Australian Defence Force keen to expand its use of RFID technology

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is expanding its use of RFID tags following successful pilots to more than two dozen locations around the globe.

An ADF spokesperson said plans are underway to seek out other uses for the technology, which is already attached to pallets used by the Defence Materiel Organisation's (DMO) logistics division.

As the logistics provider for the whole of the ADF, DMO accounts for 32 percent of Australia's entire defence budget.

Tasked with supplying everything from paper clips to missiles, the organisation manages the movement of around $4 billion worth of inventory including $2.5 billion of explosive munitions.

In this environment, DMO Squad leader Allister McInerney, staff officer of the directorate of logistics sustainment systems said as precise logistical management is critical.

"There are a handful of definitions for logistics, but the one that's of most use to the man on the ground is that [to a soldier with a weapon] logistics is the difference between a *click* and a *bang*," McInerey said.

Defence is widely introducing RFID tags to facilitate precise, efficient control over logistical operations.

"RFID is expected to improve the supply chain for support operations. It opens up the visibility, control, flexibility and confidence that is required for an ever-changing environment," McInerney said.

"One key benefit for RFID is visibility. Visibility equals availability. The soldier on the ground needs to know where his equipment's located in order to do his job."

With RFID tags shipment inventories can be easily read and disseminated.

The system will also grant the flexibility needed to provide a dynamic supply chain, with shipments changing locations at short notice, McInerney said.

Another key feature of the RFID system is its interoperability with other systems.

"Our tags can be read by allied readers and vice versa," McInerney said.

Around 27 countries are developing tags using the same standard. Each tag will have a country identifier included with the data.

RFID trials have proved so successful the DMO is looking into using the technology for other purposes.

One such alternate use, McInerney says, is "asset tracking, not just of items in transit, but also [for] high-value items."

The tags can also be used to protect valuable items in real-time.

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"What can be done with high-value items is to place them within 100m of a station, and the reader can continue to ping [the tag] to verify that item's still at that location," McInerney said.

Another possibility being investigated is using RFID sensors to detect unauthorised breaches of ordinance containers.

Sensors could monitor a number of details such as the temperature or light levels inside the container. A significant change of either measure would raise an alarm.

By 2010, Gartner forecasts worldwide RFID spending to surpass $US3 billion.

Gartner analyst, Jeff Woods, said organizations should not think of RFID tags as simply a replacement for bar codes as the technology is proving it isn't just for the supply chain anymore.

According to ABI Research undertaken in June this year, the technology is also being applied to asset management, security access control and specialized inventory management.

- with Sandra Rossi


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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