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RFID Vision In The DOD Supply Chain

From factory to foxhole

Today’s U.S. military is a dynamic, rapidly moving force that is designed to be effective in an asynchronous battlespace. The enhanced mobility and speed of today’s combat forces, which can perform in austere theaters with limited infrastructure, create new challenges for military logisticians. Military logisticians must meet the challenge of supporting the transformed combat force with fast, accurate, flexible, and mobile sustainment.

Historically, military logisticians supporting combat forces have had limited information on assets, particularly in theater. This lack of information led to ineffective inventory management, waste, inefficiency and delay across the supply chain. Ultimately, these shortfalls affected the warfighters’ overall materiel readiness, their ability to close the force, and the operational availability of weapon systems. The lack of synthesized, end-to-end, real-time information on items at rest and in transit undercut the combatant commander’s ability to exercise directive authority for logistics.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is a globally sophisticated user of active RFID, with more than a decade of experience in this technology and the most extensive RFID network in the world. Now, DOD is attempting to standardize the use of active RFID and is moving ahead with the application of passive RFID technologies. (Active RFID uses a battery within the tag to power the tag and its RF communications circuitry. Passive RFID relies on radio frequency energy transferred from the reader to the tag to power the tag.)

In July 2004, the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics issued a policy requiring the implementation of RFID across DOD. DOD is taking a leadership role in passive RFID, both as an early adopter of the technology and as the developer of the technology and standards for its use.

The RFID policy directs military services and Defense agencies to expand immediately the use of high-data-capacity active RFID that currently is used in the DOD operational environment. The policy also directs the phased application of passive RFID by suppliers, who will be required to put passive RFID tags on cases and pallets of materiel shipped to DOD and on the packaging of all items requiring unique identification (UID).

Beginning in 2005, DOD suppliers were required to put passive RFID tags on shipments of selected classes of supply going to Defense Distribution Depot San Joaquin, California (DDJC), and Defense Distribution Depot Susquehanna, Pennsylvania (DDSP). Additional classes of supply will be included and nodes will be added over the next several years, with full implementation expected by 2008.

defense 2The desired end state for the DOD supply chain is a fully integrated, adaptive entity that uses state-of-the-art enabling technologies and advanced management information systems to automate routine functions and achieve accurate and timely in-transit, in-storage, and in-repair asset visibility with the least amount of human intervention. RFID is a foundational technology on the path to achieving this vision.

DOD envisions using RFID as an integral part of a comprehensive suite of automatic identification technologies (AITs) to facilitate accurate, hands-free data capture in support of business processes in an integrated DOD supply chain enterprise. DOD will apply all of the AITs where appropriate in the supply chain to improve support to the warfighter.

Distribution-based logistics provides the most efficient and effective use of assets to support the Army’s brigade combat teams, says Captain Jeremy D. Smith, who operates a division distribution center that sends supplies to FOBs throughout Baghdad. Read Captain Smith’s Proposal for Modular Distribution. 

A 10,000-pound ATLAS (All-Terrain Lifter, Army System) forklift moves an Air Force 463L pallet to the appropriate RIC lane in preparation for transportation by either air or ground to an FOB within the Baghdad area of operations.

RFID is being recognized as a valuable component of the suite of AITs because of the capabilities it provides. Combining passive RFID technology with the active RFID technology already in place will create greater efficiencies and data accuracy in the DOD supply chain. Leveraging RFID to the fullest extent possible will improve the services’ ability to get the right materiel to the warfighter at the right place, at the right time, and in the right condition.

The real value of RFID lies not in what it can do today but in what it will do in the future. DOD is in the midst of the most fundamental transformation of logistics capability ever attempted, and RFID is an integral element of that transformation. By employing RFID, DOD is laying a foundation that allows military logisticians to leverage new applications that enable them to see and manage the supply chain from end to end and not be limited by enterprise-centric, stovepipe systems. With RFID, it will be possible to control the supply chain from factory to foxhole and deliver the right item to the right place at the right time, even in the face of rapidly evolving conditions in the battlespace.

(This article is excerpted from the Army Logistician, Volume 37, Issue 3. It is used with permission. You can read the entire article here.)

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Alan F. Estevez Meet the Author
Alan F. Estevez is the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Supply Chain Integration within the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness.

 

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