RFID Marches Onward

The Defense Department ramps up projects at military installations stateside and in Iraq to improve the agency's massive supply chain

Laurie Sullivan, Contributor

June 17, 2005

3 Min Read

In February and last month, the Army Contracting Agency's Information Technology, E-Commerce, and Commercial Contracting Center awarded contracts to several RFID technology vendors for passive tags and readers. ADT Security Systems, Alien Technology, Intermec Technologies, SAMsys Technologies, and Symbol Technologies are among those getting the nod. Though sales aren't guaranteed, winning a contract is good news. "We suspect it will mean many hundreds of additional sales this year and many thousands next year," says Kevin Ashton, VP of marketing at ThingMagic LLC.

Getting a space on the coveted list wasn't easy. Intermec, for example, had to prove its passive RFID reader could pick up the RF signal from both Class 1 and Class 0 passive RFID tags from 10 feet away, as well as identify 25 tags moving through a field at walking speed, says Larry Huseby, Intermec's director of industry marketing for government.

Funding for the Defense Department's RFID projects will come from the agency's annual budget, a department spokeswoman says. She declined to elaborate on the projects' costs. Ann Grackin, CEO of consulting firm ChainLink Research, estimates the cost at between $150 million and $200 million for 2005, up to between $500 million and $700 million for 2007.

It could be money well spent. So far, the Marines' RFID project in Iraq has helped troops locate in real time replenishments en route. Field commanders can see the precise location of incoming equipment they need to sustain operations, Granata says. Fixed and handheld RFID readers from Savi Technology Inc. are positioned at military checkpoints.

Information from the tag, along with the exact location at that time, is then transmitted via satellite to the Defense Department's in-transit visibility database.

Savi has partnered with NAL Research Corp. to provide a modem connection so readers can link up with the satellite system. The modem is part of Savi's Portable Deployment Kit, which is in a ruggedized case weighing 50 pounds that includes a Savi Mobile Reader, Savi SmartChain Site Manager software, a satellite iridium modem, and a cord that plugs into a power generator inside Humvees.

The Marines' RFID deployments aren't the only projects under way. The Alaska Intermodal Project, a joint endeavor between the Defense Logistics Agency and the University of Alaska, is testing the use of passive RFID to track military cargo that's transported by sea, air, rail, and truck. The project is to start midsummer. Sites are being surveyed and preparation work is being done.

The Army will select a few suppliers to participate in tagging cases and pallets shipped to Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright that ultimately will arrive at points along the West Coast. "The Army is in the infancy stage with passive RFID and looking at ways to integrate the technology into its business processes," says Fred Naigle, contract support for the Army's Joint-Automatic Identification Technology, who believes the real value for passive RFID will come when even the smallest individual items are tagged. Says Naigle, "If it currently takes 20 days to send something from San Joaquin to troops in Iraq, and the military is able to cut three days off the delivery cycle, we can create visibility and shrink the pipeline."

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