Tracking Military Supplies No Longer Requires RFID

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Tracking Military Supplies No Longer Requires RFID


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


The Defense Department has relaxed an earlier mandate that all vendors that deliver food, equipment and other provisions to the U.S. military affix radio-frequency identification tags on their products.

Radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags and handheld readers are used to track shipping containers, pallets and other items as they move anywhere around the world. The Defense Department intended to make RFID technology mandatory to all suppliers seeking to do business with the Pentagon. But the high cost of RFID systems and the emergence of comparable alternative technologies in the commercial sector has thrown into question the advantages of requiring RFID.

"We no longer put RFID tags on our trucks and cargo," said Dan Mongeon, retired U.S. Army major general and president of Agility Defense & Government Services. The company supplies battlefield equipment and food to 110 military sites in Iraq, and operates a fleet of nearly 1,000 trucks inside that country. Every truck and its contents are tracked by U.S. military officials but the technology employed is not RFID. Instead, Agility-operated trucks are equipped with Global Positioning System satellite "micro transport" devices that let government and company officials keep tabs of the cargo, Mongeon said. The company developed the micro-transport fleet management technology and customized it for its military work so it could be integrated with the Defense Department's computer systems.

"In Iraq, our interface provides much better data and visibility than RFID tags," Mongeon said. "The RFID was deemed redundant ... There are more commercial solutions out there than ever before."

One of the items that Agility provides to troops in Iraq is mobile kitchens. As truck convoys travel from Kuwait into Iraq, military commanders can have the shipments rerouted in real time if they determine that certain sites need the mobile kitchens more urgently.

Defense officials consistently have touted RFID technology as critical to the Defense Department's goal of achieving "real time asset visibility" of all supplies and cargo. Currently, however, other technologies such as bar-coding and GPS satellite tracking are being accepted as alternatives.

In the commercial industry, one of the earlier advocates of passive RFID technology was the retailer giant, Wal-Mart.

Passive RFID tags reflect energy from a reader/interrogator. They temporarily store a small amount of energy from the reader/interrogator signal in order to generate a response in the form of data.

Wal-Mart started an RFID pilot program three years ago, with the goal to eventually require its suppliers and distribution centers to adopt the technology. …

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