Military Goods Get Digital Dog Tags

THE MILITARY GOT HIGH MARKS IN LOGISTICS DURING the gulf war. But one wheel of Operation Desert Storm proved creaky. Of the 40,000 intermodal containers ferried to the Persian Gulf, two-thirds had to be opened and inspected to determine what was inside. Many then had to be reshipped to their proper destination. To avoid a repeat of this snafu, the Pentagon is installing a $70 million logistics-management system from Savi Technology Inc. that will let the military keep a tight rein on all materiel worldwide.

The Mountain View (Calif.) company's system is based on two-way "radio tags," about the size of a card deck, that are attached to shipping containers or to individual cartons inside. These SaviTags, powered by five-year batteries, can be tracked by satellite to determine location or reset for a new destination. A handheld "interrogator" reads containers' contents and addresses within a range of 300 feet, then triggers a beeper in one or more tags to help workers spot specific units. SaviTags are already used in the 2.5 million-square-foot facility at Kelly Air Force Base where jet engines are overhauled. "It's `kanban' logistics," says Savi President Robert S. Reis. "You only build an asset when you need a replacement."