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In January 2005, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) issued a mandate to its suppliers that each item sold to them must be marked with a passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. The need for this mandate arose from decades of logistical challenges faced by the military with regard to the supply chain. Implementing RFID technology to enhance existing Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) efforts will greatly improve inventory management, asset visibility and interoperability in support of DoD business processes. Even if your company is not a supplier for the DoD, you may benefit from using their mandate as a guide for implementing your own RFID application.

The main challenge observed at every node in the DoD supply chain has been the lack of visibility of logistics data. Using RFID technology has the potential to greatly improve not only asset visibility, but also data quality, inventory management, and interoperability in an end-to-end integrated supply chain. Furthermore, capturing data with RFID frequently does not require human intervention, and, unlike barcoding, the data do not require a line-of-sight to be captured. For these reasons and others, RFID technology offers a promising solution to the DoD’s logistical challenges and supports long-term integration of Item Unique Identification (IUID) in the DoD supply chain. Specifically, the DoD RFID mandate is meant to achieve:

– Near real-time, in-transit visibility for all classes of supplies and material
– “In the box” content level detail for all classes of supplies and material
– Accurate, non-intrusive item identification and data collection
– Enhanced unit-pack level visibility

The DoD RFID standards are detailed in two documents published by the DoD, as well as a third document published by EPCglobal, which details the RFID compliance specifications used by Wal-Mart, Target, Albertsons, and other retailers. The documents are summarized below.

Military Marking for Shipment and Storage: Military Standard 129P (October 29, 2004)

DoD suppliers that ship packaged materials to the government must comply with Revision P of MIL-STD-129P, which requires the presence of both linear and two-dimensional (2-D) barcodes on all military shipping sabels. There are several MIL-STD-129P label formats, of which the most popular are: unit, intermediate, exterior, unit move, and cargo. Interior packages (unit and intermediate packages) and shipping containters still require Linear Code 3 of 9, or Code 39, barcodes for the National Stock Number (NSN) and, when applicable, the serial number.

Identification Marking of U.S. Military Property: Military Standard 130L (October 10, 2003)

MIL-STD-130L provides the item marking criteria for development of specific marking requirements and methods for identification of items of military property produced, stocked, stored, and issued by or for the Department of Defense. This standard addresses criteria and data content for both human-readable information (HRI) and machine-readable information (MRI) applications of item identification marking. While this document does not explicitly say anything about using RFID, the MRI criteria may assist you in deploying your RFID application(s).

EPC Tag Data Standards Version 1.1 Rev 1.27: EPCglobal (April 1, 2004)

EPCglobal is the authority on how RFID tags should be coded with information. The data content of RFID tags must be standardized for two key reasons: 1) so that all RFID readers are able to capture the tags’ data, and 2) so that the particular RFID implementation contains only unique tag identifiers. This document from EPCglobal specifies the acceptable formats for RFID tagging. These specifications are the ones used by Wal-Mart and other major retailers.

Timeline for DoD RFID Compliance

The Department of Defense planned to roll out the compliance mandate in three phases. Phase I was initiated on January 1, 2005 and required that certain classes of materials be tagged, but only when they were destined for certain locations. Phase II started on January 1, 2006, continuing the requirements of Phase I and adding several more. The current phase, Phase III, began on January 1, 2007 and requires that any item shipped to any of the DoD’s locations must be identified with an RFID tag.

Thus far, RFID has proven to alleviate various logistical problems associated with the DoD supply chain. RFID technology, in combination with the Internet, allows the DoD to disseminate accurate, real-time data to commanders worldwide so that assets can be easily located and used according to the Department’s highest priorities. Whether you are required to comply with the DoD mandate or not, it may be beneficial to use these standards as a guide for integrating the technology into your business processes.

For more information about the DoD mandate, visit:


As the complexity and scale of the RFID application increases, so does the challenge of estimating its total cost of ownership. Our team of consultants can assist you in performing a cost-benefit analysis for your intended application.