One of the final deliveries of heavy equipment has arrived back in the UK from Iraq enabling some of it to be refurbished and sent to support operations in Afghanistan.

The MOD logistics ship ‘Anvil Point’ docked at Marchwood military port on Southampton Water in the early hours of Friday 24 July 2009 with its cargo of vehicles, stores and equipment from Operation TELIC (Iraq).

Among the vehicles on board were several Mastiff armoured personnel carriers lashed to the upper decks, which will be refurbished now they are back in the UK and made available to commanders for operations in Afghanistan.

Providing the manpower at the Marchwood military port is 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, part of the Royal Logistic Corps, whose personnel comprises of port operatives such as crane drivers, stevedores, railway operators and boat handlers, among many other trades.

Since the end of Operation TELIC and the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq over 4,000 containers of kit and over 600 vehicles have made their way back to the UK and into the system for redistribution wherever they are needed.

The logistical challenge is huge involving a massive operation in Iraq and Kuwait to document and track each piece of valuable equipment.

This gruelling task was undertaken by the Joint Force Logistic Component (JFLogC) using a innovative tracking system that works through a combination of identification stickers and electronic ‘guns’ that read the stickers’ information; and ‘bricks’ containing electronic information, attached to equipment, that are tracked by mobile electronic data sensors.

The system used by the MOD is a modified ‘off the shelf’ purchase, saving considerable research and development costs. It has the added advantage that it is compatible with the US military version.

The system can be set up at the roadside at the end of a convoy route in under five minutes and can register over 100 containers as they are driven past at 50mph (80km/h). That information can then be used to tell exactly what is in every one of those containers and where they are going.

Captain Richard Hall, the Theatre Drawdown Unit Technical Officer, explained:

“Consignment tracking is widely used by civilian companies to track stock as they export and deliver it to their customers. Recently the Armed Forces have harnessed this technology to our advantage.

“Knowing where our stock is saves us money; we have a large logistic focal point here in Kuwait, and smaller ones at key Middle Eastern air and sea ports. We also have series of similar nodes in the UK at the delivery locations and ports of entry.”

All the data sensors on the equipment are connected, via satellite, to a central computer server in the UK which can be accessed by users all over the world. This gives total visibility of where items of equipment and vehicles are but, most importantly, when they are going to get to their destination.

Corporal Mark Wright, who is responsible for making sure that the data bricks are secured to every piece of kit, said:

“You can see Total Asset Visibility readers at most ports, airports and border crossings. They look similar to a small satellite dish, and these scan the bricks as the consignment physically passes by, and then relay the information to a central server.

“We can’t have soldiers deployed across the world to zap the barcodes, so this is a way of capturing the information automatically, saving on manpower and money.”

The technology means that as the Anvil Point docked in Southampton the 17 Port and Maritime Regiment personnel quickly and easily unloaded the cargo and organised it for onward transit – and possible return to front line operations.

The majority of kit has been shipped from Iraq to the UK on one of four civilian roll-on/roll-off ships, operated on a long-term lease by the MOD to transport military supplies and equipment.

In total there will be eight ships’ worth of military hardware returning from Iraq when the operation is complete.