RFID helps Army better track tank parts

The Army will have a clearer idea where all the parts to its broken tanks are, following a deal BAE Systems recently signed with ClearOrbit.

The deal involves a version of ClearOrbit's Global Track and Trace service customized for government agencies.The company specializes in international supply chain management technology and services.

In this case, ClearOrbit is delivering a set of radio frequency ID and bar code print-and-scanning products and integration services to help keep track of used and new parts and supplies for tanks and other armored vehicles.

BAE's Land and Armaments Division holds a number of contracts for the maintenance and upgrades of a range of armored vehicles, mostly from the Army Tank and Automotive Command (Tacom). Most recent is a $112.5 million contract for the repair of more than 600 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which is an extension of a $375 million contract awarded in 2008.

Contracts range from deals to supply spare parts for repairs to complete overhauls, such as a 2006 contract from Tacom's Life Cycle Management Command to almost completely remanufacture 96 Bradley Combat Systems vehicles in partnership with the Red River Army Depot.

One of the units it remanufactured is the Marine Hercules M88A2 armored personnel carrier that helped residents of Baghdad pull down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Fardus Square during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Before returning the repaired vehicle, in 2006, BAE employees painted it with a depiction of the event.

Breaking down multimillion-dollar armored vehicles, procuring replacement parts, and shipping components or parts of individual vehicles to repair or duty stations in other countries can be a logistical nightmare, which BAE hopes to ease by tagging parts with bar codes or RFID tags. The tags will make it easier to identify and keep track of parts not only as they ship between warehouses or duty stations but also within repair facilities, which can also install RFID detectors to help find missing parts, according to a ClearOrbit spokesperson.

BAE already uses ClearOrbit software for other customers and systems in its $31.4 billion, 100-nation global business. The system allows it to collect auditable data on the location and movement of every spare or remanufactured part and ship that data to a central Oracle database that gives BAE and Army managers a real-time view on the state of their supply networks.

Auditable logistical trails help identify and eliminate bottlenecks, reduce the chance that parts will be misplaced in a warehouse or lost in transit, and give BAE better control over the cost of shipping and work on the projects.

ClearOrbit has built similar networks for dozens of private-sector companies but has modified the network and collection technologies to match federal requirements. For example, it expanded the use of RFID tags for parts and customized the rules engine that gives the system its central intelligence to make it more amenable to federal requirements.

Federal requirements also require stricter adherence to RFID standards than private-sector companies typically do, a ClearOrbit spokesperson said.

The system is also customized for specific customers to allow for the sometimes arcane identification requirements of government or military entities. The customized system also matche dynamic, real-world supply chain relationships, according to ClearOrbit.

The project is currently being implemented, though details on which facilities are doing the work and on which armored vehicles was not available because of security concerns.

About the Author

Kevin Fogarty is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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