Army May Not Be Ready For Passive RFID

The Army wants to overcome challenges to passive radio frequency identification tags -- which, unlike active RFID tags that are powered by batteries, only emit radio signals when a scanner provides energy by scanning the tags. Although the service is under a Defense Department-wide mandate to adopt passive RFID tags, it’s not clear whether the technology or Army tactics are ready for them yet, said Army Col. David Coker.

Coker, program manager for Army logistics information systems, spoke last week at an annual Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems industry day in Bethesda, Md.

Passive tags are about 10 times cheaper than active tags, which means they could be attached to far many more things.

“Passive is great if you’ve got fixed facilities,” Coker said. “Army facilities are designed to be mobile and on the move, so the infrastructure that supports that has to be able to move.” The error rates of passive readers might also be a problem, he added.

But maybe most challenging of all, there’s the issue of how the Army will incorporate all the new information passive RFID tags will supply. The Army is striving for "total asset visibility" (whereby it knows where exactly everything in the supply chain is located), but can’t presently incorporate the flow of information that would result from tagging items at a deeper level than it already does.

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