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Potential uses for RFID data.

Depots and supply facilities in the Department of Defense (DOD) have the capability to "read and "write" radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. Facilities with RFID interrogators (whether fixed or handheld) scan ("read") incoming cargo with RFID tags attached and add the new location data to the RFID system. Containers and pallets loaded at these facilities are added to the RFID system by "writing" and attaching RFID tags. The interrogators at the facilities' exits (the "out-gates") scan departing RFID tags and add their location data to the system. After the container or pallet is unloaded, the tag is erased and reused ("rewritten") with new data.

Lessons learned from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom indicate that RFID tags are an underused resource within the continental United States (CONUS) and in the combatant commanders' areas of responsibility. There are several reasons for this--

* Many users are not aware of the capabilities of RFID technology.

* Combatant commanders have not required use of RFID technology. Until Operation Iraqi Freedom, none of the nine combatant commanders had mandated use of RFID tags.

* The Army does not always practice in peace what it will be called on to do in war. RFID tags normally are not used during training; RFID has not been instituted in CONUS as part of the distribution system for sustainment cargo; and the Army Forces Command has not required RFID use for unit moves except on a case-by-case basis.

* The tags may fail. This occurs because a tag has fallen off a pallet or has been damaged or because the battery in the tag has died.

* The tags are not visible in the in-transit visibility (ITV) server. This occurs when there is no interrogator at a location to scan the tags and put information into the system or when the interrogator has failed because of a loss of power, lack of connectivity, or mechanical failure.

We must remember that RFID was not created for ITV, nor does it provide a great deal of usable ITV data at present. RFID can tell you only where the cargo was last seen (in other words, where it was interrogated last), not where it is currently located. For current-location data, RFID must be integrated with other systems--an integration that the military has not completed up to this point. RFID originally was used after the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics mandated that the services gain "in-the-box-visibility." RFID provides ITV at the specific nodes where it is used, and it is a value added, but by no means should it be the primary source for ITV. RFID cannot be used effectively for ITV until certain changes are made--

* RFID use must be mandated at the DOD level. Until this happens, use of RFID will be sporadic.

* The problem of who provides the content data of the tags must be solved. Tags should be generated at the locations where pallets are built or changed and containers are stuffed. These locations must be able to pass data into the RFID system so that all information is reliable and accurate.

* Ownership of RFID sites must be determined in order to keep the operational readiness rate of each site at or close to 100 percent.

* RFID data must be integrated with data from other logistics systems to provide true ITV.

What follows are some thoughts on possible uses of RFID technology in an automatic update role to other logistics systems without creating yet another ITV/total asset visibility (TAV) system. The Army and DOD need to start a discussion among functional experts on the possibilities and benefits of integrating RFID data with data from ITV systems.

Government Freight Management

If interrogators are located at the in-gates and out-gates of ports of embarkation (POE), they can be used to transmit cargo arrival data to the Government Freight Management (GFM) system when a container or pallet is scanned on its entry to the port. GFM, in turn, could use these "arrival" data to close out its CONUS movement transactions without input from an operator. Similarly, for cargo retrograding to CONUS from a port of debarkation (POD), the scanning of a pallet or container at the POD's out-gate could result in departure data being sent to GFM.

Worldwide Port System

If interrogators are located at the in-gates and out-gates of POEs and PODs, they could be used to scan RFID tags attached to containers as they enter the port for uploading or when they depart the port for onward movement. Rather than only updating the ITV server, the in-gate event could be used to generate data for the "Cargo Receipt at POE (TYS) Transaction" for the Worldwide Port System (WPS). When an RFID tag on a container is scanned leaving the port, data could be generated for WPS's "Cargo Depart Port (TYW) Transaction."

If interrogators are located at pier side (but not attached directly to the cranes used to load cargo), they could be used to scan RFID tags on containers as they are loaded on or off vessels. The on-load event could be used to generate data for WPS's "Cargo Load at POE (TYU) Transaction." The off-load event could be used to generate data for WPS's "Cargo Discharge at POD (TYS) Transaction."

Global Air Transportation Execution System

If interrogators are located at the in-gates and out-gates of POEs and PODs, they could be used to scan RFID tags attached to pallets as they enter the facility for uploading or when they depart the facility for onward movement. Instead of only updating the ITV server, the in-gate event also could be used to generate data for the Global Air Transportation Execution System (GATES).

Standard Army Retail Supply System

So far we have been talking about possible uses of RFID technology in the Defense Transportation System. If interrogators were located at supply support activities (SSAs) (they already are located at most SSA's in Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and Europe, just not in CONUS), RFID tag data could be used to provide arrival data (TK6 transactions) for supplies and parts to the Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS). These transactions are already taking place between the ITV servers and the Logistics Integrated Data Base (LIDB). SARSS then could close out matching transactions in the finance system.

Surface Transportation Management System

The Surface Transportation Management System (STMS) is a Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command effort to join data from GFM and the Integrated Booking System into a new CONUS information system. WPS (or parts of it) will be added later. STMS also should add RFID data for movements within CONUS.

Movement Tracking System

The Movement Tracking System (MTS) is a transponder-based satellite tracking system that provides near-real-time location data for vehicles, much as the Defense Transportation Reporting And Control System (DTRACS) does in U.S. Army Europe, Eighth U.S. Army, and the Coalition Forces Land Component Command in Iraq. MTS could be modified to provide the ability to link RFID tag numbers to MTS-outfitted vehicles. This is a proven capability in DTRACS, which allows the user to see all containers and pallets associated with a DTRACS-outfitted vehicle, including the ability to "drill down" to the level VI detail associated with the RFID tag (that is, down to the national stock number of each item).


RFID data also are being used to track unit movement cargo. RFID tag read-and-write capability has been added to the Transportation Coordinators' Automated Information for Movement System (TC-AIMS II). In the future, if a portable TC-AIMS II is adopted, it also will have the capability to read and write RHD tags. An RF write capability is fully integrated into TC-AIMS II and already is being fielded. RFID equipment is included in the basis of issue plan. TC-AIMS II also should have the capability to read a barcode and generate an RFID tag when necessary.

The current use of RFID in DOD discussed above is based on active RFID technology. In active RFID, the tag has its own power source (a battery). In the commercial world, passive RFID technology is used to track items both in transit (very limited use) and in warehousing operations (much more robust use). In passive RFID, the tag is powered by RF energy transferred from the reader to the tag. To better exploit this technology and reduce its cost, major corporations have created the "Auto ID Center" with research and development facilities at five leading universities in the United States, Australia, England, Japan, and Switzerland.

DOD will be able to take advantage of this work. Although passive-based RFID tags are being used more and more in the commercial world, the business process of using them has not been examined to see if such tags will fit into DOD's business processes. There are a couple of limited tests being run at this time. One is in the Combat Feeding Program, which is attempting to use passive RFID tags to track items down to the box and case level. The only problem is that there is no current tie-in to the DOD standard active RFID tags. In other words, once an item is placed on a pallet or in a container, the data should be aggregated and written to the DOD standard RFID tag in use at that time.

For the short term DOD needs to identify problems with our current system, fix them, and take advantage of RFID technology to automatically update other logistics systems and use those systems to update ITV servers.


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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Carpenter, Robert F.
Publication:Army Logistician
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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