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Radio frequency tagging helps track cargo

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (USTCNS) --- U.S. Transportation Command is using radio frequency emitting tags to improve the tracking of air cargo to the U.S. Central Command’s Area of Responsibility.

As part of the job of moving critical cargo and personnel, Combatant Commanders have requested supporting commanders at all levels to stress the importance of automated information systems and automatic identification technology to meet the goals of total asset visibility and in-transit visibility. Radio frequency identification tags are one of the means that provide content level detail for containers and pallets.

“As the Department of Defense In Transit Visibility proponent, USTRANSCOM is always seeking to enhance the visibility of the distribution end-to-end logistics pipeline.” explained Trish Young, the Deputy Director, Strategy and Policy for USTRANSCOM. “For current operations, technology enablers like radio frequency identification, serve to bridge some current holes in terms of providing the warfighter full scale visibility coverage."

Recently USTRANSCOM tasked Air Mobility Command to put RFID tags on cargo pallets bound for the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility at five US aerial ports (Charleston AFB, Dover AFB, McGuire AFB, Travis AFB, and NAS Norfolk) and two overseas locations (Ramstein Air Base and Yokota Air Base).

Here’s how the system works. The aerial port personnel process the cargo and check the documentation received from the shipper. Once the cargo has been placed onto a pallet and is “capped” (plastic sheeting is placed over the cargo and web netting secures it all to the pallet), then the itemized list of the cargo on that pallet is “capped” (closed to additional items) in the Global Air Transportation Execution System (GATES).

This data is then “burned” (transferred) to the RFID tag by the software of the Total Asset Visibility (TAV) In-transit Processing System (TIPS), another automated information system. Port personnel affix the RFID tag to the pallet’s net using plastic ties.

The information about the pallet’s contents is passed from TIPS to the Defense Logistics Agency’s Defense Automatic Addressing System (DAAS) where it is added to the supply information and then it passes the full content-level record to the applicable computer server for this RFID network. Once the information is in the RFID servers, it will be replicated to Department of Defense information systems throughout the world, such as the Global Transportation System (GTN).

When the pallet is off-loaded at an airfield with a system of fixed RFID transponders, called “interrogators”, the interrogators automatically “read” the RFID tag, updating all the relevant DoD information systems with the pallet’s current location. There are interrogators located at strategic and tactical nodes as the pallet continues its journey to its final destination. And where there is no fixed interrogator system, hand-held interrogators can read the tag and transmit the data. The RFID tags are recoverable and reusable.

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