A National Stock Number, also known as a NATO Stock Number or simply NSN, is an official label applied to any item of supply that is repeatedly procured, stocked, stored, issued, and used within the federal supply system. It is a unique set of numbers used to identify a specific item. When an NSN is assigned to an item, data elements, such as item name, manufacturer part number, unit price, physical characteristics, and performance characteristics, are assembled to best describe the item. NSNs are a critical aspect of the United States military’s logistics supply chain and have a key role in the managing, moving, storage, and disposal of materials.
NSNs are used to identify nearly every type of item through the federal supply system
. This includes aircraft parts, light bulbs, and everything in between. Use of NSNs facilitates the standardization of item names, supply language, characteristics, and management data. This greatly reduces the amount of duplicate items within the federal inventory. Additionally, NSNs help to standardize the military requirements for testing and evaluation of potential items of supply. The NSN system is officially recognized by many different government entities, including the United States Government, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and a number of other governments throughout the world. The Department of Defense (DOD) and countless other Federal Agencies use NSNs to purchase and manage billions of dollars of supplies each year. There are currently more than seven million active NSNs in use within the Federal Logistics Information System.
The concept for the NSN system was created during World War II. Prior to this, it was common for a single item of supply to have a different name depending on which branch of the military it was used by. This made it difficult to locate supplies and even tougher to share supplies. It eventually led to instances of one branch running out of certain items while other branches had far too many of the same item. To better understand this problem, consider a part like a washer. Washers are sometimes called spacers or shims, even though all three of those names refer to the same part. In the NSN system, there is only one name for these: Washer, Flat. This eliminates any confusion and establishes a common name and description for a given item of supply. If each branch of the military called these washers a different name, identifying and sharing parts between branches would be extremely difficult.
An NSN number is a thirteen-digit code structured thusly: 6240-00-357-7976
. The first four digits, 6420, refer to the item’s Federal Supply Class (FSC). The next two, 00, refer to the part’s country of origin based on the NATO Country Codification System. The final seven digits, 357-7976, are a unique number used to identify the specific part.
NSNs are assigned by the Logistics Information Services at the request of the Military Services, relevant Federal and Civil Agencies, or International partners. Each NSN is assigned only after a strenuous review process known as cataloguing. During the cataloguing process, the item is named, assigned a Federal Supply Class, and all of its characteristics and performance data is identified before it is ultimately assigned an NSN. This information is then saved and maintained in the Federal Logistics Information System (FLIS). FLIS is managed by the Logistics Information Services, a branch of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). Logistics Information Services is the only entity with the authorization to assign NSNs.
Requests for the assignment of an National Stock Numbers
are typically triggered whenever a non-stocked item is repeatedly ordered or when a new weapons system is developed. For example, if a new weapon system is deployed by a Military Service, the service engages in an initial review referred to as the provisioning process. The provisioning process identifies all potential spare parts to ensure the weapon system will be supported throughout its life cycle. It is an essential step to provide support to the armed forces.
During assignment of an NSN, a broad scope of logistical data is assembled to describe the item. This information includes the item name, manufacturer part number, unit price, physical and performance characteristics, shipping data, special handling, storage, shelf life, and information pertaining to proper disposal of the item when it is no longer required in the inventory. This data is frequently updated throughout the life of the NSN to include new manufacturers, price changes, part number changes, or any other alterations affecting the support, logistics data, or characteristics of the item. When an item is being disposed of, this is handled by the DLA Disposition Services who identifies products for reutilization and/or disposal using the NSN to distinguish what items require special handling upon disposal. Examples of this include specific demilitarization requirements and items that contain precious metals, hazardous materials, or sensitive technologies.
The NSN system has proven to be invaluable to the military and many other government entities. In summary, NSNs do all of the following: