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Cargo Tracking Technology Implementation - Lets Military “See” Shipments from Factory to Foxhole

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., (USTCNS) --- Chenega Technology Services Corp. and the University of Alaska at Anchorage are helping the Department of Defense to synchronize military cargo shipments, from factory to foxhole. The goal is for all the military services, Defense agencies and supporting commercial enterprises to achieve greater visibility of shipments so that confidence, efficiency and reliability are improved.

The assistance comes through a $6.88 million contract to Chenega and its subcontractor, the University of Alaska at Anchorage. The contract initiative, administered by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), relies on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), a data input system of tags, readers and computer software, which lets Defense supply chain managers “see” into their end-to-end distribution pipeline and track cargo from origin to destination. The project integrates active and passive RFID into a single concept of operations using a well-defined infrastructure… the West Coast to Alaska region.

The Alaska initiative will establish the network through which DoD will move forces and materiel and gain the visibility required to execute with precision and agility. It involves air, land and sea shipments from the Defense Distribution Center, San Joaquin, near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., through the Travis aerial port, the ports of Tacoma, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska, to delivery at Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson, Alaska.

“The Alaska program is an initial implementation in a controlled environment of passive RFID for military sustainment goods, such as Meals Ready to Eat, clothing, nuts-and-bolts kinds of items,” according to Dr. Elisha “Bear” Baker, director Alaska Center for Supply Chain Integration, University of Alaska, Anchorage.

An RFID system includes: a transponder, referred to as a tag; a tag reader, known as an interrogator, which reads the tag using a radio signal; data processing equipment, and a method of communication between the reader and the computer.

The reader sends a signal to the tag, which prompts the tag to respond with information about the container or item to which it is attached. The information is forwarded to central data processing equipment, which can then be used to get detailed information about the container or item, such as the shipping date or the date received.

In July 2004, the Department of Defense published its RFID policy, the business rules for implementing two types of RFID tags: active and passive. Active tags contain an internal power source, enabling the tag to hold more data and allowing a longer “read” range. Passive tags do not contain any power source, hold less data and have shorter “read” distances.

“This is a great opportunity for USTRANSCOM and DLA to make significant strides in active and passive RFID implementation, while learning valuable lessons we can apply across our supply chains,” according to Fred Baillie, executive director of the DLA’s Distribution Reutilization Policy directorate.

“The DLA will train a select cadre of USTRANSCOM and service distribution and shipping personnel to use RFID equipment for the Alaska RFID implementation. We expect this joint effort to jumpstart the use of passive RFID tags in the supply chain, which will complement the existing use of active RFID tags,” he said.

Baillie said RFID use will decrease supply delivery time to war fighters and give them more confidence in the supply process. “From this effort we expect improved visibility of Defense assets, increased inventory accuracy, improved customer support, reduced reordering, reduced shipping losses, reduced labor costs, less material handling equipment and a reduced number of ‘touch points,’ all of which combine to decrease delivery time.”

In September 2003, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld gave USTRANSCOM responsibility for synchronizing the supply chain. The command has begun several initiatives to help eliminate redundant supply lines and incompatible communications systems.

“The advantages to the war fighter are obvious: everyone involved in the supply chain, from manufacturers and suppliers in the United States to the forward-deployed supply sergeant with a lap top computer will know exactly what’s en route and when it’ll arrive,” according to Army Lt. Gen. Robert Dail, deputy commander of USTRANSCOM.

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