Services try out cargo ID technology that would boost logistics operations

The U.S. Transportation Command is testing four automated identification technology
prototypes to improve the data flow, timeliness, accuracy and reliability of its logistics
operations.


The tests began last month and will run through October, Gen. Walter Kross said. The
former USTRANSCOM commander spoke at a June Freight Identification Technology Strategies
Workshop in Reston, Va.


The four test scenarios—air cargo, ammunition, ocean move and unit move—seek
to validate a set of new data timeliness standards for supplying shipping information to
end users, Kross said.


The command plans to establish times for several missions: one hour after cargo’s
arrival or departure for unit and air moves, two hours for intratheater shipments and four
hours for ocean cargo, he said.


“While it is extremely important for us to get people and cargo from here to
there, it is also vital for us, as an information organization, to supply our customers
with the who and what and where, even the how, of each movement,” Kross said.


Gen. Charles Robertson replaced Kross as head of USTRANSCOM in ceremonies early this
month at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.


USTRANSCOM, one of nine unified commands, provides air, land and sea transportation
through three component commands. Air Mobility Command provides airlift, Military Sealift
Command provides sealift and Military Traffic Management Command provides land
transportation.


USTRANSCOM will look at the prototype’s findings to help form a basis for
implementation, Kross said.


Each of the prototypes will test portable, quick-setup kits containing optical memory
cards, two-dimensional bar code labels, radio frequency tags and satellite communication
tracking technology to track materiel shipped along the routes. The kits track locations,
manifests and itineraries of shipments made over land, sea and air.


“We haven’t tied technology to process well enough to reduce the human
input—and relying on humans for data, especially the customer, is a loser’s
game,” Kross said. “The customer is too busy. So let’s get smart and field
it.”


Europe—where cargo is sent from the United States and from where U.S. troops are
shipped home—is the primary test bed.


The air cargo test will track shipments along two supply lines. The first supply line
runs from a Defense Logistics Agency consolidation point through airports in Dover, Del.,
and Ramstein, Germany, to the European distribution center.


It then runs to designated Air Force and Army supply activities in Germany and Bosnia.


The second supply line runs from DLA depots in Richmond, Va., and Norfolk, Va., through
airports in Norfolk and Sigonella, Italy, to an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea.


“Finding out how well optical memory cards and RF tags work for aerial port
consolidation and deconsolidation for both supply and transportation are just two expected
benefits,” Kross said. But the real benefits will be learning how DOD can more
effectively use the ID technology in business practices and in existing automated systems,
he said.


The ammunition scenario involves tracking cargo from Crane Ammunition Depot, Ind.,
through Sunny Point, N.C., and Nordenham, Germany, to ammunition supply points in Europe.


Increased data accuracy and increased intransit visibility are among the anticipated
benefits, Kross said.


The ocean move scenario has two routes. The first runs from DLA consolidation points in
Susquehanna, Pa., and Richmond through selected commercial terminals and the European
distribution center to designated supply activities in Germany.


The second originates at DLA depots in Richmond and Norfolk and continues to a Navy
ocean container ship point, then through commercial and military terminals to a
Mediterranean-deployed aircraft carrier.


“Since commercial ocean carriers provide a major portion of our sealift
capability, they will allow their containers to be tagged and RF readers to be put in
their terminals,” Kross said. “We’ll compare that tracking data to what we
get via electronic data interchange.”


The fourth and final scenario—unit move—will track cargo for the Army’s
deployment of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Bosnia to Fort Polk, La. The goal is
to see how 2-D bar codes, RF tags and satellite tracking perform in multiple theater
environments.  

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