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Smart card may be about to give way to the "smarter" soldier.
In a trial believed to be a world first, a cross-section of soldiers have allowed themselves to be micro-chipped as part of a study into how new technology may be harnessed to revolutionise the bureaucracy of personal administration.
All the troops involved in the project are volunteers.
Impetus for phase one of the Army Personnel Rationalisation Individual Listings project came from the acclaimed Passports for Pets scheme, from which much of the technology has been adapted.
The trial, which began at the start of this month, is to run for six months. Should it be the success which project managers anticipate, the whole of the Army could be micro-chipped by 2010.
Col. M. W. Jones, late RRW, told Soldier: " The chip, which is implanted in the neck, would have many uses, one of which would be to replace the current ID card. This would protect the identity of those in the Armed Forces and prevent lost ID cards falling into the wrong hands."
Every military base would have a facility to "swipe" military personnel in and out of bases, operational theatres and so on.
It would make the introduction of the Pay As You Dine Scheme much easier, allowing mess staff to swipe soldiers as they passed the hot plate. It is estimated that savings in time and administration of the PAYD scheme alone could in one year pay for up to three additional Challenger 2 main battle tanks or 27 single living accommodation upgrades.
"A continual database would show the whereabouts of every serving member of the Armed Forces, giving commanders much greater control on the battlefield," said Col Jones.
"We could "swipe" casualties to get their medical records, blood group or next-of-kin. There would no longer be a need for an individual's documents to be carted around the world."
All relevant information would be held in the neck chip. "Guinea pigs" say this process is virtually painless. A red patch over the site of the implant fades within days and there are said to be no long-term side effects.
There is, however some concern that individual freedoms might be compromised by the Army Personnel Rationalisation Individual Listings (APRIL) scheme, which could also allow the monitoring of troops during off-duty periods.
Anyone fitted with a micro-chip who takes unofficial leave, for example could rapidly be traced at home or abroad.
A purpose-built "stealth" or "switch-off" mechanism for the chip is being developed so personnel would become "invisible" when on leave, AWOL or posted to Special Forces units. This would effectively divorce them from the central electronic records management system (ERMS) located in Glasgow.
Certain trades, including some REME personnel who come into contact with powerful electro-magnetic fields, which distort micro-chip memory, are likely to be exempted.
If phase one of the trial - inevitably dubbed APRIL 1 - is a success, a second phase will take the project into the high street, allowing a soldier to be swiped when visiting a theatre, cinema or restaurant. Major supermarket chains, which have already invested heavily in sophisticated bar-code readers, are understood to have asked the MoD to keep them in the picture.
Servicemen and women of the future may opt to be swiped as they leave a retail outlet, with their bill being automatically debited against a personal bank or building society account.
It is anticipated that an added bonus is likely to be the ease with which product loyalty and reward points could be accumulated.
Also creating a frisson in the scientific world, Soldier has been told, is the area of inter-personal communications linked to micro-chips. Boffins are trying to establish if cell phone technology can be made to interact with a chip implanted in the lobe, bringing the proverbial "word in your ear" closer to reality.