Keeping DOD on the right track

The Pentagon's Automatic Identification Technology (AIT) is an overarching

initiative designed to ensure that all the services field interoperable

tracking devices.

The AIT's multimillion-dollar suite of data storage technologies includes:

* Satellite tracking.

* Linear and 2-D bar codes, which are similar to their linear cousins except

that they contain about 1,000 characters of information in a two-inch space

instead of 30 characters.

* Radio frequency tags. These can be attached to shipments, and as the shipment

comes into the vicinity of sensors along the supply route, the tags register

the shipment's location.

* Optimal memory cards. These work a lot like CD-ROMs and store large amounts

of data about the equipment being shipped. An optimal memory data card can

be moved along with a shipment package to describe its contents. In previous

conflicts, troops have had to determine the contents of individual crates

by opening each one — 40,000 during the course of Desert Storm, according

to SRA International Inc., which has been tasked with advising the Pentagon

on AIT implementation.

In 1998, the Pentagon provided $15 million for a European-based prototype

that outfitted 70 different supply and transportation nodes and logistics

facilities to test shipments by air and sea, a unit move, and an ammunition

shipment. An additional $20 million performed the same analysis in the Pacific,

completed this year.

This year, the Defense Department is focusing on Central Command in the

Persian Gulf and Southern Command in the Caribbean and South America, the

final puzzle piece of a worldwide AIT architecture for all the services.

In addition to using AIT for tracking the Colombian aid package, Defense

Department is expanding its use beyond supply and deployment, the initial

focus areas, to include acquisition, maintenance, and so-called re-utilization,

military terminology for selling off or otherwise eliminating used equipment

from the inventory.

"We think AIT is going to really enhance our supply-chain management, making

us more effective and efficient," said Ed Coyle, director of the Defense

Logistics Agency's AIT office. "We are currently turning our focus toward

acquisition, maintenance and [re-utilization]. We're working with the services

in building standards to get some type of automated mark on everything we

buy. It doesn't matter if it is a reparable or consumable product. We want

to ensure we can track items as they are consumed or sent back for repair."

Coyle declined to comment on the Colombian aid package and whether AIT might

be used to track it.

According to a fact sheet provided by the Bureau of International Narcotics

and Law Enforcement, the controversial $1.3 billion aid package to help

Colombia fight the war on drugs included:

* Sixteen UH-60 Blackhawk and 30 UH-1H Huey II utility helicopters and support

for 15 UH-1N helicopters.

* Sixty-eight million dollars for upgrading radar, U.S. Customs service

P3 early warning interdiction aircraft and airfield upgrades and improved

intelligence gathering.

* One million dollars to support the Columbian Navy's counternarcotics intelligence

infrastructure.

Although President Clinton signed the bill July 13, he expressed concern

with the funding levels for the information technology portions of the package.

"The $1.3 billion provided underscores our commitment to support the fight

against drug traffickers and benefits the United States by bringing greater

peace and prosperity to an important American ally," Clinton said in a written

statement announcing passage of the bill. "Nonetheless, I am concerned

that certain provisions of the bill will limit the effectiveness of our

assistance. Key initiatives, such as ground-based radar, secure field communications

and force protection are funded at levels below my request."

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