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Fifty-Two Things You Might Want to Know About In-Transit Visibility

Lately, many military and commercial-sector professional journals have published articles about the applications of automatic identification technology (AIT) and its use in providing in-transit visibility (ITV). These articles are valuable to some readers for the scientific information they provide, but a good number of the articles are so technically focused that they are almost unreadable and unusable for a Soldier who simply wants to know what ITV will do for him. Therefore, we have attempted to pull together a list of important things about ITV use in the U.S. military that you might find useful in sustaining or deploying your unit and maybe even a little interesting.

Facts About ITV Evolution

1. The initial requirement for ITV in the Army came from General Gordon Sullivan, Chief of Staff of the Army from 1991 to 1995. During a logistics exercise at Fort Pickett, Virginia, he said, “ITV . . . That’s enough talk. We need to get on with it . . . That’s all I’m gonna say.”
2. The initial requirement for full data content radio frequency identification (RFID) tags came out of an Operation Desert Storm after-action report and was meant to provide inside-the-box visibility. Although estimates vary about exactly how many of the 50,000 containers that were sent to Saudi Arabia had to be opened to determine contents and destination, most Operation Desert Storm veterans will insist, “All of them—twice.”
3. The first seven Army ITV server users were trained at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and each of them received a system laptop and a password to access the system. Today, any Soldier requiring access to the ITV server can use any computer with Internet access and log in with his Army Knowledge Online password or common access card and personal identification number.
4. The first handheld interrogators were powered by battery packs from model airplane engines and had an operational life of 30 minutes between charges.
5. The first long-distance test of active RFID tags with full data content was conducted in January 1993, when 57 ammunition containers in U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) were tagged and tracked to their destination in Nevada. Almost immediately upon arrival, the tags were collected and returned to Europe to be used in the large joint logistics over-the-shore exercise (JLOTS 93) that would be conducted that summer. As part of this exercise, 440 armored vehicles and containers of excess materiel were tagged for retrograde from USAREUR, transported to Onslow Beach, North Carolina, offloaded, and then moved to depots and organizations in the continental United States (CONUS). The 440 tags used were the entire stock of active tags in the Army.
6. The tags used in JLOTS 93 ended up at a wide variety of destinations, including Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California; Fort Knox, Kentucky; the Department of Energy in Columbus, Ohio; and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, Oklahoma. Recovering these tags at the end of the operation became a high priority because a request for ITV support from U.S. forces in Somalia had already been received by the Army G–4.
7. In August 1993, the Army Logistics Innovation Agency and the Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) provided seven prototype satellite tracking units to USAREUR Soldiers deploying to Macedonia on a peacekeeping mission. These tracking units, precursors to the Movement Tracking System (MTS), were meant to be used to monitor the movement of logistics support vehicles, but because of their ease of use and extremely accurate vehicle location reporting capability, they were mounted on border patrol vehicles conducting a surveillance mission. Upon completion of the mission, the tracking devices were packed into a box and sent to USAREUR, where they were lost for almost a year in storage.
8. The first pre-positioned ship to be tagged with active, full data content tags was the Cape Decision in December 1993 at the Port of Charleston, South Carolina. A team from the Project Manager for Ammunition Logistics and CASCOM tagged the ammunition containers using the military standard transportation and movement procedures formats for ammunition documentation. Interestingly enough, the software that was used for burning the tags and for operating a fixed interrogator was simple enough to fit on a single 5¼-inch floppy diskette.
9. On 11 November 1993, the commander of the U.S. Logistics Support Command in Somalia sent the U.S. Central Command a message requesting the immediate deployment of an RFID ITV tracking system for the sustainment and retrograde of U.S. forces deployed there. The message requested 350 RFID tags, 5 fixed interrogators, and 3 handheld interrogators for use in Mogadishu. Within 2 weeks, the U.S. Department of Transportation and CASCOM had assembled the requested equipment and set up a network in sea and aerial ports. This equipment remained in place and provided ITV for the duration of the deployment. When the last troops left, the equipment was torn down and returned to Fort Lee, Virginia, just in time for the U.S. mission in Haiti to begin.
10. Even though it was short-lived, the Somalia RFID ITV network was notable for the unprecedented visibility it provided; even U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) staff officers at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, dialed in each morning to see what was moving in and out of Mogadishu.
11. Perhaps because of the successful RF–ITV network in Somalia, in October 1993 TRANSCOM designated 1994 as “the Year of In-Transit Visibility.” Later, in December 2004, TRANSCOM reported they were studying Santa Claus’s distribution methods in the spirit of Christmas. TRANSCOM was designated the Distribution Process Owner in September 2006.
12. In January 1994, two containers of retrograde materiel from Somalia were accidentally delivered to Defense Depot Susquehanna, Pennsylvania (DDSP), instead of the Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) retrograde site at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Because the containers were tagged, their arrival was seen and reported by the DDSP interrogators. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) immediately turned the containers around and delivered them to Fort Polk. This was the first recorded instance of using RFID tag data to correct delivery mistakes.
13. In May 1994, the Army directed the Department of Transportation and FORSCOM to provide in-transit visibility to monitor the movement of Patriot missiles from CONUS to U.S. forces in Korea. This was the first use of satellite communications devices directly on cargo and platforms in a setting outside CONUS. Using the satellite communications devices, the movement of the ship was tracked with reports from the devices through the satellites every 4 hours. After the arrival of the missiles in Pusan, the focus shifted to watching the movement of the trains and trucks that carried the missiles to their destinations. In its after-action report, FORSCOM said, “ITV is overdue in terms of urgency of need. New and evolving technology applied to this area must serve to simplify the documentation and tracking procedures . . . This [headquarters] is committed to the ITV concept . . . resourced with the proper tools and supported by user training.”
14. In January 1994, General David M. Maddox, USAREUR commander, visited the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, and later sent a message to the Chief of Staff of the Army, which included the following statement: “We need a way to scan the container to know what’s inside . . . RFID tags with read/write capability . . . provide a quantum improvement to the way we do business.”
15. The RF–ITV network that was set up to support Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti operated from September 1994 to June 1995. The equipment used to set up the network was previously used in the peacekeeping efforts in Somalia and Macedonia. During this operation, the first Model 410 tags with 128 kilobytes of memory were introduced for ITV use. In addition to the data capacity increase, the Model 410 introduced the ability to replace batteries without requiring any tools or removing the tag cover. When Lieutenant General Johnnie Wilson visited Haiti, he was so impressed with the ITV network and the Soldiers operating it that he wrote to the Chief of Staff of the Army, “This is a real success story as AMC [Army Materiel Command], DLA, CASCOM and the 1st COSCOM [Corps Support Command] worked in a total team effort to give our soldiers the latest technology.”
16. At Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina, in 1995, the information contained on an RFID tag was used 36 times to replace and reconstruct missing paper documents for air pallets being sent to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from DDSP and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
17. The daily average number of tags burned by DDSP during the Haiti support operation was 7.4. Currently, on an average day, DDSP burns tags for more than 100 shipments.
18. Soldiers using handheld interrogators were able to locate missing class I (subsistence) containers in the container yard at the Port-au-Prince port facility. By using the “search for content” query capability in the handheld device, they didn’t have to open the containers to determine the contents. Several years later, a similar search in Bosnia for containers with meals, ready-to-eat led instead to the discovery of a container filled with barbed wire and engineering stakes because the container was reused but the tag was not rewritten.
19. Seal tag 15597 was used to document cargo into and out of Haiti. The same tag was later tested by the XVIII Airborne Corps on the airdrop of a vehicle—both the tag and the vehicle survived the jump.
20. Access to power and communications at a desired interrogator site is critical. During early operations in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia, power and communications restrictions often led to the installation of interrogators in less than optimal locations. This caused the tags to be overinterrogated, which weakened their batteries. And, at least once during each of these operations, interrogators were knocked off the network by local rats chewing through the wires.
21. The Air Force tested the use of RFID tags and interrogators in the air. In June 1995, as part of Operation Combat Track, the Air Force installed a fixed interrogator inside one of their cargo aircraft and used it to read the tags on the cargo and report the content and pallet information to the destination airport.
22. The G–4 for Task Force Eagle in Tuzla, Bosnia, used the ITV server to monitor air pallets from DDSP arriving at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and was able to determine his priority list based on the content listings. He then informed personnel at Ramstein of his required order of delivery. Writing about this methodology, Brigadier General Larry Lust said, “Hard to believe there could still be nonbelievers in the value of RF tags and intransit visibility.”
23. In Operations Joint Endeavor, Joint Guard, and Joint Forge, over 20,000 RFID tags were used between December 1995 and July 1998. As one 1st Armored Division captain wrote, “Units who understand the benefits of RF technology typically place great confidence in the accuracy of the data that RF provides both in terms of TAV [total asset visibility] and ITV.” In one documented incident, a Soldier noticed that something was leaking from a newly arrived container and used a handheld interrogator to determine that the container held potentially hazardous fluids. Soldiers with appropriate hazardous materials protective gear were able to safely unstuff the container and prevent injury to unprotected Soldiers.

24. In Operation Roving Sands ’95, a group of Army Reserve Soldiers was trained in tag writing and handheld interrogator operations. Instead of marking their cargo with the tags, they used the tags as route markers for their units. They marked key or potentially confusing intersections with the tags, and thereafter convoy leaders could use their handhelds to read the tag and determine which road to follow out of the intersection. This was the first time tags remained in a fixed location and interrogators moved.
25. Although most of the current research focuses on the effects of hot weather on tags, the Army tested the effects of cold weather on tags and interrogators in exercise Northern Edge while moving from Fort Richardson, Alaska, to Fort Greely, Alaska, in February 1999. In spite of temperatures reaching –38 degrees Fahrenheit, the tags had a 96-percent successful read rate. During this same time period, the Marine Corps tested the tags in a tropical environment: Hawaii. The Marines compared the use of RFID tags to bar codes as a means to provide ITV. They reported dramatic time savings and improvement in reporting accuracy as a result of using the tags.
26. On 30 July 1999, a shipment of 14 M249 squad automatic weapons was reported missing by a materiel manager in USAREUR. The ITV server was queried using the shipment’s transportation control number. The server revealed that the shipment was last reported by a fixed interrogator at the Port of Brindisi, Italy. With this information, Soldiers from the 21st Theater Support Command took handheld interrogators to the container storage yard, used their “inside-the-box” search capability, read the content data on the tags, and located the missing weapons.
Nearly 8 years later in Iraq, Soldiers with handheld interrogators were able to use inside-the-box visibility on a large group of misdirected containers. They read the tags, determined the shipping address, and then delivered the containers to the correct destination. And because of recent advances in technology, the memory card in the Model 654 tag (which provides that inside-the-box visibility) only costs about $2.50.
27. The Virginia Army National Guard conducted a prototype test of the Model 412 active tag at Fort Pickett, Virginia, in August 2002 to see if the tan-colored tag would stay in the tag holder during tactical operations. The tags were mounted using lacing wire onto the external bustles of M109A6 155-millimeter Paladin self-propelled howitzers. The tags remained in place and secure throughout all the movement and firing rotations during a 2-month period. However, after removal, one of these tags was crushed by a forklift when the tag was accidentally left on the ground.
28. In September 2006, the first of the Model 656 container door tags were put into operation. The purpose of the container door tag was to move the main part of the tag inside the container to increase security. Having the tag inside the container prevents people from removing the tag and stealing the battery. Currently, most of these tags are used to provide ITV for containers going to Afghanistan and Iraq.
29. In 2007, the Soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait queried the ITV server over 93,000 times a month. Using the ITV server information, they were able, for example, to locate missing sniper equipment, unmanned aerial vehicle materiel that had been missing for a month, and 10 Harris radios that had been missing for 5 days.
30. In December 2007, distribution vehicles equipped with MTS+ hardware began reporting tags to the ITV server and became “interrogators on the move.” Tag reports from MTS+ are easily discerned because they have MTS in the interrogator name. These reports significantly extend the range of the RFID network because they are capable of reporting the shipments they are carrying as well as other shipments that are within range.
31. In response to a request from the U.S. Pacific Command, CASCOM conducted an evaluation (an unscientific test) from November 2007 through January 2008 to determine the life expectancy of the Model 654 tag battery. Results showed that batteries were read (pinged) 187,000 to 375,000 times before dying. One of the tags reported continuously for 85 days before its battery died.
32. The USAREUR network, the oldest continuously active RF–ITV network, started with 3 read interrogator sites to support Major General Thomas Robison’s battlefield distribution initiative. By the time the battlefield distribution general officer in-progress review meeting in USAREUR had finished, Brigadier General James Wright had requested that the network be expanded to 15 sites. Today, there are more than 160 fixed read sites in USAREUR alone.

Interesting Facts About ITV Today

33. Active RFID tags are reusable and durable; of the monthly average of 82,151 tags moving through the ITV system during the first 2 quarters of fiscal year 2008, 63.2 percent had been used at least once before. That means nearly two-thirds of the active tags being tracked in the system had previous missions.
34. On tag records for ITV, the “consignor” is the unit sending the shipment and the “consignee” is the unit receiving it. As a hint, remember that the long sound of the “e” in the word “receive” is the same as in “consignee.”
35. In response to concerns about tag durability in cold weather operations, the original Model 410 tags received extensive testing. Seven of them were exposed to –30 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour and then frozen solid in a block of ice for 48 hours. After thawing out, the tags were tested again and all were functional.
36. The national stock number (NSN) for the Model 410 tag battery is 6135–01–301–8776, and the NSN for the Model 654 tag battery is 6135–01–524–7621.
37. An article in the Winter 1998 edition of the Air Force Journal of Logistics outlined the findings of a study on the effect of RFID tags on transit times for untagged Air Force shipments and tagged Army shipments. The article reported, “Army cargo had a longer transit time from APOE [aerial port of embarkation] to APOD [aerial port of debarkation] than Air Force cargo for Tuzla-bound shipments. Army shipments took 24-percent longer to transit from the APOE (Dover) to the APOD (Tuzla) than Air Force shipments to the same destination.” Interestingly, the Air Force controlled the transit time for both Army and Air Force shipments, but for some reason, Army shipments seemed to take longer.
38. Transportation arrival transactions are automatically generated when the consignee Department of Defense activity address code (DODAAC) that is written to a tag matches the supported DODAAC entered on the registration page of the RF–ITV read interrogator.
39. One of the best and most complete articles about using RFID for ITV as part of unit movement and sustainment processes was published in the November–December 2004 issue of Infantry Magazine. The author, a former support operations officer in the 13th COSCOM, provided a checklist for units to use when looking for their gear in theater.
40. In the February 2005 edition of Defense Transportation Journal, the Marine Corps reported that Marines have tagged “hundreds of containers, thousands of pallets” and experienced read rates of more than 90 percent even “in hostile environments throughout the supply chain.” Because of this visibility, they also have been able to reduce their “overall shipments while seeing more materiel get pushed more quickly to the end-user.”
41. The Army has tested the use of passive RFID technology as another means of providing asset visibility. Initial tests were conducted in an Army National Guard warehouse, in the Army Quartermaster School’s training warehouse at Fort Lee, and at the 558th Transportation Company supply support activity (SSA) at Fort Eustis, Virginia. During the fourth quarter of
fiscal year 2008 and through fiscal year 2009, a use-case demonstration of passive RFID will be conducted at the installation SSA at Fort Bragg.
42. On a typical day, the ITV server has location information on over 450,000 shipments. Over 35,000 unique tags report to the server, and the read site operational rate is 98 percent.

Helpful Hints for Using ITV

43. If you are not using your RFID tags, you can put them back into the distribution system as a free issue (condition code B) by sending them to DLA at these addresses—

Defense Distribution Center, Susquehanna
ATTN: DDSP–OMP
Warehousing Branch Bldg 203, Door 12
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055–0789

or

Defense Distribution Center, San Joaquin (DDJC)
ATTN: Transportation Office DDJC–TA, Warehouse 30
25600 S. Crisman Road
Tracy, CA 95376–5000

44. Proper site-naming conventions to use when setting up your site can be found on the documentation page of the RF–ITV tracking portal at https://national.rfitv.army.mil
45. After running a query on the ITV server, you can download your results into a spreadsheet by clicking on the spreadsheet icon on the screen. You can also cut and paste the results into a spreadsheet for further analysis or to email to another location.
46. One of the keys to tracking a unit movement easily is in the use of an operation code in the tag-burning process. Tagging your gear with just “OIF” is not specific enough, but using “OIF-Spearhead” or another similar unit keyword will allow you to segregate all of your unit equipment and track it quickly and easily. However, once you have decided on your operation code, you have to ensure all your troops spell it exactly the same way. On the ITV server, you can see examples of misspellings like “Enduring Feedom” or “Enduring Freeedom.” Misspelling will cause these records to be missed when you search by operation code.
47. You can view the current and past 6 editions of the Product Manager, Joint-AIT (PM J–AIT) Operations and Training Newsletter by using your search engine to locate the CASCOM Enterprise Systems Directorate (ESD). Once you are on the CASCOM ESD website, open the ITV tab. You will also find a lot of other useful ITV tools at the same location.
48. To ensure that you receive long-term support from PM J–AIT and their field support engineers, register your read and write sites using a permanent email address, such as your Army Knowledge Online address.
49. The two most common mistakes when creating tag records or when searching tag records on the ITV server are using the number “0” instead of the letter “O” and confusing the number “1” with the letter “I.” When you use queries to search for records by port or inland origin and destination codes, this mixup will cause you to miss some of the records you need.
50. The Army (Interim) ITV Policy (All Army Activities 255/2007) supports the Army’s “train as you fight” philosophy. It establishes the immediate standard policy, responsibilities, and implementation of RFID capabilities. This policy requires all Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS) sites to tag with RFID tags selected items traveling to, from, and among SSAs and maintenance depots for retrograde or repair. RFID tags also are now required for all deployments to and from the National Training Center, the Joint Readiness Training Center, and the combat maneuver training centers. You can view the policy on the CASCOM ESD website in the ITV section called “Latest News.”
51. The PM J–AIT Global Help Desk contact information is—

  • Toll free telephone: (800) 877–7925.
  • Defense Switched Network: (809) 463–3376. (Wait for the dial tone and then dial (800) 877–7925.)
  • Commercial telephone: (703) 439–3850.
  • Email: help.rfitv@us.army.mil.

The ITV Operations and Training Newsletter, which contains useful ITV information and training tips, is distributed monthly to over 9,500 service members and civilians of all services and commands. To be added to the distribution list, email leerfiditv@conus.army.mil or jerry.d.rodgers@us.army.mil.
ALOG

Alexander F. Barnes is a logistics management supervisor for the Enterprise Systems Directorate of the Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. A former warrant officer in the Army and Marine Corps, he has a bachelorís degree in anthropology from the State University of New York at Cortland and a masterís degree in archeology from the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Richard K. Boch is a logistics management specialist assigned to the Army Combined Arms Support Command Enterprise Systems Directorate. A former lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, he has a B.S. degree in management and technology from the United States Naval Academy and an M.S. degree in human resources management from Golden Gate University.