Upgrading Worldwide

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-02-20 Print this article Print

"The old way isnt working," Bingham said. "Theres a lot of motivation to have this be the primary mechanism just because commanders get more I dont know answers and shrugs of the shoulders to the question [of Wheres my goods?]. The primary metric that has a value right now is just to have visibility. Once we have visibility, then well figure out how to improve the process."

Upgrading the network

Savis CMS 1.0 is designed to keep track of and manage consignments tagged with all types of AIDC (Automatic Identification and Data Collection) devices—such as sensors, bar codes, and active and passive RFID tags—for allied military organizations. It provides exception-based management alerts and support for visibility of assets.

During its first phase, NATO determined that the RFID-based network met its Standardization Agreement, garnering a stamp of approval from all 26 member nations in NATOs Infrastructure Committee. The approval allowed member nations, or those with NATO observer status, such as Australia, to share the cost of the overall project and, more important, to integrate with NATOs CMS system.

Can RFID and other wireless tools help fight terrorism? Click here to read more. "Our objective now is to upgrade the network so that member nations can use their own tracking systems for national consignments while enabling them to be interoperable with NATOs RF [radio frequency] network for multinational, joint-force operations," said Bingham.

Earlier this year, Savi began upgrading NATOs existing system with a routing code developed in concert with the NATO Asset Tracking Group, a multinational group that sets standards for logistics and supply chain processes.

"The way we designed the code is each RFID code has its own ID tag. In the ID header, we put in a unique code, in concert with an ISO standard, so when you write that tag in the supply chain, the owners routing code is written in as well," said Eric Gill, program manager at Savi. "So when [goods] go by a reader, it doesnt matter whose tag it is—the Savi Reader gets it."

The reader sends the tag information to a local site manager through the CMS server. When the server receives the message, the first thing it does is check the routing code. If the routing code belongs to NATO, it accepts the message and sends an XML message to NATOs LOGFAS (Logistic Functional Area Services) system.

If the reader picks up a message that has a non-NATO routing code, it has a lookup table that sends the message to the owner nations server. What all this means is that nations can share their RFID reader infrastructure, according to Gill, who said Savis CMS system has been "very much designed around international parameters."

The NATO ISAF supply chain starts at the Joint Force Command Headquarters in Brunssum, the Netherlands. It then flows to NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany, where cargo aircraft takes in goods. From there, supplies are flown to Kabul, Afghanistan. A secondary supply chain route begins in Cologne, Germany, and then moves to Termez, Uzbekistan, and into Afghanistan.

"Were presently about 25 percent of the way into the site upgrade," said Gill. "We have done the server, and were at Brunssum at the moment. My engineering team will be traveling to Afghanistan."

The Savi team is implementing Symbol Technologies PDT 8146 mobile computers that are attached to Savi handheld readers. At the same time, the team has added Savi Mobile Readers that can read bar codes in NATO consignments, as well as RFID.

Symbol CEO Sal Iannuzzi says that RFID isnt ready for prime time. Click here to read more. With military consignments, particularly in multinational environments, an automatic fixed reader is very valuable, according to Gill.

"Youve got one nation running it a couple months, then another nation takes over," Gill said. "To have an automatic system means less training and reducing the logistics footprint.

"NATO wants soldiers out in the field, but there are more soldiers manning logistics," Gill said.

Despite the supply chain consisting of only five nodes, aka supply transfer locations, the logistics issues are complex. Each country involved—the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, Israel and NATO itself—sends its own supplies to support soldiers in the Afghanistan theater. Each countrys army has its own requirements and logistics processes, and each uses its own supply chain.

While NATO has not yet compiled any statistics, Binghams group estimates there are "many thousands" of spare parts and pieces of equipment moving through the ISAF supply chain, both NATO-owned and member country-owned.

Next Page: Gaining momentum.


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