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U.K. military to trial enhanced RFID tracking tags

To improve tracking of military supplies, the U.K. will test battery-enabled RFID tags readable at more than 100 feet.

The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense later this year will test enhanced radio frequency identification tags readable from more than 100 feet to improve tracking of military supplies.

These "active" RFID tags will contain a small battery capable of emitting signals that increase the range from which they can be read and the amount of data that can be stored on the chip. Special readers can track these tags from more than 200 feet.

These differ from "passive" RFID chips, which track individual items from readers at a closer range, such as those used in grocery store products.

The active tags would allow the defense department to track large batches of equipment much more easily. The U.S. Department of Defense over the last 10 years has spent around $100 million using active RFID tags to track supplies sent to overseas operations on cargo ships.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense has used RFID in its logistical process and supply chain as part of its total asset visibility (TAV) program since 2002.

Adam Ingram, the U.K. defense minister, told Parliament this week: "The Ministry of Defense is currently reviewing existing capability in this area and is increasing the use of TAV in Afghanistan to support the developing operational requirement there. We plan to trial an enhanced active-RFID capability in June 2006 to assess its potential to provide further improvements in our consignment tracking capability."

The Ministry of Defense introduced RFID tracking into its supply chain after being criticized at the end of 2004 by Parliament members on the Public Accounts Committee for failing to get the correct equipment to soldiers during the invasion of Iraq, despite spending more than half a billion pounds on asset tracking systems since the first Gulf War in 1991.

The Ministry of Defense did not respond to a request for comment.

Andy McCue of reported from London.