Department of Defense Defends RFID

Q: Does the DoD plan to abandon other forms or automatic data collection once RFID is in place?
Chandler: The DoD believes in a suite of automatic data collection technologies, not just one. No one technology can handle every situation. We're still going to have bar codes and human-readable symbols.

Q: Why did the DoD issue mandates for RFID?
Chandler: There are new challenges in the rapidly moving battlefield and battlefield conditions. The lines of communications have been stretched. It's no longer a war of attrition. The commanders in the field are making more demands on the whereabouts of their assets. They want to know where it is, and how much of it they have. And they need to know it immediately so they can process the war.

Q
: Is inventory reduction part of this scenario?
Chandler: One of the things we've been trying to do is reduce the inventory we have. And the one way to do that is to understand where it [inventory] is in the pipeline. You can have that 'just-in-case' inventory, but that means you have a mountain of equipment sitting over there not being used. And one of the things the enemy is attracted to more than anything else is a mountain of equipment.

Q: What have you learned so far?
Chandler: From operation Enduring Freedom, we've learned troops need to have access to logistics activity and an automatic identification system, they need to capture data quickly and efficiently, and there needs to be fusion of that data. Capturing a lot of data doesn't do you much good if you don't know what to do with it. And they need to have accessibility to the information. At the lowest level, the individual needs to be able to manipulate that data.

Q: How did you do it in the past?
Chandler: Well, we'd get the stuff in, put it on the trucks and tell the guys where it was supposed to be delivered. That was the last we'd hear about it until the commander in the field would call us and ask where his stuff was.

Q: And now?
Chandler: Now we can monitor the shipment from the point of origin down to the end. We have complete visibility of the equipment and shipment.

Q: The activities of the DoD are paralleling retail merchants. Is there a reason for that?
Chandler: The timing is right for the technology to fit both commercial and military needs. We want to take advantage of that and to influence the directions of standards, for instance. We want the requirements to be such that they fit DoD requirements as well. If we wait and changes have to be made in commercial or military systems it will cost money and time.

Q: Can you explain the DoD's policy on RFID?
Chandler: It affects all departments of the DoD and all its suppliers, of which there are more than 40,000. It says that suppliers will attach an active RFID tag at the case and pallet levels. This will be as of January 2005. The DoD will supply active tags, but if your contract calls for a passive tag on the item, you have to buy the passive tag. And we'll only be accepting EPC-compliant tags. We want to be sure the active and passive tags are complimentary on individual items. We will have tags on items at all levels by January 2007.

Q: Are there other requirements for suppliers?
Chandler: Along with passive tagging at the case and pallet level, we'll be requiring advance shipping notices (ASN). This way we'll know what is coming to us. All we'll have to do, once we get the read from that tag when we receive the item, is go back into the computer and we know what we've got and that it's in the right spot.

Q: What about location of tags on the carton or pallet?
Chandler: Military Standard 129 governs packaging regulations and it also contains label requirements for tags. We've started the initial implementations of RFID at our Norfolk [Virginia] facilities, using data capture devices on lift trucks. We now have a record of the transaction even when the pallet is moved from one dock to another.

Q: What benefits do you see in RFID, immediate and long-range?
Chandler: Initially we see improved in-transit asset visibility and with that, improved shipping and receiving. It's the flow of information that is improved. Commanders in the field will know what's in the pipeline and where it is. Along with the benefit of being able to capture the data, hands-free, it improves material processing at the individual level. If we have a recall, as we did about a year ago of an item, we can find the item in question faster and know where an imperfect item, such as chemical protection suits, came from. We had a situation earlier this year when the troops said they were not getting enough food. Well, they were moving so fast the supply system couldn't keep up with them. Now we know immediately where the food or ammo is and can keep it moving. Now, anything going from stateside to the desert is tagged. After January 1, 2005, everything coming into our depots, for certain classes of items, will be tagged, saving us the time of doing it. RFID is coming and the DoD expects it to happen. We expect some glitches, but we're moving on.

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