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RFID to track army supplies in Iraq

Pallets and containers belonging to Australian Defence Force in Iraq will be RFID-tagged starting in February.

Australian troops in Iraq will use radio frequency identification tags to monitor the movement of their equipment.

The Australian Defence Force wants to improve the monitoring and control of its critical distribution network, which provides items like rations and weapons to armed forces. In order to improve visibility of supplies in the network, pallets and containers in Iraq will be RFID-tagged starting in February, Brigadier David McGahey, the army's director general of material information systems, told ZDNet Australia.

"The tags will primarily store numberplate and identification data," McGahey said.

Defence is also testing 8MB "contact memory buttons" with the tags. These can store larger amounts of information, such as details on how to repair a particular item, McGahey said.

Each tag, supplied by U.S.-based Savi Technology, is battery-powered and can transmit data to readers up to 100 meters away.

"There are hundreds of millions of items that currently we have poor visibility of," McGahey said, adding that missing or incomplete data has affected stock records and accounting systems.

However, McGahey revealed there were other motivations for improving the situation.

Terrorists have identified attacking supply chains as a prime way of disrupting opposition forces. "It is a most difficult thing to defend," he said.

"We need the ability to redeploy assets quickly...to be able to change to respond to threats," he added.

The Iraq project accompanies the wider In-Transit Visibility project, which will integrate RFID with Defence's transport, distribution and inventory management systems. This will replace the barcode-based cargo visibility system, which requires manual data input.

Defence will upgrade its enterprise resource planning system in September to incorporate the new RFID distribution network.

By August of next year, Defence expects to have its Iraq RFID supply chain system replicated in other Middle Eastern countries, as well as its 34 sites in Australia.

The In-Transit Visibility project is due to be completed by May 2007.

Steven Deare reported for ZDNet Australia from Sydney.