This is the lesson that supply chain professionals might take away from the latest joint effort by the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) and the Australian Defense Force (ADF) to operate a materiel-tracking system.
In April, USPACOM and ADF started up the Pacific Radio Frequency Identification System, which uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track the movements of military goods, along with supplies and equipment for humanitarian aid and relief efforts in Asia-Pacific.
RFID technology has, of course, been used with success for years by business and industry in tracing products, maintaining inventory, and tracking shipments. The Pentagon, interestingly, was among buying organizations that mandated its use by prime contractors a decade or more ago.
The military shipments being tracked by USPACOM are for the U.S. Marine Corps Rotational Force-Darwin, which is stationed in Australia, and joint U.S.-Australian exercises and missions.
The humanitarian supplies will go to regional relief efforts undertaken by one or both of the countries.
The Pacific Radio Frequency Identification System includes a capability called the network exchange hub, established by NATO several years ago to track shipments to its International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In the NATO system, a routing hub in Luxembourg receives and transmits logistics data to users in real time, which continually updates shipping status and inventories.
The USPACOM-ADF system uses RFID technology to “read” barcode information on U.S. and Australian supplies. The readers, in Australia, track barcodes on U.S. goods as they move through the country and automatically transmit data to the NATO routing hub in Luxembourg, where U.S. personnel monitor shipments until delivery.
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark McLeod, director of logistics, engineering, and security cooperation for USPACOM, was quoted by American Forces Press Service as saying the system provides “near-real-time access” to users, since data is transmitted to servers around the world in seconds.
He adds that the logistics system may be expanded to include partner nations in Asia-Pacific. This would increase the transparency of logistics and improve interoperability between the U.S. and countries in the region.
This is the third time a logistics system has been set up by the U.S. in that area. Previous efforts produced mixed results, owing to incompatible computer systems and slow data-handling processes.
McLeod says the USPACOM-ADR partnership could save the U.S. $560,000 over five years — hardly a drop in the bucket when it comes to military expenditures — but, nevertheless, the system demonstrates yet again that commercial-off-the-shelf technologies, such as RFID, work well and are cost effective in military-grade applications.
“Simplicity rules” is a lesson the military can occasionally learn from the private sector but in this case, at least, it is vice versa.