By Eleanor Shelton

For the Department of Defense (DOD), some of its most valuable assets are the tools and equipment that keep weapons systems at peak mission readiness. According to the DOD Fact Book for FY2018, maintenance spending surpassed $86 billion, with the primary drivers being the 330,150 vehicles, 239 ships and submarines, and 14,883 aircraft serviced by 611,100 maintainers.

Only 8 percent of maintenance operations are performed at the depot, with 92 percent taking place in the field. Both of these environments present their own advantages and challenges. At the depot and shipyard level, extensive overhauling, upgrading, rebuilding, testing, and inspection occurs. Conversely, in the field, rapid repairs and replacements, emergency work, and daily inspections are all the norm.

Each maintenance activity requires a variety of equipment, from a common wrench to complex large machinery. Keeping track of this critical equipment is a vital aspect of mission success and cost avoidance. While innovations in asset tracking systems have taken a deep cut out of maintenance delays and human errors, each government service, agency, and division has specific requirements for equipment tracking and handling. A single size definitely does not fit all.

The Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities, managed by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, a non-Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contract vehicle, allows customization of commercial off-the-shelf technology as well as demonstrations and evaluations of asset tracking solutions to ensure a system will work exactly as needed. The Marine Corps Automated Armory and the U.S. Navy RFID system are two novel approaches to the centuries-old challenge of asset tracking.


The U.S. Marine Corps still relies on paper records to keep track of armaments, including small arms, optics, ammunition, ordnance, and other equipment kept within their armories. This system has proven ripe for costly reporting errors and lost or misplaced assets. To replace it, an armory asset management solution that would improve the speed and accuracy of armory inventory management, minimize manual data input errors, and create an electronic audit trail was needed.

Currently, 25 Marine Corps units and one Navy unit have been equipped with the AIMS-AA system. This asset tracking initiative is keeping track of approximately 127,000 unique items housed in participating armories.

The innovative solution was the Asset Information Management Solution Automated Armory (AIMS-AA), an automated inventory solution that manages the issue, reporting, draw, recovery, and maintenance processes and records for serialized and non-serialized small arms, optics, ammo, and ordnance equipment and other functions within an armory. By incorporating common access card, item unique identification, digital signature, and biometrics, AIMS-AA can be configured to the specific requirements of the user, location, and business rules operating in a disconnected environment (garrison or deployed).

This system also collects important maintenance and other lifecycle data to help the Marine Corps keep track of its equipment in real time. In accordance with the Field Supply and Maintenance Analysis Office checklist requirements, AIMS-AA can track and document the elements of mandated asset information.

Currently, 25 Marine Corps units and one Navy unit have been equipped with the AIMS-AA system. This asset tracking initiative is keeping track of approximately 127,000 unique items housed in participating armories.


Naval shipyards are immense, often encompassing over 100-acres and more than 10,000 pieces of equipment to repair, modernize, and sustain the naval fleet. The task of keeping track of all those assets is considerable and is mostly completed by personnel conducting a visual inventory that can take anywhere from three to four weeks.

Inventory management methods are largely labor-centric, causing increased costs in ordering, handling, and wasting. A system that utilizes the Internet of Things to interconnect an ever-increasing number of sensors and data streams is a game-changer for those tasked with keeping track of tens of thousands of DOD assets. Moreover, since equipment is often shuttled from across the street or all the way from one dry dock to another, engineers need to know where all of it is at any given time.


In addition to improving accuracy of records, the AIMS-AA system has hastened how long it takes to retrieve the data. Previously, the existing process for issuing an armament could take five to seven minutes. But with the new system being tested, using the barcode on the common access card and simple biometrics, that process is down to mere seconds. The twice daily armory inventory/sight count requirement has been reduced significantly. Now the armory supervisors know who has what equipment, where in the armory it is located, and can determine its maintenance status.

“This system has taken the armories testing it to 100 percent accuracy and has saved hundreds of hours,” says Matt Edwards, Director of Software Development at Troika Solutions. “Where it used to take four hours to track down a piece of equipment, now it takes two minutes. It’s a true point and click  system that leaves  an  audit  trail, which is crucial to the MC Financial Improvement and Audit Remediation initiative.”

Many items within the shipyard are already tagged with asset tracking devices but require a hand-held scanner for their information to be retrieved. Now, all four naval shipyards (Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Va.; Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine; Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Wash.; and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Hawaii) are evaluating new hardware from Venture Research Inc. that will use a tablet computer connected to a ruggedized, weatherproof RFID reader. The RFID reader is mounted to trucks and forklifts and will not only use GPS to locate equipment but will also locate other pieces of equipment and material with an RFID tag in the same vicinity. The RFID tag number, date, time, and location will be recorded. The goal is to have the asset tracking system immediately interface with other programs such as inventory or maintenance programs.

Engineers will be able to track anything from welders, to forklifts, to transformers and even modular offices. Additionally, the new asset tracking process should significantly reduce the number of man-hours required.


Asset tracking systems have come a long way since the single-use GPS locating function. Today, asset tracking systems can include information about condition, previous users, maintenance records, and other useful data. They can also interface with inventory management and comptroller systems. The ability to locate equipment as needed both increases productivity and efficiency while also reducing costs, benefiting program managers and initiatives.

In the DOD maintenance arena, it is critical that repair timetables are kept in order to limit weapon system downtime. Asset tracking is an important step toward keeping that schedule up to date. At the depot and expeditionary levels, keeping track of maintenance equipment may not be the mission, but the mission success may rely on it.

Eleanor Shelton is Partner Outreach Specialist, National Center for Manufacturing Sciences;

[This article first published in the Sept-Oct 2020 issue of The Military Engineer.]