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Military Marches Toward Adoption

The U.S. Department of Defense provides more details about its RFID tagging requirements, its initial implementations and the benefits it expects to achieve from RFID.
By Mark Roberti
Apr 12, 2004—Last week, at the Washington Hilton, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Defense held its second industry summit to brief its suppliers and solicit feedback on its plans to use passive RFID tags to track pallets, cases and high-value items in its complex supply chain. Some 700 people crowded into a semi-circular room to hear those in charge of the military's RFID efforts explain the DOD's goals and get an update on its progress since the last meeting in December.

Today, MREs arrive in Iraq without RFID tags

Alan Estevez, the assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for supply chain integration, hosted the gathering. Estevez explained that RFID is part of the DOD's move toward what he called knowledge-enabled logistics. "When you are implementing knowledge-enabled logistics, you need to know what you have, and you need to know where it," he said. "We view RFID as a tool to get us there. You may have heard of sense and respond logistics. RFID gives the sense to sense and respond."

In his brief remarks, Estevez pointed out that when Wal-Mart has an out-of-stock situation, it loses a sale, but when the military is unable to get goods to soldiers in the field, they are unable to do their job. "We take this very seriously," he said. "We see [RFID] as a tool that will enable us to provide the support to our forces in the field that they deserve."

The next speaker was Michael Wynne, the acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Wynne said the goal was to achieve just-in-time logistics. He pointed out that the military was able to receive goods with RFID tags in Iraq. But in order to achieve that, goods arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were taken out of their containers, tagged and then loaded back into the containers.
Michael Wynne

"That seems like the wrong approach," Wynne said. "We were using our military forces in the wrong way. It made obvious sense to me that the RFID tags should be installed at vendor locations, so that as the goods flowed into the warehouse and over to the soldiers, there would be no question whether they would have RFID tags—they would."

A big issue the military is looking at is how to determine exactly when an item is consumed and needs to be replenished. In the retail world, it's when a cashier accepts payment and the customer walks out of the store. It's not so simple in the military. Should the item be considered consumed when it's sent to the unit in the field? When the soldier, sailor or pilot consumes a meal or fires a weapon? The military is debating these things, because it wants to enable the manufacturer to start the replenishment process as soon as it receives a signal that an item has been "sold."

Wynne said the military had launched several RFID initiatives and was moving toward enterprise integration of the DOD's business systems, using end-to-end management of logistics. "We're trying to connect the factory to the foxhole in a way that gives the factory the authority to fill when the foxhole expends," Wynne said. "We're also trying to reduce the logistics handoff by using unit packs."
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