Electronic identification systems are playing an increasing role in national
security by speeding military supplies and equipment to U.S. troops on the battlefield,
and protecting imported cargo against terrorist attacks, officials said.
The Defense Department began adopting the technology more than a decade ago
as part of an effort to improve its logistical system after the first Persian
Gulf war. During Operation Desert Storm, the United States shipped 6.5 million
tons of equipment to Saudi Arabia.
In the rush to deploy, however, many containers were poorly labeled, with little
information about content or destination, said Edward W. Coyle, chief of automatic
identification technology for the Defense Logistics Agency, at Fort Belvoir,
“Of the approximately 40,000 containers shipped to Saudi Arabia, about
30,000 had to be opened on the dock to find out what was inside,” Coyle
told National Defense. To improve their chances of getting supplies, commanders
often ordered three times what they actually needed.
The result, he said, were “iron mountains,” piles of equipment
and supplies containing everything from beans to bullets, which military personnel
had to dig through to find what they need to fill specific orders.
Since the Gulf War, the department has deployed a multitude of electronic systems—known
collectively as automatic identification technology—to keep better track
of cargo as it moves through the supply chain, speed it to where it is needed,
and if necessary, even redirect it to a new destination.
AIT, as it is called, includes linear and two-dimensional bar codes, optical
memory cards, smart cards, radio-frequency identification tags and satellite
tracking systems, Coyle explained.
Military services have used linear bar codes since the early 1980s. These are
one-dimensional bar codes, with information carried in only one direction, left
to right, and representing a limited group of characters.
In the late 1990s, the Pentagon began using two-dimensional bar codes. Two-D
codes—which can store data in two directions, left-to-right and top-to-bottom—can
handle significantly more information than linear versions.
Bar codes, containing information about contents, destination and point of
origin, are assigned to cargo at receiving points. They facilitate the movement
and storage of materiel as it moves through the supply chain.
Optical memory cards use technology popularized by audio compact disks and
audio-visual CD-ROM (read only memory) products. Data are etched to the card
with a high-intensity laser and recovered by a low-power light beam.
OMCs contain large amounts of data, and they are relatively inexpensive, reusable,
rugged, relatively stable and unaffected by climatic variations. Typically,
OMCs accompany large shipments in oceangoing containers, trucks and air pallets
from depots to customer receiving points.
A smart card—about the size of a credit card—contains an integrated
circuit chip, with a microprocessor that is able to read, write and calculate.
It also may include one or more methods of storing information, such as a magnetic
strip, digitized photo or bar code.
Smart cards are being issued to active-duty military personnel, some members
of the reserves and National Guard, Defense Department civilian employees and
contractors. The cards are used to record ship, aircraft and truck manifests,
which helps reduce paperwork and keep better track of shipments, Coyle said.
A smart card contains an 8-bit embedded microprocessor and 1 to 8 kilobytes
of stored memory. The introduction of faster, 32 and 64-bit microprocessors
and 32 to 64 kB of memory will enable smart card to store significantly more
information, Coyle noted.
Radio frequency identification technology provides operators with a means to
identify, categorize and locate material automatically and remotely while in
transit. Data are stored digitally on RFID transponder devices, such as tags
or lapels. The transponders automatically record and alert authorities of attempts
to tamper with shipments.
Remote interrogators, located at distances ranging from a few inches to more
than 300 feet from the transponder, electronically retrieve the data and send
it rapidly to automatic identification systems.
The Defense Department first used RFID technology in 1993 to track munitions
and equipment being returned to the United States as part of the downsizing
of U.S. forces in Europe. Since then, it has been employed in virtually every
large-scale exercise, contingency operation and even shipment of military goods
around the world.
The military RFID system was developed by Savi Technology, of Sunnyvale, Calif.
Since 1994, Savi has received three multi-year contracts, worth a total of $280
million, to help build and operate the system, known as the Total Asset Visibility
network. The most recent of these-valued at $90 million for RFID hardware, software
and related services—came in February of this year.
The TAV network is the world’s largest active RFID logistics tracking
system, said Vikram Verma, Savi’s chief executive officer. It monitors
and manages 270,000 cargo containers transporting military supplies throughout
400 locations in more than 40 countries, he told National Defense.
This is how the network works: When a pallet is filled at a depot, an RFID
tag is attached. Electronic “interrogators”—both handheld
and fixed—are strategically located at “choke points” in the
supply chain, such as airfields or seaports, to track the shipment automatically
along the way.
At each stop, arrival and departure information are noted and sent to a global
software network, providing immediate intelligence on the location and status
of the shipment, Verma said. The TAV technology has been much improved, but
it still has limitations, according to experts (National Defense, July 2003).
By combining such technology with commercial satellite tracking systems, logisticians
are able to follow shipments all over the world. A satellite tracking system
typically has five components—a transceiver unit, a satellite, an earth
station, a vendor network control center, and a military logistics AIS.
The transceiver, installed on a vehicle or container that is being monitored,
exchanges information with an earth station via satellite communications. The
earth station is connected to the NCC, which stores electronic information for
customers to access through their AIS.
“When you attach a tag to a truck in a convoy, it sends a signal every
hour,” Coyle said. “You can watch a convoy go down a road anywhere
in the world. When vehicles from the 4th Infantry Division were deploying to
Iraq, we could watch them from here in Washington.”
The Defense Department uses two satellite-tracking systems for logistics operations.
The Navy’s Defense Transportation Tracking System monitors more than 47,000
arms, ammunition and explosive shipments by commercial motor carriers each year
in the continental United States. The Defense Transportation Reporting and Control
System—an offshoot of DTTS—monitors military truck movements, convoy
operations and trains in Europe and the Middle East.
These technologies played major roles in supplying U.S. forces during the invasion
of Iraq recent operations. In January—as military goods began flooding
into Kuwait—Gen. Paul J. Kern, head of the Army Materiel Command, in Alexandria,
Va., ordered that “100 percent of all air pallets, containers and commercial
sustainment shipments moving to, from and transiting Southwest Asia ... be identified
and tagged with RFID tags. This will include all unit cargo and sustainment
shipments, regardless of origin.”
Compliance with this policy, was “absolutely essential,” Kern said.
“The capability to see timely and accurate movement information is a major
enabler for strategic deployments, operational sustainment and intra-theater
“No other existing system provides the necessary visibility or level
of detail,” Kern said. “RFID is the only tool that allows CFLCC
(the Coalition Forces Land Component Command) to identify critical cargo, locate
it and anticipate its arrival. The technology is proven, widespread and is positively
required for CFLCC operations.”
Points all along the supply chain have been equipped with RF tag writing capability,
Kern said. This includes all DLA depots that build consolidated shipments, as
well as critical air and sea nodes where large blocks of cargo may be broken
down and reconfigured. Even remote, end-of-the-line sites, such as Karshi Khanabad,
Uzebekistan; Bagram, Afghanistan, and Lemonier, Djibouti, “have the capability
to read RF tagged shipments arriving at their locations,” Kern said. “Using
handheld interrogators, they also have the capability to find individual items
on pallets or containers in holding areas.”
The influx of all of this technology has made a big difference in Iraq, said
Coyle. Units are getting their supplies faster now, and they know what is in
the containers when they arrive, he said.
There have been few “iron mountains” of supplies in Iraq, Coyle
said. “They’re ‘iron molehills’ this time.”
Take shipments of food, Coyle said. “In Afghanistan, soldiers could see
containers of food coming at them,” he said. “But they didn’t
know what was inside. It could be breakfast food or a dinner meal. It could
be beef or vegetarian.
With the RF tag, people in Iraq can see specifically what is inside the container,
Coyle said. “They don’t have to break into it to find out.”
RF technology also is helpful in locating shipments lost in the supply chain,
Coyle said. “The British came to us, looking for a $3 million item that
they use to repair tracked vehicles,” he explained. “They couldn’t
find it anywhere.
“We invited them to check our TAV system,” Coyle said. The device
“turned out to be 300 feet from where [the British] were standing.”
Automatic identification technology also is being put to use protecting cargo
being shipped into U.S. seaports. Six million containers, carrying 90 percent
of the nation’s imports, enter those ports every year, according to U.S.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
In 2002, Murray joined a coalition of international maritime shippers and port
operators to launch an industry-led initiative to improve the safety, security
and efficiency of cargo containers as they move across the oceans.
The “Smart and Secure Tradelanes” initiative is modeled on the
Defense Department’s TAV network. It uses a system that, like TAV, tracks
and monitors containers of goods from the manufacturer, through the port of
loading, the voyage and to final discharge in the United States.
The project is sponsored by the Strategic Council on Security Technology, chaired
by retired Army Gen. John Coburn, who once ran the Army Materiel Command. Participants
include port-operating companies that together account for 70 percent of the
world’s container operations, such as:
- Hutchison-Whampoa LTD, which manages 30 ports in Asia, Europe, Africa and
the Americas, accounting for an estimated 50 percent of the total container
traffic to U.S. ports.
- PSA Corporation Ltd., which handles 25 percent of the world’s container
transshipment and operates 14 container terminals in nine countries, including
Singapore, Belgium, Italy, China, India and South Korea.
- P&O Ports, one of the world’s leading port operators with 21 container
terminals in 19 countries and 84 ports in News York, Baltimore, New Orleans
SST announced in May that it had established an electronic infrastructure at
15 major ports worldwide and deployed sensor-related systems to track nearly
1,000 containers shipped from Asia and Europe into the United States.
The next step will be to increase the volume of tracked containers to more
than 5,000 and to build in more layers of security, said spokesman Douglas Harpel.
These include a grid of sensor technologies for detecting environmental changes
inside containers, automated surveillance cameras, biometric identification
and satellite tracking for in-transit visibility.
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security is stepping up its efforts
to secure cargo as it moves through U.S. ports. In June, Homeland Security Secretary
Tom Ridge—speaking at an event in Port Elizabeth, N.J.—announced
a grant of $58 million for Operation Safe Commerce.
OSC is a pilot project, funded jointly by the DHS Bureau of Customs and Border
Protection and the Transportation Department. Participants include the ports
of Seattle and Tacoma, in Washington; Los Angeles and Long Beach, in California,
and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“Functioning much like a venture capital fund,” Ridge said, “the
program will prompt private businesses, ports and federal, state and local authorities
to develop new technologies that can monitor the movement and integrity of containers
as they move through the supply chain.”