RFID Technology: Keeping Track of DoD’s Stuff
The US military has a vast store of supplies and equipment around the world. Keeping track of all that stuff has always been a challenge. In World War II, the US Army kept track using IBM punch cards and electric accounting machines (EAMs).
Well today, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have replaced punch cards and RFID readers and computers have replaced the EAMs. The RFID tags work like “wireless bar codes” that record, track, and manage the supplies and equipment of a modern networked military.
Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have focused attention on the performance of the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) supply chain management in support of deployed US troops. The availability of spare parts and other critical supply items affects the readiness and operational capabilities of the forces, and the supply chain can be a critical link in determining outcomes on the battlefield.
So, not only does RFID technology help keep track of supplies and equipment, it also helps get critical supplies to the battlefield at the right time and place and to secure supplies en route.
RFID tags, which use integrated circuit to store information about a product, can be attached to the military item or incorporated into its production. The RFID tag interacts with a reader, which interprets the information for the computer. There are three types of RFID tags that can be used in tracking supplies. Each type has a different price tag:
- A passive tag responds to RF emissions from an RFID reader at a distance of 10 to 20 feet. It is relatively inexpensive at 20 cents a tag.
- A semipassive tag is battery-powered and can monitor things in a container, such as climate or security breaches. It does not, however, transmit an active signal.
- An active tag has a power source and a transmitter to send a continuous signal; it can communicate up to 750 feet. It is expensive at $20 or more per tag.
Another piece of equipment is the RFID reader, which takes the information from the tag and inputs it into the existing database and monitoring system, similar to the way EAMs would interpret the holes on the punch cards. The reader has an antenna that emits RF signals; the tag responds by sending back its data. A readers can be integrated into a laptop computer or function separately as a handheld device.
Generally, the reading range of a passive tag is limited to the distance from the reader over which the tag can draw enough energy from the reader field to power the tag. Passive tags may be read at longer ranges than they are designed for by increasing reader power.
There are 3 main applications for RFID technology: supply chain management, asset tracking, and security. For supply chain management, RFID helps improve asset visibility and the efficiency of the vast DoD supply chain. RFID technology can aid in keeping track of inventory in real-time through automated registration of items in warehouses.
For asset tracking, RFID can be combined with mobile computing and web technologies to provide a way for the military to identify, track, and manage their assets. This enables commanders in the field to order parts and track their delivery to ensure critical parts and equipment arrive in time for engagements with the enemy.
Laptop computers, with integrated RFID readers, eliminate paperwork and manual data entry. Web-based management tools allow the DoD to monitor its assets and make decisions from anywhere in the world. Web-based applications now mean that third parties, such as manufacturers and contractors, can be granted access to update asset data, including, for example, inspection history and transfer documentation online ensuring that DoD always has accurate, real-time data.
RFID technology can also be used to secure supplies, equipment, and locations. Tags can be placed on containers and alert authorities if they are opened by unauthorized personnel. Also, RFID can be used for access control to restricted areas and personnel tracking.
Benefits from RFID technology are numerous for both the DoD and its suppliers. The incorporation of passive RFID tags into business processes enables automated data capture, resulting in efficient recording of materiel.
The benefits to suppliers include:
- improved planning
- faster demand responses
- streamlined business processes
- improved efficiency in the recall of defective items
- increased ability to ensure that products remain stocked on DoD’s shelves
- faster receipt of payments for supplied goods
The benefits for the DoD include:
- improved inventory management
- improved labor productivity
- elimination of duplicate orders
- replacement of manual procedures
- automated receipt and acceptance
- improved inventory and shipment visibility and management
- enhanced business processes within the DoD
- improved asset tracking
With benefits, however, come problems. Security is a major concern for RFID technology. Tags that are readable anywhere, anytime pose a risk to corporate and military security.
Accuracy of information is another concern. The DoD recently identified suppliers using incorrect passive RFID tag ID headers when sending shipments to the US military. Suppliers must take care to ensure that they are using a tag header accepted to the DoD, otherwise, the information is either lost or incorrectly added to the database.
Another problem is implementation. DoD faces challenges achieving widespread RFID implementation because it is unable to demonstrate the return on investment to the military components that have primary responsibility for implementation.
DoD and its military components have made some progress adopting RFID technology. These efforts include developing policy and guidance, establishing working groups and integrated process teams to share information and lessons learned both within and across the military components, providing funding to support implementation, and establishing pilot projects and initial implementation efforts at several locations.
However, DOD is not able to quantify the return on investment associated with these technologies because it does not uniformly collect information on both the costs and benefits associated with implementation. Additionally, effective integration of RFID technology with supply chain processes and information systems is challenging and will require the military components to make significant commitments of funding and staff resources. Without the ability to demonstrate that the benefits justify the costs and efforts involved, DOD is likely to face difficulty gaining wider support.
All of the US services are using RFID technology to improve the efficiency of their process. For example, the US Army, working with the US Deparment of Defense, launched the Radio Frequency In-Transit Visibility (RF-ITV) System, which uses RFID tags and satellites to trace the identity, status, and location of cargo from origin (depot or vendor) to destination. Data from these two technologies is combined, processed, and accessed via web-based maps and reports, and provides global, logistics support.
The Army’s Product Manager for Joint-Automatic Identification Technology (PM J-AIT) office manages the RF-ITV system, the world’s largest RFID-enabled asset visibility system, according to the US Army. Using the RF-ITV system, the US military tags approximately 16,000 cargo items each week. The office handles procurement of RF products and services.
PM J-AIT manages 3 large RF-ITV-related contract vehicles that issue competitive task orders:
- Automatic Identification Technology (AIT)-IV contract – GTSI, Intermec Technologies, Northrop Grumman Information Technology, CDO Technologies, and Lowry Computer Products provide Commercial AIT hardware, software, and services. Total value: $418.5 million.
- RFID-III contract – Lockheed Martin’s Savi, Northrop Grumman, SPEC, and Unisys provide active RFID hardware, software, and engineering services. Total value: $429.4 million
- pRFID contract – Northrop Grumman Information Technology, CDO Technologies, Lowry Computer Products, CODE Plus, SYS-TEC Corp., and ODIN Technologies provide passive RFID hardware, software, and engineering services. Total value: $75.5 million.
RFID technologies have a broad range of military applications, for example container security and medical patient tracking. To thwart thieves along the southern transport route between Pakistani ports and US troops in Afghanistan, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and Army G-4 are equipping all US military containers with container detection intrusion devices (CIDDs).
The Army uses the ST-675-I RFID tag for its container detection intrusion device. This tag is secured in the container door and the intrusion sensors are activated using a hand-held interrogator. The CIDD detects unauthorized intrusions into the container and provides an alert to the hand-held interrogator. The parameters for intrusion detection will be established using multiple sensors to ensure the highest probability of accurately detecting and reporting a container breach.
In addition, the US Navy’s combat casualty care unit has used RFID technology to track combat casualties in Iraq, notes RFID-World.com. An RFID chip sewn into the wristbands of naval personnel help to track and identify the wounded arriving for treatment at field hospitals in Iraq.
Medical data stored in the RFID chips travels with wounded seamen, and data is read by RFID-enabled handheld devices to identify each patient. The RFID technology also allowed doctors to add, change or create new triage records on the chip.
Contracts and Key Events
July 13/10: Lockheed Martin’s Savi Technology announces an USMC order to supply 50 portable deployment kits (PDKs) that locate, track, and manage RFID-tagged supplies in Afghanistan. The order value was not disclosed. The USMC order brings the number of kits ordered by the US military, NATO, and allied forces to 1,300. The PDK system uses RFID tags, GPS, and Iridium modems to communicate via satellite with DoD’s In-Transit Visibility (ITV) network.
July 8/10: TASC announces that it has deployed a passive RFID-based inventory management system at the US Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technical Division warehouse in Indian Head, MD. From an automatic stock count and location queries, users receive an inventory report and a 3-D graphical presentation of the items’ location in the warehouse. The system was developed in cooperation with RF Controls, which developed the RFID traffic and control system.
May 18/10: Cubic Corp. of San Diego, CA acquires Impreva Labs, a Mountain View, CA-based provide of satellite and wireless tracking for the US military’s supply chain in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Its Global Sentinel Satellite Tag uses mesh technology for active RFID tags; each tag automatically selects the most cost-effective transmission link – satellite or WiFi – for data routing. Impreva also supplies smart devices for dry containers, refrigerated containers and trucks, and offers a device management center that provides continuous, real-time monitoring and event notification. Cubic is renaming the company Cubic Global Tracking Solutions.
May 17/10: Lockheed Martin’s Savi releases a white paper on supply chain asset management in the public and private sectors. One section examines US and international defense logistics and RFID technology and another covers aerospace and defense supplier industry supply chains, hot parts, and tool tracking.
May 11/10: Comtech Telecommunications Corp. in Melville, NY announces $26.3 million in orders under the US Army’s Movement Tracking System (MTS) contract. Comtech will provide its MT-2012 mobile satellite transceivers, control station systems, and miscellaneous equipment. Comtech’s MT-2012 transceiver integrate Savi Technology’s RFID readers with an encrypted GPS module. MTS is used by the Army to read and relay information of stockpiles at depots or in staging areas by driving MTS-mounted vehicles past RFID-tagged containers and supplies, providing mobile communications to the DoD’s “In-Transit Visibility” network.
April 27/10: Evigia received its 1st purchase orders from Northrop Grumman to supply active RFID products to the US DoD under the RFID III contract vehicle. DoD awarded the RFID III contract (see Jan 6/09 entry) to 4 teams including the Northrop Grumman/Evigia team, which has a ceiling of $429 million for active RFID hardware products, software and engineering services.
Jan 27/10: The US Air Force Global Logistics Support Center selected ODIN to monitor and maintain its network of passive RFID readers deployed in the continental United States (CONUS), Alaska and Hawaii. The contract scope covers 7 Air Force bases, 1 Navy base and nearly 150 passive RFID readers. The 7 Air Force bases and 1 Navy base covered under the contract include Charleston Air Force Base (AFB), SC; Dover AFB, DE; McChord AFB, WA: McGuire AFB, NJ; Norfolk Naval Air Station, VA; Travis AFB, CA; Elmendorf AFB, AK; and Hickam AFB, HI.
ODIN will be responsible for updating firmware, determining proper configuration, and keeping performance optimized. The contract, including 2 option years, extends until January 2013.
Jan 26/10: Syrma Technology in Chennai, India, announced it had joined the DASH7 Alliance. The DASH7 Alliance, founded in March 18/09, also includes: Analog Devices, Dow Chemical, Evigia Systems, Hi-G-Tek, Identec Solutions, KPC, Lockheed Martin’s Savi, Michelin, Northrop Grumman, RFind Systems, Texas Instruments, and ST Microelectronics. DASH7 is competing with WiFi and ZigBee to become the dominant wireless data protocol.
Nov 10/09: SRA International announced a $4.4 million contract from the Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) under the USMC Passive Radio Frequency Identification (pRFID) Infrastructure Support and Sustainment program. The contract covers 1 base year plus 4 option years.
USMC plans to use pRFID technology in the supply chain to improve the management and execution of operational logistics processes within the Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEFs) at Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton, and Okinawa, Japan. SRA will provide pRFID infrastructure support modifications, sustainment and follow-on services, and standardized pRFID solutions for MEFs. SRA also will provide project management; system maintenance support and sustainment services; system engineering and enhancements; and training. The SRA team includes GlobeRanger and RFID Global Solution.
Nov 5/09: The DASH7 Alliance, a coalition of organizations founded March 18/09 to promote an interoperability standard for wireless sensor networks, announced the formation of the Container Security and Sensing Initiative (CSSI) aiming to define the next-generation of cargo container tracking and monitoring devices. Specifically, DASH7 members will address the need for interoperability among container intrusion detection devices (CIDDs).
The DASH7 Alliance, founded in March 18/09, includes: Analog Devices, Dow Chemical, Evigia Systems, Hi-G-Tek, Identec Solutions, KPC, Lockheed Martin’s Savi, Michelin, Northrop Grumman, RFind Systems, Texas Instruments, and ST Microelectronics. DASH7 is competing with WiFi and ZigBee to become the dominant wireless data protocol.
Oct 22/09: Lockheed Martin’s Savi Technology in Mountain View, CA received orders totaling $6.6 million for active radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking technologies and accompanying services under the DoD’s RFID III procurement contract. The RFID tags are affixed to cargo containers and other supply chain assets, enabling near real-time supply visibility and interoperability with allied defense forces and government organizations.
The US Army Information Technology, E-Commerce and Commercial Contracting Center (ITEC4) issued the procurement orders under the RFID-III contracting vehicle, which is a multiple award, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract with a maximum value of $429.4 million. RFID III was awarded for active RFID hardware, software and engineering services.
Sept 23/09: Lockheed Martin’s Savi Technology in Mountain View, CA received a maximum $100 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-quantity/ indefinite-delivery, sole-source contract for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and magnetic mounting brackets. Under Savi’s contract, the Army, Air Force and the Defense Logistics Agency will use the RFID tags and mounting brackets at their stock locations. The contract consists of a 2-year base period and two 1-year option periods. The contract will run through Sept 23/11. The Defense Supply Center Philadelphia manages the contract (SPM8EF-09-D-0004).
July 31/09: The US Army Product Manager for Joint-Automatic Identification Technology (PM J-AIT) awarded [PDF] Automatic Identification Technology (AIT)-IV indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts for Commercial AIT hardware, software, and services to the following contractors: GTSI, Intermec Technologies, Northrop Grumman Information Technology, CDO Technologies, and Lowry Holding Company (dba Lowry Computer Products). The contract has a maximum value of $418.5 million. The term of the contract is 9 years, consisting of a 3-year base period; one 2-year option for ordering products, services and maintenance; and one 4-year option for maintenance only. In addition, the AIT-IV program will offer site surveys, installation, integration, implementation and training for turn-key AIT solutions to DoD, US Coast Guard, NATO, US federal agencies, coalition partners, and other foreign military sales (FMS).
Jan 6/09: The US Army Product Manager for Joint-Automatic Identification Technology (PM J-AIT) awarded [PDF] the RFID-III indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts for active RFID hardware, software, and services to the following contractors: Savi (a Lockheed Martin Company); Northrop Grumman Information Technology; Unisys; and Systems and Processes Engineering Corporation (SPEC). The contract has a maximum value of $429.4 million. The term of the contract is 10 years consisting of a 3-year base period; 2 one-year options for products, services and maintenance; and 5 one-year options for maintenance only. In addition, the AIT-IV program will offer site surveys, installation, integration, implementation and training for turn-key active RFID solutions to DoD, US Coast Guard, NATO, US federal agencies, coalition partners, and other foreign military sales (FMS).
Oct 8/08: Gravois Aluminum Boats, dba Metal Shark, in Jeanerette, LA won a $6.1 million firm-fixed-price contract for a quantity of 54 fast attack boats with active RFID tags. Work will be performed in Jeanerette, with an estimated completion date of June 30/10. For the contract, 5 bids were solicited and 5 bids were received by TACOM in Warren, MI (W56HZV-08-F-L777).
Oct 7/08: The US Army Product Manager for Joint-Automatic Identification Technology (PM J-AIT) awarded [PDF] the pRFID indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts for passive RFID hardware, software, and services to the following contractors: Northrop Grumman Information Technology, CDO Technologies, Lowry Computer Products, CODE Plus, SYS-TEC Corp., and ODIN Technologies. The contract has a maximum value of $75.5 million. The term of the contract is 6 years consisting of a 3-year base period and a 3-year maintenance period. The contract covers Electronic Product Code (EPC) Class 1, Gen 2 pRFID tags, fixed and handheld readers, and RFID enabled label printers. In addition, the pRFID program will offer site surveys, installation, integration, implementation and training for turn-key passive RFID solutions to DoD, US Coast Guard, NATO, US federal agencies, coalition partners, and other foreign military sales (FMS).
Feb 4/08: Savi Technology in Mountain View, CA received a time and ceiling extension to its US military RFID II contract (DABL01-03-D-1002). The contract is extended to Jan 31/09 and its ceiling increased by about $60 million to $483 million for the company’s active RFID products and services. This is the 2nd contract extension and 3rd ceiling increase that Savi has received on the RFID II contract.
Oct 3/07: Savi Technology received purchase orders totaling more than $3 million from partner Comtech Mobile Datacom Corp for 6,000 Savi active RFID reader modules. Comtech embeds Savi OEM active RFID reader modules into Comtech’s satellite-based Movement Tracking System (MTS) kit atop the roof of the driver’s cab, providing customers with 2-way communications to automatically locate, manage, and redirect ground shipments. MTS is used by the US Army to read and relay information of stockpiles at depots or in staging areas by driving MTS-mounted vehicles past RFID-tagged containers and supplies, providing mobile communications to the DoD’s “In-Transit Visibility” network.
Sept 4/07: Comtech Telecommunications announced that its Maryland-based subsidiary, Comtech Mobile Datacom Corp, received a $605.1 million indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract from the US Army for its Movement Tracking System (MTS). The new contract follows the original $418.2 million MTS contract awarded to Comtech in 1999, which was extended through Aug 31/07 and increased by $45.0 million to $463.2 million earlier in 2007.
The new contract’s period of performance is from Sept 1/07 to July 12/10, subject to annual government funding. Under the new fixed-price, IDIQ contract, Comtech will provide MTS system hardware, spares, satellite bandwidth, as well as technical and professional services. MTS hardware includes Comtech’s MT-2012 satellite transceivers, ruggedized and control station computers, and installation kits. Technical and professional services include program management, engineering services, field service support, satellite network bandwidth services and related infrastructure, and Network Operations Center (NOC) services and customer support. Comtech’s Model MT-2012 mobile satellite transceivers feature GPS capabilities as well as embedded RFID technology, including Savi Technology’s RFID reader, which Savi also has deployed in the DoD’s In-Transit Visibility (ITV) network.
Sept 25/07: Lowry Computer Products in Brighton, MI won a $8.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for passive RFID printers, ancillary equipment, and warranties from the Defense Logistics Agency. Date of performance completion is Sept 24/12. The original proposal was web solicited with 17 responses received by the Defense Distribution Center in New Cumberland, PA (SP3100-07-D-0016).
Oct 17/06: Wright Brothers Institute in Dayton, OH received a $7.2 million collaborative project order contract. The objective of this project is to stimulate the rapid transition of radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies by developing an RFID solutions center. The RFID solutions center will provide an effective way to collaborate with government end users, contractors, and defense industry suppliers. The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages the contract (FA8650-06-3-9021).
June 8/06: Lockheed Martin completed its acquisition of Savi Technology, a Sunnyvale, CA-based provider RFID products. The new organization will be known as Savi Technology, a Lockheed Martin Company, and will be a wholly-owned subsidiary. Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems & Solutions, based in Gaithersburg, MD will manage all operational aspects of the business.
May 17/06: ODIN Technologies in Dulles, VA won a maximum $7 million combination firm-fixed-price, cost, and time and materials contract for passive radio frequency identification (RFID) portals, hardware, and installation from the Defense Logistics Agency. Date of performance completion is May 16/07. Proposals were Web-solicited and 11 responses were received by the Defense Distribution Center in New Cumberland, PA (SP3100-06-D-0003).
Feb 13/06: Savi Technology in Mountain View, CA received a time and ceiling extension to its US military RFID II contract (DABL01-03-D-1002). The contract value was increased from $207.9 million to $424.5 million, and the ordering period was extended for the company’s active RFID products and services by another 2 years – through Jan 31/08. The contract amendments were made by the US Army’s Information Technology, E-Commerce and Commercial Contracting Center (ITEC4), and the executive agent for the DoD is the Office of the Product Manager, Joint-Automatic Identification Technology.
In a public notice, the Department of the Army wrote: “The extension of the ordering period and raising of the contract ceiling is necessary in order to continue to provide active RFID tags and associated supplies and services for shipments of materiel to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Jan 24/03: Savi Technology in Sunnyvale, CA received a delivery order amount of $100,000 as part of the $90 million firm-fixed-price RFID II contract. Work will be performed in Sunnyvale (79.1%); Everett, WA (1.4%); Mesa, AZ (6.7%); Manassas, VA (1.3%); Holtsville, NY (8.8%); and Austin, TX (2.7%), and is to be completed by Jan 21/06. This was a sole-source contract managed by the US Army Directorate of Contracting in Alexandria, VA (DABL01-03-D-1002).
- DoD – Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
- DoD – DoD Logistics Roadmap
- DoD – Radio Frequency In-Transit Visibility (RF-ITV)
- US Army – Product Management Joint Automatic Identification Technology
- Wikipedia – Radio-frequency identification
- RFID Journal – RFID in Defense
- InformationWeek (Nov 13/09) – RFID Makes Slow And Steady Progress (quotes data from IDTechEX on civilian and military RFID use)
- DID (Sept 23/09) – Up to $100M to Savi for RFID Tags and Mounting Brackets
- GAO (Jan 09) – Defense Logistics: Lack of Key Information May Impede DOD’s Ability to Improve Supply Chain Management [PDF]
- DID (July 22/08) – RFID Crack Affects 2 Billion Smart Cards
- DID (May 22/08) – US Getting Savi at Ammo Depots
- DID (Feb 7/08) – Lockheed Receives RFID Contract Extension from US Military
- FedTech (Feb 07) – RFID Beyond Defense
- DID (Oct 26/06) – US Developing RFID Solution Center near Wright-Patterson
- RFID Lowdown (Oct 10/06) – US Army To Save $$ With RFID
- ABI Research (4Q/06) – The RFID Aerospace and Defense Market
- DID (May 19/06) – Odin Wins RFID Portals Contract
- DID (May 8/06) – Lockheed Martin Acquires RFID Firm Savi
- DID (May 5/06) – US DoD Beginning to See RFID Payback
- DID (March 24/06) – USJFCOM Rolls Out AGATRS System to Manage Bilateral Logistics Agreements With Allies
- DID (March 20/06) – NCED Leveraging RFID for BPO, As Well As DoD
- DID (Feb 20/06) – RFID Orders Growing
- DID (Sept 6/05) – Navy Issues up to $212M in Contracts for Automated Item Identification
- DID (May 31/05) – UPC Body Publishes New Supply Chain Standards
- RFID-World.com (5/23/03) – U.S. Navy uses RFID technology to track wounded in Iraq