Peruse our site and you are bound to come across this short-hand phrase: “MIL-STD” or “MIL-Spec” or something similar. I’m sure many readers are familiar with these phrases and know that they stand for military standard and military specification, respectively. But what exactly does that entail?
If we were to discuss down to the minutest detail every facet of what these standards are and what they encompass, we would have a blog post longer than all existing copies of War and Peace combined.
Let’s not overcomplicate the issue.
While often used interchangeably, there are slight differences between military standards and military specifications, both of which are established by the United States. Military standards refer to the process and materials used to create a product while military specifications identify the physical traits a product possesses. In a way you can consider the military standards as the general/broad concept of a product and the military specification as, well, the specific aspect of the product (as the term would suggest). These are not precise definitions but it certainly gives you a better frame of reference.
The purpose of a MIL-Spec is to present a set of guidelines and objectives to which a product must conform. This standardization creates a sense of consistency in quality and its aim is to achieve uniformity in performance within and among the various branches of the military. Having a list of standards and specifications provides a baseline that manufacturers can follow to produce a product of lasting value. In essence, MIL-Specs are a means of quality assurance. If a product does not meet these standards, that should indicate to a customer that the product is inferior. However, if it exceeds these standards, then users know the product can reliably do its job.
An excellent source to determine conformance to the aforementioned standards is by using the database library at EverySpec. Let’s use some examples to further illustrate MIL-Specs.
MIL-STD-704F is considered an interface standard that ensures “compatibility between the aircraft electric system, external power, and airborne utilization equipment.” When you search EverySpec you will find that this document has many versions (See Figure 1). These versions show the updates to the status of the standard; MIL-STD-704F has undergone many revisions over the years. It was first issued in 1959 and as Figure 1 proves, many notices have been released to coincide with any changes to the standard. Thus, EverySpec shows the history of the standard’s development and keeps a record of said changes.
A great thing about EverySpec is that you can usually download each version of the standard to inspect the information in further detail.
Another aspect of this site worth mentioning is the status. The site will tell you if the MIL-Spec is active (green bar) or cancelled (red bar). If a standard is cancelled it has usually been superseded by either another standard of the government or a standard set by an industry institution (e.g. SAE).
Now let’s find a MIL-Spec item on our site.
BP 2380 Aviation Turbine Oil has the following MIL-Spec: MIL-PRF-23699F. Search EverySpec and you will find that this is a “performance specification” (hence the PRF). It pertains to lubricating oils with a synthetic base used in aircraft turbine engines. The “F” in 23699 indicates it is a revision of a previous version. This MIL-Spec is active and has superseded another standard, MIL-L-23699E.
Yet another military standard is the MIL-DTL; the DTL stands for detail. In addition to performance requirements, this specification provides detail requirements, i.e. materials to be used as well as how to construct the product using the materials so that the requirements can be met. An example of such a product that conforms to this standard type is Prist’s Hi-Flash Hi Flo Anti-Icing Aviation Fuel Additive, which has the following MIL-Spec: MIL-DTL-85470. According to EverySpec, this detail specification is classified as an icing inhibitor for fuel systems. It is active and it supersedes MIL-I-85470A.
Who is responsible for military standards? Yes, the U.S. government but who specifically? You can thank the Department of Defense (DOD), which handles the Army, Navy, and other military departments and agencies. If you refer back to Notice 1 of MIL-DTL-85470B, you will find the notice advises you to “verify the currency of [MIL-Spec documents by] using the ASSIST Online database.” ASSIST, or Acquisition Streamlining and Standardization Information System, serves as the foremost method of seeking the latest information on MIL-Specs. This database is part of the DOD’s Defense Standardization Program (DSP), a program where you can locate MIL-Spec documents. Using ASSIST is similar to using EverySpec and it is better in that it comes straight from the source. The drawback: you need to register and have a username and password to access the documents not available to the public. Plus, the ASSIST website is often hard to access. However, a nice alternative is assistdocs.com.
So why do companies like Prist and BP and others make products that meet or exceed military standards? Conforming to MIL-Specs allows manufacturers to bid on government contracts. Obviously this is to the manufacturer’s advantage as it is profitable. It is also a good means of marketing a product. As mentioned, these standards will ensure quality. The result is a product that customers can rely on.