What is MIL-STD-129? Barcode Requirements, Best Practices, and More

MIL-STD-129 is an important military marking standard that outlines labeling requirements for shipments and containers, as well as to individual units. Here’s what you need to know, including best practices for compliance.

A Definition of MIL-STD-129

A standard for maintaining uniformity in military marking for shipment transported by ships and for storage, MIL-STD-129 is approved for use by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and all of its departments and agencies. The standard outlines marking and labeling requirements for containers and shipments of military equipment and supplies and ensures consistency in package labeling for transport. The goal of MIL-STD-129 is to provide for simple identification to make requisitions for restocking. It’s worth noting that MIL-STD-129 applies to labeling shipments and containers, while MIL-STD-130 applies to marking individual units loaded into cartons or onto pallets.

Best Practices for MIL-STD-129 Compliance

Complying with MIL-STD-129 involves following labeling requirements. Adhering to MIL-STD-129 best practices will help you avoid losses due to relabeling costs, delayed reimbursement, and negative supplier performance ratings. There are two types of markings for each layer of packaging: human readable information (HRI) and Military Cargomachine readable information (MRI). HRI includes text and numbers, while MRI typically is a barcode. MIL-STD-129 specifically states how to format HRI and order it on the label including such details as font type and text size. MIL-STD-129 also clearly states that barcode construction must follow several international standards so that they are readable by any barcode scanning software. Barcodes that do not comply with MIL-STD-129 may result in rejected shipments.
First, become familiar with the packaging layers specified by MIL-STD-129 in order to mark a complete shipment correctly. The standard defines multiple layers of packaging, beginning with the item being packed: the first level of packaging is referred to as the unit pack or unit container, or the smallest package that contains a part. The next level is the intermediate container, which is the outer packaging of a set of unit packs. Finally, the outermost layer of packaging for a set of intermediate containers is called the exterior container. Keep in mind that all container labels must include an Item Unique Identification (IUID), and these must be included on intermediate and exterior containers. Of course, label requirements vary for each packaging level.
Basic unit pack and intermediate container markings include

  • National Stock Number (NSN) or NATO stock number; this line may be omitted if no NSN is assigned
  • CAGE number of the prime contractor
  • Part number from the contract or order; otherwise, use the prime contractor part number or leave the part number blank
  • Item description or nomenclature as it appears on the contract, purchase order, or requisition; you may abbreviate this detail as necessary
  • Quantity and unit of issue; for intermediate containers, the quantity is the number of items rather than the number of unit packs contained inside
  • Contract number or purchase order number with dashes; include the four-digit delivery order number if applicable and follow the contract with the lot number if applicable
  • Military preservation method and date of unit preservation; leave the method space blank if a military preservation method does not apply, and show the pack data if a preservation date does not apply; be sure to begin military preservation methods other than ZZ with the letter M
  • Shelf life markings as appropriate
  • Serial numbers if applicable; if the package contains more than five serial-numbered items, state “SERIAL NUMBER LIST INSIDE” and include a serial number list

Barcode Requirements Under MIL-STD-129 Revision R

The Department of Defense updates its standards periodically. The latest revision to MIL-STD-129 occurred in 2014, with Revision R. The most significant change to occur with the revision is the DoD moving away from linear barcodes that cannot carry sufficient data to support modern automated supply chains. Expanding data requirements require identification of serial numbers and IUIDs, and linear barcodes are insufficient for this purpose because they cannot represent fifty-character IUIDs. As such, Revision R replaces numerous linear barcodes with a single two-dimensional PDF417 symbol to make automated data collection systems capable of reading all shipment information including IUIDs and serial numbers.

RFID Requirements Under MIL-STD-129R

MIL-STD-129R has altered some rules for radio-frequency identification (RFID): now, unless RFID specifically is exempted in a government contract, it should be used on all shipping units. RFID previously was required when DoD contracts contained the DFARS clause and required companies to include RFID tags to comply with MIL-STD-129; however, MIL-STD-129 does not require a specific format for RFID labels. The data contained in an RFID label for the DoD typically contains your DoD cage code and serial number. Companies also must track which contract line items are in each of the boxes and pallets you label with RFID, and the DoD will submit a receiving report containing the RFID information. The DoD RFID system then interrogates your boxes and finds the labels in its Wide Area Workflow database to discover which contract line items and UID instances are in each shipping container.

Recommended Reading on MIL-STD-129

 For more information on MIL-STD-129, visit the following articles:

Images via Flickr by SurfaceWarriors and octal

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