An Overview of National Stock Numbers

A government NSN number is a 13-digit numeric code given to any item of supply that is regularly produced, stocked, stored, issued, and used throughout the Federal Supply System. NSN stands for National Stock Number (or NATO Stock Number) and is a unique series of digits describing an individual part. The digits are dependent on data such as item name, manufacturer part number, unit price, and physical and functional characteristics. NSNs are officially recognized by the United States government, all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and many more governments worldwide. Federal Agencies, particularly the United States Department of Defense, use NSNs to locate and buy billions of dollars of supplies every year. There are more than six million NSNs currently in circulation throughout the federal supply system.

The NSN was conceptualized during World War II to create standardized names for single items in use by each of the allied military services. Before NSNs, it was difficult for the varying military services to track down supplies and even more difficult to share items. This would result in scenarios where one service had a surplus of certain parts while other services were totally depleted. For a good example of this problem, look no further than the washer. The washer is an incredibly simple part, but because it has so many applications, the names used to describe it can vary. Some call it a washer, others call it a spacer, and some might call it a shim. Under the NSN system, the name for this part is Washer, Flat, and potential confusion or miscommunication is eliminated.

To this day, the necessity for a standardized naming and coding system remains present. Different manufacturers often use a variety of unique names for identical parts, like in the case of the washer. Cataloging these items with inconsistent names creates significant logistical issues and greatly hinders the organization of inventory. The Universal Product Code, National Drug Code, and Universal Standard Products and Services Classification Code are all means by which items could potentially be named. The NSN system removes this problem, keeping parts within a similar ‘language.’

What does NSN mean?

Similar to a phone number, an NSN is divided into three distinct parts that each have a separate meaning. NSNs are 13 digits long and are structured in this way: 6240-00-357-7976. The first four digits refer to the part’s Federal Supply Classification Group (FSCG). In this example, the FSCG is 6240, for Electric Lamps. It is a grouping of all types of electric lamps, be they fluorescent, incandescent, mercury, or sodium lamps. The following two digits refer to the part’s country of origin. In the example, this code is 00, denoting the United States. 00 and 01 are both used in reference to the U.S. the final seven digits are assigned sequentially and are unique to an individual NSN. Within each NSN is the NIIN, or National Item Identification Number. The NIIN is the final nine digits of an NSN. It is structured as 12-345-6789, but often listed without hyphens.

NSNs are assigned by the Defense Logistics Agency Logistics Information Service at the request of military services, federal and civil agencies, and foreign allies. Each NSN, through a process called cataloging, is assigned its code through a painstaking review process. During cataloging, each item is named, assigned a Federal Supply Class, all its characteristics and performance capabilities are determined, and finally given an NSN before entering the NSN parts catalog. Information on every single NSN part is kept in the Federal Logistics Information System (FLIS) which is controlled by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). The DLA is the only organization with the authority to assign NSNs.

New NSNs are usually requested when a non-stocked item is being ordered repeatedly or when a new technology is developed. For instance, Whenever a new weapon system is deployed by the military, the DLA conducts an upfront review called a provisioning process. During this, the DLA identifies all potential spare parts to guarantee the system will be supported throughout its circulation. This is a critical process because it ensures that the weapon system will remain available during war or conflict.

The value of NSNs cannot be overstated. In addition to providing organizational harmony, NSNs are critical because they:

  • Reduce downtime by allowing procurement personnel to quickly and efficiently locate, identify, and purchase crucial parts or supplies.
  • Make the process of auditing existing inventory much simpler.
  • Denote the shelf life of an item in stock.
  • Maximize use of spare parts by providing identification of items that are interchangeable or compatible.
  • Provide information about standard prices, a valuable negotiation tool while working out contracts and managing military budget.
  • Shorten cycle times for design, manufacture, and repair processes, while subsequently lengthening the life cycle of a given weapons system.
  • Act as a centralized source of information on all items managed by the Department of Defense.
  • Offer protection of proprietary information and limits access to only essential entities.
  • Make record of multiple manufacturers on NSNs, thereby increasing supportability.
  • Help in identifying duplicate supply items.

The NSN has proven to be a massive help in the logistical and organizational aspects of the United States Department of Defense and other military services around the world. However, just because this program has been so beneficial to government entities, doesn’t mean it is limited to them exclusively. That’s where ASAP Aerospace Hub comes in. We are owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, a leading distributor of items within the aerospace, civil aviation, and Defense Industries. As their subsidiary, they have granted us access to their unmatched inventory of greater than six billion new and obsolete parts as well as their international supply chain network that spans the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

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