The Consumer Guide to Military Specifications and Standards

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How to understand and find the toughest military-grade tech and gear.

We all want our technology and gear to stand the test of time.

Whether you need equipment to survive a dangerous task or environment, want to save money in the long run with a kit that will never fail, or simply prefer not to add to the mounting piles of single-use trash out there — stronger, more durable tech and gear avoid all of these problems.

One of the best, most reassuring qualities a product can have in determining its overall longevity is a military specification or grading.

What do these military specifications, or ‘mil specs’, suggest about a product, and where can you find them? What do codes like MIL-STD-810G mean in terms of the product’s design qualities, and what are the methods used to determine them?

Being armed with this knowledge as a consumer means you can make smarter, more cost-efficient choices when it comes to the most important pieces of technology and equipment in your work, life, and hobbies. 

So, we’ve put together the ultimate consumer guide to military specifications and standards, telling you everything you need to know about the what, why, and how of MIL-SPEC.

What are military specifications?

Military Standards and Specs Explained | Post Picture 01 - RUGGED RATINGS

Military specifications, known formally as the United States Military Standard (or colloquially as ‘MIL-SPEC or ‘MIL-STD’), describe the physical and/or operational characteristics of a product or piece of equipment.

First published in 1945, they were created in an effort to meet the standardization objectives of the US Department of Defense, achieving the following outcomes:

  • Ensuring products meet specific requirements
  • Compatibility with other products and systems
  • More accurate calculation of total cost of ownership (TCO)
  • Reliability
  • Durability

A real-world example of the utility of military specifications would be the compatibility of nuts, bolts, and screws in equipment shared between US and British armies. When allied units purchase products with common defense specifications, equipment such as ammunition boxes can be easily accessed and shared between both parties.

Beyond defense operations, military specifications can be utilized by other institutions and groups, including governments, technical organizations, and consumers, for many of the same benefits.

MIL-SPEC products and equipment gain their military standard codes by passing tests under a variety of different environmental conditions, or by meeting certain criteria laid out in the relevant MIL-SPEC document.

Importantly, a product doesn’t have to meet every single criterion laid out in its MIL-SPEC document, just the ones that are most relevant to its use case.

And to make matters slightly more confusing, ‘MIL-SPEC’, ‘MIL-STD’, ‘Military grade’, and other similar terms are often used interchangeably, despite having different technical definitions.

Military specs code system explained

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There are five distinct categories within the military standard code system, each of which defines the technical requirements that must be met in order for a product to acquire a ‘military grade’ status.

As defined in the DoD 4120.24 Manual [1], the list of military standards are as follows:

CODE AND MEANING DEFINITION
MIL-STD (Defense standard) “A document that establishes uniform engineering and technical requirements for military-unique or substantially modified commercial processes, procedures, practices, and methods. There are five types of defense standards: interface standards, design criteria standards, manufacturing process standards, standard practices, and test method standards. MIL-STD-962 covers the content and format for defense standards.”
MIL-SPEC (Defense specification) “A document that describes the essential technical requirements for military-unique materiel or substantially modified commercial items. MIL-STD-961 covers the content and format for defense specifications.”
MIL-HBDK (Defense handbook) “A document that provides standard procedural, technical, engineering, or design information about the materiel, processes, practices, and methods covered by the DSP. MIL-STD-967 covers the content and format for defense handbooks.”
MIL-PRF (Performance specification) “A performance specification states requirements in terms of the required results with criteria for verifying compliance but without stating the methods for achieving the required results. A performance specification defines the functional requirements for the item, the environment in which it must operate, and interface and interchangeability characteristics.”
MIL-DTL (Detail specification) “A specification that states design requirements, such as materials to be used, how a requirement is to be achieved, or how an item is to be fabricated or constructed. A specification that contains both performance and detail requirements is still considered a detail specification.”

Within each respective category, there are further numerical codes that define the type of product in question, as well as the MIL-SPEC testing methods used.

MIL-STD-188 relates to ‘telecommunications equipment’ [2], and MIL-STD-704 relates to ‘aircraft electric power characteristics’ [3], for example. 

While these examples are both highly technical and highly specific in terms of use-cases, in recent years there’s growing consumer demand for rugged and ‘ruggedized’ products, mostly in the technology and outdoor recreation space.

These products can be awarded military standards as a kind of consumer assurance, ensuring they’re fit for certain applications and/or can withstand certain harsh environmental stressors, in a similar fashion to IP and NEMA ratings.

Remember that IP and NEMA ratings, although also used in the military, are not the same as the ‘MIL-SPEC’, ‘MIL-STD’, or ‘Military grade’.

There are well over 60 examples of published MIL-SPEC codes, all relating to different equipment areas and defense specifications. Among them are a select few which can also be applied to consumer technology and goods.

Let’s take a look at the most common spec codes for consumer goods.

Most common military standards

Temperature and Humidity Test Chamber | RUGGED RATINGS  - 712 X 474

In this section, we’ll dissect the MIL-SPEC codes that you are likely to see as a consumer in the market for durable tech and gear. We’ll offer an overview of the code as well as the testing methodology used.


MIL-STD-810

MIL-STD-810 aims to test the limits of a device’s design by replicating the environmental stressors it‘s likely to endure in its service life but in laboratory conditions.

This standard was developed under a ‘Tri-Service’ partnership between the United States Air Force, Army, and Navy, but also has commercial product applications. The first edition was published in 1962 [4], and it’s been revised multiple times since then.

MIL-STD-810G added ‘Test Method 527’, instituting the use of multiple vibration exciters to perform multi-axis shaking that simulates real-world vibrations [5], for example. It is probably the most common mil specification in the consumer market.

The latest revision, MIL-STD-810H, considers the influences that environmental stresses have on a product’s materiel throughout all phases of its service life.

The testing methodology for MIL-STD-810 replicates the following stressors:

MIL-STD-810
  • Low pressure for altitude testing
  • Exposure to high and low temperatures plus temperature shock (both operating and in storage)
  • Rain (including wind-blown and freezing rain)
  • Humidity
  • Fungus
  • Salt fog for rust testing
  • Sand and dust exposure
  • Explosive atmosphere
  • Leakage
  • Acceleration
  • Shock and transport shock
  • Gunfire vibration
  • Random vibration

MIL-PRF-31013

This standard covers the requirements for a ‘special protective eyewear cylindrical system’ (SPECS) to provide ballistic and laser eye protection [6].

Typical MIL-PRF-31013 products would be, for example, protective eyewear for recreational shooting, or prescription glasses for military use.

MIL-PRF-31013 accounts for the following stressors:

MIL-PRF-31013
  • Ballistic resistance
  • Abrasion resistance
  • Chemical resistance
  • Exposure to high and low temperatures
  • Solar radiation
  • Humidity

MIL-STD-461

This standard establishes interface requirements for the control of the electromagnetic interference (EMI) emission, as well as susceptibility characteristics of electronic, electrical, and electromechanical equipment and subsystems [7].

As this military specification concerns only electromagnetic compatibility, examples of products under this standard would include laptops, tablets, and cell phones.

The testing methodology involved a broad range of targeted electromagnetic emissions towards the device of variable strengths, duration, and proximities to find deficiencies.

Products with military standards

To bring all of the above into practice, let’s take a look at some of the finest examples of real consumer products that feature one or more MIL-SPEC gradings.

They are either fully rated to military specification or include military-grade materials or military-grade electronic components.


Military grade laptop

We reviewed a selection of Military Grade Laptops, all of which featured a military standard.

The Getac B360 topped our list, which featured both the MIL-STD-810G and MIL-STD-461G standards, which means it can be used in conditions of rain, dust, shock, vibration, and salt fog.


Military grade flip phone

Flip phones are truly making a comeback to give those who want more simplicity, strength, and portability in their cell phones.

In our Military-Grade Flip Phones list, the Sonim XP3 came out on top, largely due to its MIL-STD-810G spec, which offers users of the phone shock, pressure, temperature, humidity, and rust resistance.


Military grade Android phone

Continuing our quest to bring you the most durable phones on the planet, our Most Durable Android Phone list featured the impressive Cat S62 Pro, which is MIL-STD-810H approved for resistance to shock, vibration, sand, salt-mist, and pressure.


Military grade keyboard

While computer keyboards may not be the first thing you think of when discussing military toughness, there are plenty of cases where keyboards need to stand up to all kinds of use and abuse in combat or industrial environments.

In our Most Durable Keyboards list, the iKEY brand took the top spot, with two products that both feature MIL-STD-461G ratings, the SLK-101, and the DBL-810-TB.


Military grade external hard drive

For protecting your data not only cryptographically but also physically, we made a list of the Most Durable External Hard Drives on the market.

Among the many great options included the ioSafe Solo Hawk SSD featuring a MIL-STD-810G rating which protects it from an astonishingly large list of stressors, including up to:

  • 10ft drop and shock resistance
  • chemical resistance that allows for full immersion in various fluids and oils at a depth of 12ft for up to one hour
  • high-altitude operation at a maximum of 30,000ft
  • continuous exposure to UV, sand, dust, rain, salt, and ice for 24 hours.

Military grade iPhone case

And, finally, considering Apple probably aren’t making a MIL-SPEC iPhone anytime soon (hope I am wrong, though), we made a list of the Most Durable iPhone Cases on the market.

The Catalyst Waterproof case is an interesting highlight, achieving a 90% BIFL score (wondering what that is? Check this out) thanks to its complete waterproof and MIL-STD-810G grading for drop-resistance of up to two meters.

Conclusion

As you can see, we take claims of ruggedness and durability very seriously here at RUGGED RATINGS!

The goal is to educate consumers like us on the best ways to find tech that’s truly reliable — functional, durable, and long-lasting.

One of the most stringent and reliable assurances a product can have is a military standard to its name. However, be aware that some companies claiming to have military standards might not have tested the products in the laboratory-specified conditions – OR – they might just use the claims as a marketing tactic.

Military, industrial, and commercial equipment is designed to minimize the potential for malfunction, failure, or incompatibility to as close to zero as possible.

This is why military standards exist, and we as consumers can take advantage of that by understanding what they mean and applying that knowledge in our search for the toughest tech on the planet.

You can apply it yourself by searching for the common military specifications online when researching your next big technology or gear purchase.

Alternatively, keep it locked here on RUGGED RATINGS to stay tuned to the best, most durable products money can buy.

FAQ:

What is MIL-STD?

Military standards describe the physical and/or operational characteristics of a product or piece of equipment and verify that they are suitable for certain use-cases. The most common military standards are MIL-STD-810, MIL-PRF-31013, and MIL-STD-461.


Where are MIL-STD published and where to find a list of MIL-STD?

The documents describing the definitions, scope, and testing methodology of military standards can be found on http://everyspec.com/


What is MIL-STD-810G?

MIL-STD-810G aims to test the limits of a device’s design by replicating the environmental stressors it‘s likely to endure in its service life, but in laboratory conditions.

It accounts for the following stressors:

Low pressure for altitude testing, exposure to high and low temperatures plus temperature shock (both operating and in storage), rain (including wind-blown and freezing rain), humidity, fungus, salt fog for rust testing, sand and dust exposure, explosive atmosphere, leakage, acceleration, shock and transport shock, gunfire, vibration, and random vibration.


What is MIL-STD-810G drop test standards?

The MIL-STD-810G drop-test protocol is referred to as method 516.6 procedure IV. It features seven different procedures, including;

  • Procedure I: Functional Shock
  • Procedure II: Transportation Shock
  • Procedure III: Fragility
  • Procedure IV: Transit Drop
  • Procedure V: Crash Hazard Shock Test
  • Procedure VI: Bench Handling
  • Procedure VII: Pendulum Impact
  • Procedure VIII: Catapult Launch/Arrested Landing

What’s the difference between MIL-STD-810G and MIL-STD-810H?

MIL-STD-810H is the successor to MIL-STD-810G, and brings updates to many of the testing procedures. Examples of the main changes include but are not limited to the definition of ‘temperature shock’, test conditions and tolerances for test conditions, calibration interval guidelines, temperature change rate, and many more.

References:

  1. Department of Defense MANUAL. (2014, September 24). /Esd.Whs.Mil. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodm/412024m.pdf?ver=2017-12-13-110538-837
  2. Department of Defense. (1999, March 1). Interoperability and Performance Standards for Medium and High Frequency Radio Systems, from https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodm/412024m.pdf?ver=2017-12-13-110538-837
  3. EverySpec. (2004, March 12). MIL-STD-704 F INTERFACE AIRCRAFT ELECTRIC POWER. Http://Everyspec.Com/. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from http://everyspec.com/MIL-STD/MIL-STD-0700-0799/MIL-STD-704F_1083/
  4. EverySpec. (1962, June 14). MIL-STD-810 ENVIRONMENTAL TEST METHODS ENGINEERING. Http://Everyspec.Com/. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from http://everyspec.com/MIL-STD/MIL-STD-0800-0899/MIL-STD-810_13751/
  5. EverySpec. (2014, April 15). MIL-STD-810 G CHG-1 G ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING TESTS. Everyspec.Com. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from http://everyspec.com/MIL-STD/MIL-STD-0800-0899/MIL-STD-810G_CHG-1_50560/
  6. EverySpec. (1996, March 25). MIL-PRF-31013 SPECTACLES SPECIAL PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR. Everyspec.Com. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from http://everyspec.com/MIL-PRF/MIL-PRF-030000-79999/MIL-PRF-31013_20540/
  7. EverySpec. (2015, December 11). MIL-STD-461 G INTERFACE REQUIREMENTS CONTROL INTERFERENCE. Everyspec.Com. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from http://everyspec.com/MIL-STD/MIL-STD-0300-0499/MIL-STD-461G_53571/
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