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Every once in a while, I get fascinated by a seemingly obscure MRO-type announcement – because MRO and logistics are going to become increasingly important to the U.S. military this decade. This announcement caught my eye because Navy officials are looking to work out a radio frequency identification management system for handling inventory aboard Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). One of the key premises behind LCS – which at 55 ships or more will serve as the backbone of the Navy force for decades – is a significant reduction in the crew. And despite anything that may be claimed, the effort has yet to be proven since the number of LCS ships can be counted on one hand.Now the Office of Naval Research’s Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department has teamed with Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division’s Automation, Dynamics and Special Programs Branch to demonstrate the Mission Package Automated Inventory System (MPAIS), an efficient RFID inventory capability, by June.As the Navy acknowledges, RFID works relatively easily inside a typical industrial warehouse, but has not worked so well inside metal environments aboard ships. “It’s an environment naturally hostile to radio frequencies,” said Dale Rhinehart, a Panama project engineer.“Basically, we use a small tag that looks like the typical bar code sticker you would see in a retail store,” explained Panama Software Engineer Jeremy Hatcher. “The difference is that the RFID tag has a microchip and very small antennae embedded within it. The tag works by absorbing power transmitted by the RFID reader to then retransmit a 24-digit hexadecimal code that uniquely identifies the associated tool in our system’s database; much the same as industry, except our antennas are customized to function inside the metal environments aboard ship.”The LCS Mission Module Automation team has already successfully tested the system on the Remote Mine Hunting System (RMS), whose support container has about 3,000 parts. Using the MPAIS system, testers were able to inventory the container in less than a minute with a 96 percent rate of accuracy, the Navy declared March 24.If this system really works for the LCS fleet and its mission modules, then the Navy could be on its way to the reduced-manpower goal of the fleet. If it doesn’t, it will be just one more challenge the smaller crews of future LCS ships have to overcome.
ar99, mro11, LCS, RFID
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