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What does military specification even mean?

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Unread 10.12.18, 05:03 PM
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What does military specification even mean?

10.12.18 11:00 AM

In my opinion, the goal of any prepper should be to fit in with everyone else as much as possible (the “gray man” theory). This minimizes the chances that you may be identified as a person who may have an advantage over others during a time of crisis. While this is not a bad approach, there are exceptions to everything.

There is a popular element within the preparedness community that relies on the use of military and tactical style equipment and clothing. When outside of the urban and suburban environments, it is fairly easy to get away with some of this. The more rural the area, the greater the chances are that you will find people wearing camouflage on a random day anyway. This is especially true during hunting seasons.

While I believe in the “gray man” approach to emergency situations, there are certainly times when that may not be the best option. One such situation that comes to mind is seeking refuge at a bug out location. During such activity, camouflage and durability can be two major factors when selecting apparel and equipment for preparedness. Because of this demand, military surplus items should be a consideration. That said, what makes something from the military different from an off-the-shelf item?

The difference comes in the form of military specifications (mil-spec), a set of standards aimed at making sure clothing and equipment are reliable, meet commonality requirements and are compatible. Military standards/specifications are outlined in several different types of documents that are defined as such:

Defense Handbook (MIL-HDBK): Provides standard procedural, technical, engineering and/or design information about the materiel, processes, practices and methods covered by the Defense Standardization Program.

Defense Specification (MIL-SPEC): Describes the essential technical requirements for military-unique materiel or substantially modified commercial items.

Defense Standard (MIL-STD): Establishes uniform engineering and technical requirements for military-unique or substantially modified commercial processes, procedures, practices and methods. These fall into five different areas that include interface standards, design criteria standards, manufacturing process standards, standard practices and test method standards.

Performance Specification (MIL-PRF): Outlines 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.

Detail Specification (MIL-DTL): Defines 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.

Source: Defense Acquisition University

In order for an item to meet the standards set by the Department of Defense (DOD), several rigorous tests are performed that the item has to pass. There are literally thousands of pages that outline all the different types of specifications for the seemingly endless items that the military uses. For the purposes of this article, I will cover some of the broad essential technical elements that military clothing and equipment must meet to be considered MIL-SPEC.

  1. Physical Characteristics
  • Dimensional measurements of combat uniforms and protective clothing are made to the nearest 0.3 cm (1/8 inches) unless specified differently by the requirement document. Detailed descriptions are recorded on methods for fastening apparel (hook and pile, drawstrings, buttons, etc.) and provisions for ventilator/filter ports. For items undergoing laundering or other treatment, characteristics are recorded before and after treatment, and effects such as weight change, shrinkage, texture or color change and expansion are noted. Weight is measured in either ounces or grams and is usually measured for Size Medium items as a minimum. If measured for multiple sizes and configurations, the measures should be reported separately. Test item inspection should also include conditions of materials, quality of construction and packaging, effects of shipment and interfaces.
  • Examples of physical characteristics that may be tested include porosity, abrasion, electrostatic discharge, electrical resistivity, laundering, tearing (grab break, strip tear, seam tear), ball bursting, insulation, mildew-resistance, colorfastness, reflecting and flame-resistance.
  1. Sizing and Fitting for Upper and Lower Torso Garments.
  • Combat and protective clothing components have labels attached, which indicate fitting of garment sizes by range of body measurements (anthropometrics). The following procedure is typical for clothing to determine whether the test item can be properly sized and fitted according to requirement documents. The materiel developer or designated representative will provide the fitting procedures and support and may train the test team to perform fitting.
    • Process test participants through a series of measurement and fitting stations for appropriate anthropometric measurements as dictated by the garment instructions. These may include height, weight, chest, arm length, waist, hips and inseam. Additional anthropometric measurements may be needed to characterize fit or adjustability problems unique to the test item.
    • Use the measurements in conjunction with the clothing prediction chart, fit the participants with and without the appropriate environmental clothing or compatible items to be worn.
    • If an acceptable fit is not obtained with the predicted size, select alternative try-ons until an acceptable fit is attained, or it is determined that the individual cannot be fitted within the available sizes. Document the size initially predicted and the final best fitting size, for discussion of sizing directions and impact on sizing tariff. Document any differences in sizes needed to accommodate environmental clothing or other compatibility items.
    • Rate each participant for acceptability (for example: good, fair, poor) of fit for the final fitted size. Ratings should be done for length and breadth at torso, arms, shoulders, waist, rise and legs, to the fullest extent possible as applicable to the test item.
  1. Donning and Doffing. The objective is to evaluate the ease with which the test item can be donned and doffed and to determine the time required to don and doff the system. Doffing shall be analyzed in terms of emergency doffing as well as doffing for body eliminations. Closures shall be analyzed with respect to the ease of opening and closing with bare hands and while wearing appropriate handwear, and during daytime and darkness. The potential of the closures to degrade the protective characteristics of the ensemble should be considered. Multiple series of donning and doffing tests may be necessary to address multiple configurations. When testing multi-layer items characterize each step of the donning and doffing process.
  • The test plan must specify the environmental clothing components to be worn and the prescribed donning and doffing sequences to be followed.
    • A minimum of five test participants or a sufficient sample size to support adequate statistical analysis will be selected to perform don/doff procedures. All test participants will be trained on the proper procedures as provided by the manufacturer or material developer and should be given the opportunity to practice and demonstrate proficiency. As a minimum, each test participant will don and doff the test items three times to ensure adequate proficiency is achieved.
    • Repeat procedures, as necessary to provide statistical confidence in the test results. Usually the mean don and doff times are calculated for comparison to required times. Compare don/doff times and ratings under various conditions and configurations to identify problem areas.
  1. Leakage.
  • If the test items are to be used in outdoor rainy or wet environments and if the ability to resist moisture penetration is a concern or a primary mission of the item (such as rainwear), measure the test-item leakage/integrity at selected points throughout the test. The leakage resistance characteristics should be measured when items are new, after initial inspection, after specific environmental subtests and/or field wear, after traversals over an accelerated-wear course, and after repairs have been made requiring retest.
    • For chemical biological protective masks, special leakage tests are required using gas-mask leakage and air-resistance testers. Hoods may be tested by means of light penetration in the following manner:
    • Examine the hood over a light of 32 foot-candle intensity with the light located no farther than 30 cm from the area to be examined and the observer no farther than 60 cm.
    • Examine seams and joints from at least two angles.
    • Subject areas indicating or suspected of containing holes to pneumatic or hydrostatic pressure of at least 13.8 kPa (2 psi) for 60 seconds.
  • Test impermeable gloves for leakage by pressurizing the gloves, using a fixture to permit sealing at the cuff, and inflating and immersing in a soap solution, looking for bubbles.
  • Test impermeable boots in a similar manner, using a boot top plug clamped in place and connected to a suitable air supply.
  • Test permeable or semipermeable items by using controlled rain exposures and/or immersion. Items containing internal electronics must be tested for water leakage in order to verify the safety of the item against electric shock.
  1. Launderability. This test is performed to determine the ability of the material to withstand cleaning without losing or degrading material strength or characteristics.
  • Cycle the test items for cleaning or laundering after designated periods of field wear over the test courses, or after appropriate soiling by laboratory techniques. Generally, for hygiene purposes, suits are worn for a maximum of seven days before being laundered for field use. Usually appropriate field laundering procedures are required to be used to allow evaluation of durability and launderability in conjunction with each other. It is important to adhere to the exact field laundering procedures to include load size, type washer, types of detergent and additives, water and drying temperatures, and washing and drying times. Any required deviations from standard procedures for laundering must be coordinated with the test sponsor and thoroughly documented.
  • After laundering, selected performance tests should be conducted to check retention of protective and other physical characteristics, such as weight, dimensions and chemical agent resistance (if applicable).
  1. Storage. This is performed to determine the ability of the test item to withstand high- and low-temperature storage. Storage tests are divided into two categories, short term and long term. The latter type is used to fully evaluate the requirement (3, 5, or 10 years) and is not usually a part of the developmental tests where knowledge of the item’s suitability is required within a period of approximately six months. Only short-term storage is considered here.
  • There are two types of storage tests: uncontrolled and controlled. Storage testing should be considered for both in packaging and outside of packaging, depending on the individual item. Nominally, storage in uncontrolled extreme climatic conditions is planned for three months to identify problems.
    • Make a review to determine whether any standard controlled tests on storage are specified. If no standard tests are specified, use the following as controlled storage tests:
    • Using a minimum of nine samples, subject three to the highest temperature condition specified in the requirements documents and three to the lowest temperature. Store the remaining three samples as control items in a temperature environment of 22 (+/- 5) °C with relative humidity of 50 (+/- 5) percent. Then store all nine samples for two hours at 22 (+/- 5) °C with a relative humidity of 50 (+/- 5) percent followed by tests to determine effects on quality. These tests should be made for quality of those performance characteristics that are most likely to be affected by the environment.
    • In uncontrolled storage tests, test items are stored in extreme natural environments, with inspections and functional or other item specific checks before and after storage.
  1. Water Immersion. This test is used when the test items, either unpackaged or in waterproof packaging, are required to resist immersion in water.
  • Adjust water depth and temperature in accordance with the requirement stated in the applicable acquisition document (specification, evaluation plan or operation requirements documents), or use MIL-STD 810F as a guide.
  • Immerse the test item at the predetermined depth for the prescribed period.
  • Observe the item for bubbling and make notes of the length of item until bubbling occurs and points at which leakage is apparent.
  • Analyze results with respect to presence of leakage and its impact on the ability of the item to perform its mission.
Some of the other areas that are evaluated include:

  • Human Factors Engineering. Testing using military participants performing mission related tasks to collect feedback on the item in question.
  • Mission Performance/Suitability
  • Durability
  • Mobility
Source: Defense Technical Information Center

There are many clothing and equipment items that can be useful to the prepper that were designed for the military. Some of them include:

  • Hot-Weather Boots
  • Cold-Weather Boots
  • Hat
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Belt
  • Pants
  • Jackets
  • Wet-Weather Pants
  • Wet-Weather Jacket
  • Cold-Weather Parka
  • Thermal Underwear
  • Coveralls
  • Waterproof Bags
  • Poncho
  • Poncho Liner
  • Laundry Bag
  • Towels
  • Duffel Bag
  • Blankets
  • Canteens/Hydration Systems
  • Equipment Cases
  • Backpacks
  • First-aid Kit
  • Flashlights
  • Gloves
  • Eye Protection (Glasses & Goggles)
  • Helmet
  • Insect Net
  • Shovel
  • Knee & Elbow Pads
  • Cot
  • Sleeping Mat
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Tents
  • Equipment Carrying Vest
  • Equipment Pouches
    • Ammunition
    • Magazine
    • Canteen
    • Weapon Holster
    • Knife
    • Medical
    • Butt Pack
    • Radio
  • Body Armor Vest
  • Armor Plates
There are many more items available as well. You are essentially only limited by your funding and ability to locate such items.

Commercially produced products can be of very high quality but there are also very sub-standard commercial products. The value in products that meet military standards is that you will get a consistent, high-quality product every time.

A final note about Defense Standardization: There are many products that are advertised and/or labeled as meeting military specifications, but this does not mean that they meet any of the requirements of the DOD. While it is possible that an item does meet the same standards, the product could actually only meet some of the standards, or maybe none at all. Approach commercially produced items that are marked MIL-SPEC with caution.

One last thing that I would like to mention regarding camouflage, don’t be too excited about some of the digital camouflage patterns that can be found on the market. If your intent is to use clothing and equipment while also capitalizing on their camouflage characteristics, stick with the classic woodland pattern or those that consist of black, green and brown colors.

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