that a part it puts on a plane is a legitimate item that came from the manufacturer. The military also wants to be able to record the complete history of that part, so it knows if it was reconditioned and reused.

"We have to decide what is the critical information that we really need," he said. "Then we'll ask our suppliers and manufacturers to put RFID tags on these items with the information that we want to know, so that they come in marked and ready to be read."

The undersecretary said the DOD would use active (battery-powered) RFID tags on large containers and large items, such as aircraft engines. It would use passive tags on pallets and cases. He said the DOD was partnering with Wal-Mart to find where the value proposition is at each level. "We're out there on the leading edge, trying to determine how to transform logistics," he said.

Wynne indicated that the DOD wanted to be out in front, leading the adoption of RFID because it wanted to influence the standards to ensure that they meet the DOD's needs. "We're trying to maximize its utilization," he said. "And for those of you who are concerned—yes, we'll pay" for the tags that go on the shipments.

He repeated the timetable the military had spelled out earlier. It wants to have a second informational meeting with suppliers in the spring. He said the military had put out a draft policy, and the goal is to have a "real policy by June, if not earlier." The policy will require suppliers to place RFID tags on shipments by January 2005.
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