Service personnel join forces overseas for smart card field test

The Defense Department sent smart cards into the field for the first time this spring
during joint exercises in Thailand.

About 8,000 Army, Navy and Air Force personnel and Thai military personnel used the
cards to automate transportation manifests during the Cobra Gold ’98 exercise.

It was the first large-scale military operational test of the programmable cards, and
Lt. Col. Steve Cameron, the Marine Corps provost marshal, called it an absolute success.

Cobra Gold is one of a handful of pilots overseen by DOD’s Smart Card Technology
Office. The office last March began to develop a departmentwide architecture for smart
cards, which potentially could replace current military identification cards.

A request for proposals will come out this month for a portable storage device for
soldiers’ medical records, and DOD will consider smart cards for the program, said
Lt. Col. Brad Dawkins, project manager for the Composite Health Care System II Program

SCTO deputy director Martha Neal, speaking at the Defending Cyberspace ’98
conference in Washington last month, said she believes smart cards will be recommended as
a military ID, although “that is not a 100 percent given at this point.”

Smart cards first must prove they can pay for themselves because “the reality is,
there is not going to be additional money in the Defense budget,” Neal said.

An earlier, two-year Multitechnology Automated Reader Card test, which involved 45,000
troops in the Pacific Command, was a functional success but did not prove a business case
for MARC, Neal said.

In Cobra Gold, DOD tried to begin building that business case. Cameron estimated that
using the cards in just two exercises a year would produce a 167 percent return on
investment over five years.

Cobra Gold’s 8K smart cards came from Gemplus Card International of Gaithersburg,
Md., and had the same configuration as MARC, including magnetic stripes and room for bar
code information. But the exercise used only the programmable chip, which has 427 data

The cards reduced manifest creation chores as troops embarked, cutting the load time
for a 350-passenger plane from four hours to 35 minutes, Cameron said. Card readers
attached to notebook computers subsequently kept track of card-holders’ field
locations, updating a central database via cellular modem.

CHCS’ Personal Information Carrier (PIC) Program is part of the Force Health
Protection Program, mandated in 1997 following studies of medical problems from the Gulf
War. A request for information on standards-based data storage devices led to an
evaluation of seven technologies from six vendors, involving silicon chips, solid-state
memory and optical reading devices, Dawkins said.

The forthcoming RFP will not specify a technology, although Dawkins said the need for
field updates would likely make smart cards attractive. The CHCS Program Office expects to
award an initial contract by March and decide on a full-blown implementation plan by
October 1999. DOD would deploy the system in 2000, with 7.5 million devices issued over
the 14-year life of the program.  

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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