DoD Discusses New Supply Tracking System With Vendors
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 7, 2004 Defense Department officials met this week with hundreds of vendors to discuss plans for implementing technology common among today's retailers to revolutionize the supply chain to the battlefield.
The three-day summit at the Washington Hilton began April 6.
Military logisticians hope to take the "factory to the foxhole" by using radio- frequency identification, or RFID, tags to improve supply chains while reducing cost. The RFID technology has become part of a new DoD initiative making it mandatory for all items in the department's inventory to be distinguishable from one another.
Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Michael Wynne said RFID technology is a way for DoD to ensure military forces get everything they need, from "food and water to supply parts."
Many retail stores today, most notably the Wal-Mart chain, use RFID tags to track products and control inventory costs. State transportation departments use the technology to monitor tollbooth traffic, and farmers use it to keep track of cattle.
Wynne said he intends to have RFID tags "capture information about all critical assets as they move throughout DoD's supply chain" to decrease supply-chain costs and improve efficiency. Military logisticians will know exactly what is on a shipment pallet or container without having to unwrap it, he said.
The technology enables vendors to track where their supplies are located in DoD's supply chain process, he said.
The Defense Department issued a memo on its RFID policy earlier this year, requiring suppliers to put passive RFID tags on the packaging of the lowest possible piece, part, case or pallet by January.
"RFID is a data collector," said Ed Coyle, chief of the Automatic Identification Technology Office for DoD Logistics. "RFID can feed a network (so) that you get the right information to the right place so we can make decisions about what we move where and who should be using what material -- managing the inventory."
Coyle told vendors at the summit that the "timing is right" for the technology within the Defense Department, urging them to come up with a product to meet the government's needs in a way that relies heavily on what's already in use in industry.
"We don't think our requirements are significantly different or different at all from those in the commercial sector," he said, "and from that perspective, we need to play very heavily with those in the commercial sector to make sure that the product we come up with collectively meets DoD's requirements. We don't want to have to be unique," he said.
Alan F. Estevez, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for supply chain integration, said DoD needs the technology for the same reason that has driven its adoption in industry: so that when the customer needs something, it's there.
"Wal-Mart is doing it so that there is no 'stock out' for customers shopping in their stores," he said. "We have the same view. We don't want to 'stock out' for a soldiers, sailors or airmen out in the field."