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The Ongoing War Against Inefficiencies

The U.S. Department of Defense is refining its RFID strategy to optimize the world's most complex supply chain.
By Jennifer Zaino
Feb 01, 2012—With the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq in December, the United States has been engaged in another important mission: "to quickly move equipment coming out of Iraq into depots to be rebuilt, and then shipped over to ongoing operations in Afghanistan," says Catherine Robertello, research fellow at LMI Government Consulting, who provides support to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Material Readiness Supply Chain Integration. Radio frequency identification has been helping to provide the visibility needed to complete the mission successfully. Having advance information on equipment that must be refurbished at depots streamlines arrangements for its receipt and preparations for whatever work must be done on it.

The United States plans to retain a presence in Afghanistan until 2014. Continental U.S. (CONUS) depots have to know what supplies to order, for example, to rebuild a truck for redeployment. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Automatic Identification Technology (AIT), which encompasses both active and passive RFID for facilitating accurate and automatic data capture, "is an enabler for this mission, providing the folks working in the middle of the desert in Iraq with a technology that can be used to identify the equipment and streamline processes through the en route nodes to CONUS depots," Robertello says. "With visibility of what's coming, the depots can use the information to help schedule the retrograde repairs of equipment going out of Iraq and into Afghanistan."


The U.S. Department of Defense is tracking equipment from Iraq with RFID. Here, Kuwaiti soldiers look on as the last U.S. convoy from Iraq crosses the border. (Photo: Cpl. Jordan Johnson | U.S. Army)

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the largest supplier of goods to the military services and itself a $42 billion global enterprise, manages 26 distribution centers worldwide. Eight years ago, the DLA began requiring its suppliers to RFID-tag cases and pallets. Today, its 18 CONUS distribution centers, including those in Hawaii and Guam, use a common warehouse-management supply system. By the end of February 2012, all these DLA facilities will use the EPC Gen 2 RFID tag and advance shipment notification (ASN) data during the receiving process.

In addition, individual services arms and defense agencies are engaging in discrete passive RFID deployments to reduce labor-intensive processes and increase safety, as well as to improve food safety for combat troops.
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