Is Mil-Spec Best?
Dr. John Woods 04.20.18
The term or acronym MIL-SPEC seems to be thrown around a lot when it comes to the manufacturing bragging standards for a lot of outdoor products. This seems to apply mostly to firearms and other so-called tactical gear items and material when the makers want to assure customers that their products meet government acceptable minimums. But are those the best standards available?
An ex-military friend remarked about Mil-Spec as “the lowest bid.” That suggestion is not particularly comforting when it comes to buying critical prepping or survivalist gear and equipment, especially firearms. But, after all, the government, we hope, is being cost conscience all the time trying hard to get the best items of supplies and equipment for the best price. I am sure you will sleep tight tonight with that thought in your head.
So, what exactly is Mil-Spec anyway? When the government in particular orders anything from a box of nails, screws, communications equipment, bombers, or firearms, they spell out the Essential Technical Requirements for the items. The idea here is to achieve the standardization objectives of the military or other government agencies.
This in turn permits the interoperability of materials, supplies, gear, and equipment across all services or agencies. That is to say that this one item when it meets these specifications will work all across the entire system without fail. Thus a magazine made to fit M-16s in the Army will also work for the same rifles in the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard for example.
The ETR sheet(s) will spell out the exact MIL-SPEC or MIL-STD in great detail. Some MIL-STD’s are numbered and cataloged for any contractor or manufacturer to study in order to comply with the demands of the customer or the U.S. Government. All of this work and procedure is to ensure that everything bought will be compatible with all logistics systems in the government.
For the average consumer then, say buying an AR-15 off the shelf at the local gun shop can rest assured that a firearm manufacturer that states in their owner’s manual or other product literature that it is indeed “Mil-Spec” tells the buyer this product meets those minimal specifications. This does not imply that there are or may not be better or a high standard of specifications. In many cases there are.
So, if you buy a $600 new in the box Mil-Spec AR-15, then the rifle should meet all those requirements and provide good service. However a custom or higher end AR costing $2-3000+ might even be made better or in finer detail. You have to decide if the extra cost is worth it.