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UID Overview Series – Part I – UID History

Military Asset Tracking / UID

This is the first post of our three-part series that focuses on the history of UID, the current state of the mandate, and what to expect for the future. Part I covers the history of UID and MIL-STD-130.

Department of Defense (DoD) Item Unique Identification (IUID) at a Glance

DoD policies mandate that all contracts for items meeting set criteria apply IUID requirements.  The policy execution requires a specific set of data to be delivered on items through iRAPT (formerly WAWF) at the time of item delivery and acceptance, and that these items be marked with a standard marking format defined in MIL-STD-130N, Identification Marking of U. S. Military Property.  The requirement is for all qualifying assets to be marked in such a way as to allow generation of an International Standards Organization/International Electrotechnical Committee (ISO/IEC) 15459 Unique Item Identifier (UII).  The necessary data to formulate a UII is encoded into a permanent two dimensional ISO/IEC 16222 Error Correction Code 200 Data Matrix bar code. As of September 7, 2014, 5,577 suppliers have delivered 25,740,935 items to the current standard.

Historical Genesis of Item Identification

DoD has a long tradition of identification and marking of its military property.  The Defense Standardization Act of 1952 gave rise to the national stock number (NSN) system to provide unification and standardization of consumable items to assure like items would be identified as such.  Within NATO this process is known as Codification.  An outgrowth of World War II, its purpose was to prevent unnecessary duplication in supply efforts and address the lack of interoperability and/or inability to do effective cross-service or cross-nation supply support.  These issues remain relevant today.  On March 4, 1953, the first edition of MIL-STD-130, Identification Marking of U.S. Military Property, was published to require the uniform application of identification labels to military property.  Up until the issue of Revision L on October 10, 2003, the identification labels only contained human readable information.

Imperatives for Process Improvements

The Chief Financial Officers’ Act of 1990 called for improved financial management, item accountability and cost reduction, and emphasis on results-oriented management.  DoD needed the capability for enhanced total asset visibility, improved lifecycle item management and accountability, and clean financial audits.  To achieve this capability, it had to identify individual assets at any time throughout the lifecycle and provide the means to relate them to their historical engineering and logistics support data.
Equally important, the Combatant Commanders have requirements for battlefield awareness and total asset visibility.  To meet these requirements, data and information must be fully integrated within a net-centric environment for Joint operations to be carried out. Unique identification technologies could significantly enhance this requirement, especially by providing asset tracking.  This includes assets, but could include people, places, service, groups, and events.  With unfettered access to the registries for these uniquely identified entities and the automated systems that are developing information about them, the Combatant Commander would be able to identify, track, and direct the theater battle much more effectively.

Initiation of Total Life Cycle System Management

The DoD, through approval of its Joint Logistics Board in January 2002, initiated an aggressive effort to re-engineer the life cycle management of DoD systems to achieve effective performance and optimum readiness while reducing operations and support costs. This initiative was called Total Life Cycle Systems Management (TLCSM).  TLCSM, as defined in DoD policy, is the implementation, management, and oversight, by the designated Program Manager, of all activities associated with the acquisition, development, production, fielding, sustainment, and disposal of a DoD weapon system across its life cycle. The TLCSM Working Group established a key implementing action to initiate an “Industry/Government Team to develop Universal Product Codes for Defense Equipment”.  As a result, the National Defense Industrial Associations Logistics Management Committee was asked for its views on whether to get the DoD out of the NSN business and establish one code for one item throughout its life cycle.  The industry view was that the DoD should utilize a single, open, and secure environment, which adds value and allows serialized tracking.
Within the results-oriented management framework, the need for financial management and lifecycle management process improvements highlighted a weakness of traditional item identification and tracking systems to systematically and seamless track the wide range of tangible items needed by the combatant forces across functional management systems throughout the life of these items. An expanded and more capable system of uniquely identifying and marking this wide range of tangible items was required to enable an automated approach to data capture in order to quickly and accurately link an item’s identification to in-service data sources, such as systems for property accountability, transportation, inventory control, and maintenance management.  Within such an item identification system, users could access a broad range of reliable data on individual items for engineering analysis, warranty tracking, counterfeit detection and prevention, asset visibility, Government-furnished property management, logistics support decision making, equipment valuation, and even operational decision making.  It also meant fewer errors would occur in the acceptance, transportation, maintenance, inventory, and reorder processes through the avoidance of misidentification of items.
Next up, Part II of the series covers the current status of UID and MIL-STD-130.
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