Takeaways: AP’s study of military weapon tracking technology

The Associated Press has found that a technology used by some units in the US military to control weapons can allow enemies to detect troops on the battlefield.

A tracking mark that some units in the U.S. military use to retain control of weapons can let even low-tech enemies detect troops on the battlefield, an ongoing Associated Press investigation has found.

Radiofrequency identification technology – RFID as it is known – is found everywhere in daily civilian life.

Once embedded in military cannons, thin RFID tags can reduce time-consuming, time-consuming tasks such as weapons counting and distribution. Outside of guns, those same silent, invisible signals that help automate inventory control can become an unwanted tracking guy.

A few key takeaways from the latest in the AP’s AWOL Weapons survey:



Convenience is a big selling point for retrofitting an arsenal with an RFID system.

Instead of hand-registering firearms on paper or scanning barcodes one by one, troops in a firearms or armory can read marks in a firearm stand with the wave of a handheld reader — and without having to see each weapon. The marks hidden inside do not even need batteries.

The benefits are real.

At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, officials say the new RFID system in one arsenal reduces storage time by half. It limits the need for two armor, creating more schedule flexibility. Other military officials described how RFID streamlines the process of controlling weapons in and out.



New field tests showed that an enemy did not have to be at the forefront to identify U.S. troops at distances far greater than contractors installing RFID systems, saying the marks can be detected.

Contractors say that marks cannot be read more than a few dozen meters away. In experiments organized by the AP, prominent cybersecurity experts Kristin Paget and Marc Rogers were able to read a mark in a rifle 64 meters away using a $ 500 setup.

The hackers complied with US rules on radio signal strength. Paget has concluded that anyone who disregards these provisions could register a mark from miles away.

A Defense Department spokesman cited that kind of concern by saying that Pentagon politicians oppose the embedding of marks in firearms, except in limited, very specific cases, such as cannons used only in a firing range – not in combat or to preserve baser. “A significant security risk to field operations,” is how Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Uriah Orland described RFID tags in guns.



In the Air Force and Army, unit commanders are allowed to add RFID systems to weapons as an additional layer of accountability. Spokesmen for the headquarters of each service said they did not know how many devices have RFID weapons. No requirements are planned for the entire service.

The AP found five air force bases that have operated at least one RFID weapon and one more that are planning a retrofitting. A Florida-based Army Green Barets unit confirmed that it uses the technology in “a few” weapons compartments where special forces soldiers can take tagged weapons into the field.

The Navy told the AP that it used RFID in an arsenal. So this week, after extended questioning, spokesman Lt. Lewis Aldridge suddenly realized that the technology “did not meet operational requirements” and would no longer be used.

The Marine Corps said it across the service has decided not to tag weapons. Among the concerns: digital signal on the battlefield.

A top-weapon expert from the corps told the AP that he saw how marks can be read far away during training exercises in the Southern California desert in December 2018.

“RFID tags on tanks, weapons, magazines, you can ping them and find the outline of where the units are,” said Wesley Turner, who was Navy Chief 5 when he spoke in a spring interview. “If I can ping it, I can find it and I can shoot you.”


Pritchard reported from Los Angeles. Contact him at https://twitter.com/JPritchardAP. Hall reported from Nashville, Tennessee. Contact her at https://twitter.com/kmhall.


Send an email to AP’s Global Investigations Team at investigative@ap.org or https://www.ap.org/tips/. See other work at https://www.apnews.com/hub/ap-investigations.


Leave a Comment