U.S. Army Achieves Real-Time Visibility of Supply Trucks Traveling in the Middle East

By Beth Bacheldor

A solution leveraging devices that act like RFID tags and communicate via satellite and cellular communications is helping ensure troops in Iraq receive their necessary supplies.

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Approximately 365 trucks carrying everything from uniforms to computers to medicine for the U.S. military are being monitored in real time as they travel from Jordan, Dubai and Kuwait into the battle zones of Iraq. This is being achieved thanks to a remote tracking solution implemented and managed by Impeva Labs, a provider of asset-management systems, and logistics provider Agility.

The solution, according to Mark Young, VP of strategic planning for Agility’s defense and government services operations, is being used by a defense contractor hired by the U.S. Army Material Command as part of the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), an initiative utilizing civilian contractors to support U.S. forces involved in U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) missions. Young declines to identify the contractor, which is one of Agility’s customers.

The solution uses an Impeva device known as a Global Sentinel Unit (GSU), which is mounted onto a truck and, like an active RFID tag, transmits a unique serial number and GPS data, thereby identifying the vehicle and its location. Rather than communicate with an RFID reader, however, the GSU transmits its data via global satellite and multi-band cellular networks.

The Global Sentinel Units, which can also store each truck’s manifest, are battery-powered and contain a GPS receiver, as well as the satellite and cellular modems. The units can be programmed for more than 40 user-defined geographic zones, and can be set to initiate a communication if a GSU travels outside of those zones. The devices can also be queried at any time.

Plans are in place to add Impeva Labs’ Remote Sensor Units (RSUs) to the solution. RSUs also function as active RFID tags, and can collect data from wired and wireless sensors, including temperature sensors. GSUs and RSUs communicate with each other via the 2.4 GHz radio frequency. For now, the remote monitoring only utilizes GSUs to track the trucks’ whereabouts, but the RSUs will ultimately be added to the vehicles’ trailers to gather additional information regarding the state of the trucks and the goods they carry. For instance, the Remote Sensor Units will be able to collect temperature data to ensure that shipments, such as medicines requiring refrigeration, are transported at the requisite temperatures. The RSUs can be set to report a communication if temperatures fluctuate outside of pre-set ranges.

The GSUs forward their data to servers at the Global Sentinel Device Management Center, located in an Impeva Labs data center within the United States. The servers run Web-based software that processes and stores all of the information collected by the GSUs and, eventually, the RSUs. All cargo-related data and continuous GPS position reports are encrypted before being transmitted over the satellite or cellular communications link.

The U.S. military can securely access this information via a Web-based application that leverages Google maps created by Agility. By entering a specific truck’s serial number, the military can determine that vehicle’s location, as well as what is on the truck, by reviewing the manifest. “The devices help provide real-time command and control of the trucking assets,” Young explains, “by tracking the trucks in real time.”

With more accurate visibility, the military knows when to expect shipments—and exactly what they will entail—which helps keep supplies from running out, and prevents overstocking. “This allows us, and the contractor, to optimize the supply chain,” Young states. “By knowing exactly where the materials are, and what they are, the troops won’t order the same items again and again.” In addition, he says, the solution helps the military avoid losing materials due to logistical errors or theft. “Should the material get hijacked, we will know exactly where the truck is, and get it back.”

The U.S. military is eager to know where its assets are located at all times, Young says, whether it be on a truck traveling across Europe, or in the desert of Iraq. Some companies are also interested in tracking containers on trucks and ships, and vendors are responding with new solutions.

The Impeva Labs and Agility solution is similar to a commercially available supply chain tracking solution announced last month by Impeva Labs and ARINC (see ARINC, Impeva Unveil Real-Time Supply Chain Tracking Solution). And this week, Numerex and Savi Technology unveiled a new hybrid tag that can intelligently determine whether to communicate over an active RFID network, or via satellite communications (see Hybrid Tag Includes Active RFID, GPS, Satellite and Sensors).