Army pact to track supplies globally

The Army earlier this month awarded a $111 million contract to Savi Technology Inc. to supply equipment software and services that will enable the Defense Department to track supplies in transit across the globe.

The Radio Frequency Identification Equipment acquisition is geared toward realizing what DOD calls "total asset visibility" - a concept first tested on a large scale during the peace-keeping mission in Bosnia.

The idea is to label supply containers with electronic tags and use handheld computers or interrogators to read the content information and feed it into a computer database via a radio link or a local-area network. By setting up a series of "weigh stations" equipped to read the tags DOD can track shipments in progress.

"The benefit is now all along the logistics chain from the point of embarkation to debarkation we will know pretty much where [a container] is on the route " said Lt. Col. Allen Forte deputy program manager for tactical Army management information systems.

Once fully in place commanders in the field anywhere in the world will be able to tap into a database - the asset-management system - to check the status of supplies they have ordered making it possible to develop a more accurate picture of their resource requirements.

Until recently DOD relied on manual processes that in many cases provided little visibility of en route supplies. Once a shipment arrived people had to unload boxes and break them open before they had an accurate account.

Various DOD organizations have done experiments with asset-management systems including some individual services and the Defense Logistics Agency. "You have it here and there but it is kind of loosely put together now nothing is integrated " Forte said.

By establishing a central contract for equipment and services DOD will ensure that the systems established by individual organizations will interact with each other. The department has established a Joint Total Asset Visibility committee to develop departmentwide policies.

Savi Technology first developed the electronic tag technology under a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program sponsored by the Navy and the Marine Corps for "micro-circuit technology logistics applications."

Since 1993 the company has provided DOD with more than 100 000 electronic tags said Vic Verma president of Savi Technology Mountain View Calif. The Army contract is the first major competitive procurement for the company.

However Savi Technology has expanded its technology beyond the tags and interrogator first developed under the SBIR Verma said. "In 1995 we realized the whole thing was about a system not just a radio tag " he said.

During the last two years the company has developed Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based software that automates the process for collecting data from the tags and putting it into a standard management information system.

"The whole goal of the system is to get accurate timely and complete data right from the source all the way to the MIS system and to make that link as seamless as possible " Verma said.

The company now is able to provide its DOD customers with a turnkey system that they can customize - through a drag-and-drop graphical user interface - for particular applications. "We believe this software is the key to opening up the technology so it becomes widespread " Verma said.

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