New Logistics System Could Help Military Keep Tabs on Volatile Munitions

By Valerie Insinna

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Tracking items in warehouses is a big problem for the military, which cannot use radio frequency identification systems on explosives and munitions. A product jointly created by Lockheed Martin and Visible Assets Inc. could fix that problem by using magnetic tags to identify items.

"We've toured warehouses all over the world through the United States and in every situation, they're literally … still going around with an index card, taking down SKU numbers to do their audits,” said David Weber of Lockheed Martin’s C4ISR systems. It can take four or five workers a week to double check a warehouse, he added.

That process can be cut down to an hour using the new RuBee system, he told National Defense during a Feb. 20 interview at the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium and Exposition. 
RuBee is more like a wireless network than radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, said John Stevens, CEO and chairman of Visible Assets Inc. Every item in a warehouse would be outfitted with a tag, which come in different sizes and are difficult to remove. Each tag contains a 4-bit processor with enough memory to store data such as reference identification numbers or weapon numbers.
RuBee can scan tags using antennas and routers and import data directly to a computer or cell phone, Stevens said. 

A warehouse manager can preprogram automated audits, or do it manually with the flip of a button, Weber said. "You come in with your coffee, you hit the button, it does an audit. It can take from 10 minutes to an hour. You come back, it will give you a full report.” 

Managers can designate which assets can be taken out of the warehouse. An alarm will sound when someone takes the wrong item or tries to steal it. It can be a visible alarm, with red lights and sirens, or it can be a silent alarm, where it sends the warehouse manager a text message or an email. 

The key distinction between RuBee and traditional RFID is that the new system can be read through steel, liquid, human flesh, and can be placed on or near explosives and fused munitions. Each tag is guaranteed to last 10 years, but on average, they last 20, Weber said. They cannot be demagnetized, Stevens added.

That makes it a good option to track weapons and ammunition at military warehouses. The companies are targeting Army Materiel Command and naval arsenals as possible customers. However, the services could also use the tags in other circumstances, Weber said.

The Navy is using RuBee in a pilot program to help pinpoint when small arms need maintenance. A tag mounted in a gun contains an accelerometer and a temperature sensor that are used to count shots fired and measure the rate of fire and the temperature of the gun barrel, Weber said. 

“Through that, you can do some statistics that will tell you, 'Hey the barrel is going to crack or the bolt is cracked,'” he said. Lockheed and Visible landed the contract in September 2013, and the program is scheduled to wrap up this year. 

The Department of Energy is also using RuBee in its Pantax Plant in Carson County, Texas, where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled. 

Topics: Logistics, Science and Engineering Technology

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