When I hear the term “military grade”, I think of the first phone case I ever purchased. I just got a brand new iPhone, and being well-aware of my clumsiness, I chose a case that bragged of being able to protect my device from just about any drop it was inevitably going to experience. At the time, the concept of a military grade product didn’t mean much to me beyond guaranteeing it would withstand all of my fumbles. What does “military grade” really mean?
What is US Military Standard Compliance?
Melloni, L. (2009) Military [Photograph].
A product claiming to be military grade is an informal way of saying it meets a Military Standard (MIL-STD) or Military Specification (MIL-SPEC). MIL-STD-810 is one of the most common military standards and includes a series of environmental tests created specifically for supplies associated with the Department of Defense (DoD). The letter at the end of MIL-STD-810 signifies the document revision, with MIL-STD-810H being the most recent version published in 2019. However, documents like MIL-STD-810 have not always been around.
Standardized military testing was essentially nonexistent leading up to World War II. With a lack of environmental testing standards and the need to quickly get equipment out into the field, few vehicles and other supplies were uniformly tested to confirm their durability. As a result, boats sank, rifles malfunctioned, and other miscellaneous equipment were unable to last through the vast variety of environmental conditions encountered. These issues pushed industry and the government to standardize the testing necessary for rugged military supplies. After the World War II, in 1945, the US Air Force came out with its first set of formal environmental testing methodology, AAF Specification 41065, which provided engineers with a better idea of environmental testing regarding military equipment. In 1965, the first edition of MIL-STD-810 was published and the document continues to be edited and revised today.
MIL-STD-810 contains a set of tests, called methods, that address a range of climatic and dynamic conditions that military supplies, also known as materiel, may experience throughout their lifetime. There are a total of 29 methods that range from the testing of more common conditions such as extreme temperatures and water immersion, to conditions you may never think of, like testing for a materiel's susceptibility to fungal growth or ability to be operated by someone wearing heavy duty gloves when it’s cold outside.
While there are 29 total methods that can be tested, a product is not required to be tested for every single environment, only the ones it may encounter throughout its lifetime. In fact, there is not an agency designated to certify products as MIL-STD-810 compliant. As a result, some companies will claim a product is military grade, despite possibly using inaccurate testing or leaving out applicable methods all together. Consumers should always check with a manufacturer to understand which methods an item was tested for to ensure the product is durable with proper compliance.
The Ins and Outs of MIL-STD 810 Testing
[Two Military Men Work]. (n.d.).
MIL-STD-810H contains over 1,000 pages that are separated into three parts. Part I consists of general program guidelines and lays out a detailed plan discussing how to best go about achieving product compliance. One of the most important items discussed in Part I is the Life Cycle Environmental Profile (LCEP). The LCEP is a document that should be filled out to gain a better understanding of the potential environments a product will experience during its lifetime. Because each environmental test in MIL-STD-810 can be applied to a wide range of products, each with their own LCEP, the procedures listed later on in the document still require a lot of tailoring and individualization, depending on what is being tested. When I first opened MIL-STD-810, I half-expected a simple spreadsheet that detailed the exact temperature ranges, vibration, and other conditions that all military materiel were expected to withstand. However, it's not that simple. The LCEP is present in order to assist with the tailoring process and help you figure out what exact specifications your product should adhere to. The LCEP is referenced often throughout subsequent sections of MIL-STD-810 and utilizing it is essential to understanding which methods may apply to a product.
Figure 1. Contents of a Life Cycle Environmental Profile Flow Chart
Part II contains the bulk of MIL-STD-810 and goes into detail on each of the 29 methods. Each method signifies a different environmental condition, whether that be rain, shock, or something else. Multiple procedures are present in every method and explain the different ways to test a product’s durability regarding a specific environmental factor. Included with each procedure is a detailed set of instructions, as well as guidance on what data is important to collect before, during, and after testing. Some of the more common methods include:
Low Pressure/Altitude (Method 500): This method tests a product’s ability to withstand low pressure environments and/or rapid pressure changes. This testing is most common for materiel that will be stored at high elevations or is used/transported inside of an aircraft.
High and Low Temperatures (Methods 501 and 502): These methods are used to evaluate the effects of high and low temperatures on a product. They take into account both storage and operational usage.
Shock (Method 516): The shock method tests a product’s fragility and ability to withstand the shocks that accompany transportation, handling, and service environments.
Vibration (Method 514): This method is used to test a product's ability to withstand any vibrations it may encounter. This section is fairly dense, and discusses four different test procedures applicable for general vibration, loose cargo transportation, large assembly transportation, and aircraft carriage.
Rain (Method 506): The rain method is used to determine how effective a product is at keeping out water droplets, and/or its ability to function after water has gotten inside.
Other common methods include Humidity (Method 507), Temperature Shock (Method 503), Sand and Dust (Method 510), and Immersion (Method 512). However, evaluating a product’s LCEP is the best way to identify which methods must be used during testing.
Figure 2. MIL-STD-810 Methods sorted by category
Once the necessary methods have been identified, a product can be tested a few different ways. Many of the methods require expensive environmental chambers or have elaborate testing procedures. As a result, there are plenty of 3rd party organizations that specialize in providing MIL-STD-810 testing. However, these tests can often be expensive, which is why some people opt to do their own testing. While this may not be possible for all methods, there are a few that have relatively basic testing procedures, making them do-able in house. For example, Method 506 tests a product’s ability to withstand rain. MIL-STD-810 provides detailed instructions within the procedure to show how one can make the apparatus necessary to perform the rain test.
Lastly, Part III is the final section of MIL-STD-810 and contains climatic data on different world regions including weather extremes, precipitation extremes, and other miscellaneous extremes. Part III additionally provides guidance on how to identify the conditions that will need to be considered for individual product testing.
Why is Military Standard Compliance Important?
It’s easy to realize that creating a product that is compliant with military standards is not a simple task. So why bother doing it in the first place? Military standards, such as MIL-STD-810, are in place to ensure that a product is rugged enough to last through any terrain it may experience throughout its lifetime in the military or as a consumer good.
Deffner, H. (n.d.). [Operation Desert Shield]. Department of Defense. https://media.defense.gov/2018/Nov/03/2002059080/1280/1280/0/181103-D-ZZ999-102.JPG
The more durable a product is, the less likely it is to fail out in the field when it is needed most. During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, computers and other types of technology were exposed to an extremely fine sand that was very different from anything found in the US. Military equipment began to have decreased performance and malfunctions as sand infiltrated hardware and technology. This event reminds us why it is important to not only have rugged products, but to also utilize testing procedures that confirm a product’s durability before its service begins. By using Method 510 of MIL-STD-810H, the effects of various types of sand can now be determined during the early stages of development. In fact, MIL-STD-810 actually recommends testing the material using sand collected from the actual locations an item will be visiting, as opposed to using a generic type of sand for testing across the board.This helps ensure that a product is able to withstand any type of sand or dust it may come into contact with throughout its lifetime.
While MIL-STD-810 is lengthy, the amount of thought and detail that went into defining each method is something worth appreciating. It can be overwhelming to figure out every aspect of the many environments a product may come into contact with, however MIL-STD-810 aids in the process and makes it much more approachable.
Seabee History: Desert Shield/Desert Storm. (2015, April 16). Retrieved June 19, 2020, from https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/s/seabee-history0/desert-shield-desert-storm.html
How rugged are your products? Using MIL-STD-810 to improve the durability and
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MIL-STD-810 Subject Matter Expertise. (2020, February 21). Retrieved June 19, 2020, from https://cvgstrategy.com/mil-std-810-subject-matter-expertise/
MIL-STD-810 Test Method 506.5 Rain. (2016, December 21). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.crystalrugged.com/mil-std-810-test-method-506-5-rain/
United States, Department of Defence. (2019). Military Standard, Environmental Test Methods and Engineering Guidelines MIL-STD-810H). Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.iest.org/Standards-RPs/MIL-STD-810H.