Convoy safety slated for upgrade

Army Movement Tracking System

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Army officials plan to incorporate the latest vehicle-tracking technologies into a system they use to monitor and manage convoys traversing Iraq's treacherous roads. The hardware will allow commanders to redirect convoys, if necessary.

The system will incorporate radio frequency identification (RFID) readers and advanced Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers into vehicle-mounted hardware. Using the Army's Movement Tracking System (MTS), ground commanders will be able to track supplies and tactical vehicles more effectively, military officials said.

Lawmakers like MTS; they more than doubled the budget for the program in the fiscal 2005 Defense authorization bill from $19 million to $40 million. The new funding will allow Army officials to buy additional vehicle hardware kits and improve in-transit visibility of vital cargo and fuel trucks, said Lt. Col. James Bass, MTS program manager.

The vehicle hardware is manufactured by Comtech Mobile Datacom in Germantown, Md. It consists of a roof-mounted satellite transceiver system, which connects to a rugged, cab-mounted computer from DRS Technologies and a handheld Precision Lightweight GPS receiver.

The GPS receiver lets vehicle crew members determine their position and transmit location information via a low-data-rate satellite, which covers the Middle East and Europe. The satellite is operated by Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications, based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Location information is then fed to a Defense Department ground station in Italy, which passes the data to servers at an Army base in Germany. Commanders in Iraq can access those servers.

With the current system, ground commanders click on a blue icon representing an MTS-equipped vehicle to determine its location to within 50 feet, Bass said. MTS also supports two-way text messaging from vehicle crews via a 9.6 kilobits/sec Thuraya data link.

Unlike the current system, the upgraded vehicle hardware will incorporate a board-level GPS Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module in the roof-mounted transceiver. This module will automatically feed GPS signals to the satellite receiver and a map on the vehicle computers, freeing the crew from having to operate the GPS receiver, Bass said.

The new MTS hardware, which Army officials plan to start buying next June, will include an active RFID reader that will be integrated into vehicles' rooftop units. Savi Technology in Sunnyvale, Calif., will supply the readers. The company's RFID tags, which are widely used in DOD's logistics chain in Iraq, can operate at low- or high-power settings.

At a low setting, the devices can read RFID tags on a container mounted on a truck. But at high power, they can scan a depot full of containers as vehicles drive around a facility, Bass said.

Because the Army does not have enough MTS hardware to equip all its vehicles in Iraq, the current practice is to mount the systems on armored Humvees, which serve as convoy control vehicles. Army officials will use the new readers' high-power settings to scan all vehicles and containers in a convoy and automatically uplink that data, Bass said.

Commanders in the theater can click on an icon representing the convoy control vehicle and determine at a glance all the RFID-tagged cargo in all of the convoy's trucks.

Eddie Coleman, director of the MTS program at Comtech, said employees have developed a prototype of the upgraded vehicle hardware and successfully demonstrated the RFID reader in a drive-by mode. Army officials plan further tests, he said, adding that they also want to upgrade the vehicles' computers.

David Stephens, senior vice president for the public sector at Savi, said MTS is the first system to use the company's readers in a mobile package in which the readers are integrated with satellite systems and GPS receivers.

Bass said Army officials have fielded 7,000 MTS units, including about 4,000 in Iraq. Army officials plan to buy 12,000 of the upgraded systems, he said.

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