Tracking Methodologies and Technologies

A cutting-edge armory management and weapon tracking system is designed to accommodate a diverse array of tracking technologies, allowing for a flexible integration based on the specific requirements of the implementing organization. The following outlines the key tracking methodologies and technologies applicable to all items within an armory, encompassing weapons, gear, and ammunition:

In contemporary armories, the tracking of weapons, gear, and ammunition predominantly involves the use of distinct (serialized) or shared (non-serialized) identification numbers. Often, manufacturers affix identification numbers to items upon delivery to an armory, or the items come with pre-assigned manufacturing-produced identification numbers. Additionally, armories may employ etching tools, internally generated labels, or markers to assign unique identification numbers to each item.

Modern armory management weapon tracking systems empower users to effortlessly search for items within the system’s software, facilitating the identification of unique identification numbers. These numbers can be input through physical or electronic keyboards using a variety of devices such as computers, laptops, tablets, and phones. Here’s an illustrative example:

Figure 7: Examples of 1D and 2D barcodes on weapons


When deploying an armory management weapon tracking system, many organizations acquire barcodes to affix to individual weapons or gear items. These barcodes are usually supplied with sequential numbers, commencing from 000001 and ascending based on the quantity of items to be barcoded. The sequential barcode number is then entered into the armory management weapon tracking system software database record for each barcoded item. This ensures that scanning a barcode is equivalent to manually entering the serial number, establishing a linkage between the serial number and barcode number in the database.

There are two primary types of barcodes:

  1. 1D Barcode: This type, akin to familiar product UPC barcodes, represents a unique identification number. The barcode itself contains only this singular data.
  2. 2D Barcode: Although capable of holding multiple data fields, armory management weapon tracking systems typically use 2D tags due to their compact size. These 2D barcodes include only a unique identification number and not additional data elements. For instance:
Armory Management
Examples of 1D and 2D barcodes on weapons

Non-serialized items within an armory necessitate distinct processes and capabilities in the armory management weapon tracking system. Certain items, like boxes of ammunition, share a common barcode number, akin to retail products. In this scenario, all items of a specific type utilize the same identification number, usually represented by a barcode. Other items, such as OC Spray, handcuffs, flashlights, and similar items, may each have a unique identification number, but they are often managed using a common, non-unique identification number and barcode.

Instead of scanning or entering individual barcode numbers during Issuing or Returning processes, a barcode is scanned for the item, and then the item count is incremented or decremented. During Issuing, items are decremented (removed from the armory), while during the initial receipt of items, they are incremented (added to or returned to the armory location).

There are two primary methods for automating the tracking of non-serialized items based on a common identification number and/or barcode:

  1. Barcode Labels at Storage Locations: Barcode labels identifying non-serialized item types can be placed near storage locations. Mobile scanners can then be used to scan the common identification number barcode, and the mobile device or tablet is utilized to increment or decrement the non-serialized items for Issuing or Returning. Alternatively, barcodes from a Registry Binder can be scanned using a USB barcode scanner at a computer.
  2. Registry Binder: A Registry Binder can contain barcode and item-type data for each non-serialized item type. The common identification number barcode from the binder can be scanned with a mobile scanner, and the subsequent incrementing or decrementing can be done on the mobile device or tablet. Alternatively, the barcodes can be scanned from the Registry Binder using a USB barcode scanner connected to a computer.
Armory management
Example Non-serialized item-type barcodes

Barcodes are available that meet U.S. Department of Defence ‘Mil-Spec’ requirements and are available in metal and poly materials.  Barcode technology supports scanning one barcode label at a time from close proximity, with USB, Bluetooth, mobile scanner or tablet.

UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) RFID technology facilitates the simultaneous detection of numerous tags from distances of up to approximately 40 feet, supporting the passive tracking of weapons, gear, and magazines during Issue-Return processes and at exit doorways.

RFID tags come in various sizes and materials, including ultra-thin RFID labels, and can be strategically placed within long arm and sidearm grips or on the exterior of weapons. Additionally, RFID tags find application on the exterior of gear, magazines, cartons, and cases.

Numerous law enforcement and military organizations, including the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force, U.S. Air National Guard, Bermuda Police Services, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have embraced RFID technology for armory management and weapon tracking. RFID technology contributes to expeditious Issues and Returns, significantly speeding up armory inventories.

The RFID industry, particularly in the context of managing armories, is undergoing rapid advancements, with consistent growth in sales observed globally. Modern armory management weapon tracking systems are equipped with advanced RFID antennas, facilitating real-time tracking of all RFID-tagged items within armories and warehouses.

armory management
Example RFID tag within pistol grip

Leading armory management weapon tracking systems support tags that include Bluetooth, GMS and GPS technologies, and that include an accelerometer to detect ‘shots fired’.    Gear can be tagged with Bluetooth tags, though the tags are sizable:

Example Bluetooth Weapon or Gear tag

Tags equipped with Bluetooth (BLE), GSM, GPS, and accelerometer functionalities offer significant capabilities, including:

  • Real-Time Tracking:
  • Real-time tracking of weapons within an armory or warehouse provides up-to-the-minute inventory data.
  • Upon a weapon’s exit from the armory, the armory management weapon tracking system software automatically updates the location to ‘out of armory’ or ‘out of warehouse.’
  • Personnel and Weapon Pairing:
  • When a weapon exits the armory with personnel possessing a Bluetooth RFID tag, automatic pairing occurs, updating the weapon’s location to the officer carrying it.
  • Property Exit Checkpoints:
  • Bluetooth sensors at vehicle or personnel property exit checkpoints track items leaving the base or property.
  • GSM and GPS technology define a geo-fence to identify property borders, triggering an automatic update in the armory management system when a weapon exits the physical property.
  • Distance Monitoring:
  • Define a distance, such as 1 or 10 feet, within which weapons are expected to remain in proximity to the officer or soldier.
  • If a weapon separates from the officer, whether due to operational error or theft, a ‘weapon separated from officer’ alert is automatically triggered in the armory management weapon tracking system software.
  • Firearm Events:
  • Automatic alerts display within the armory management weapon tracking system software if shots are fired, enhancing situational awareness.
  • Response Vehicles Integration:
  • Rapid Response Vehicles (RRVs) equipped with GSM/GPS tags receive alerts in case of a ‘weapon separate from officer’ or ‘weapon fired.’
  • Alert messages are automatically transmitted to tablets, laptops, or cell phones of personnel in proximity to the event, enhancing response coordination.
Bluetooth, GSM, GPS, Accelerometer weapon tags

While police and military entities in the USA have shown limited interest in GSM/GPS weapon tracking, several global law enforcement and military organizations are increasingly intrigued by the capabilities outlined above, especially in regions facing threats from terrorist or bandit groups known to target officers and security personnel for weapon theft. Despite the availability of off-the-shelf GSM/GPS weapon tracking systems within modern armory management, it’s essential to consider challenges associated with their implementation:

  • Cost Considerations:
  • While a barcode tag costs approximately $0.15 to $0.75 and an RFID tag ranges from $0.35 to $3.75, BLE/GSM/GPS weapon tags are significantly more expensive, ranging from $50.00 to $125.00 each.
  • Size and Compatibility:
  • GSM/GPS weapon tags, although fitting nicely into longarm grips, may require new grips for sidearms. Engineering and manufacturing grips for various weapon types can lead to substantial costs, ranging from $45,000.00 to $75,000.00 per grip.
  • Battery Life and Charging:
  • The battery life of GSM/GPS weapon tags, akin to mobile phone batteries, typically lasts one to seven days depending on transmission frequency. Manual charging is required, and weapon storage systems with charging stations, though convenient, come with a hefty price tag.
  • Tracking Limitations:
  • If a weapon is left unattended, separated from the custodian, or stolen, tracking is possible only as long as the battery retains power. Additionally, if the weapon moves outside areas with GSM coverage, tracking becomes impossible. However, if the battery remains charged and the weapon re-enters an area with GSM coverage, tracking can resume.
Weapon Tracking
Example: GSM/GPS Weapon Tracking

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