mil spec m4 rifle / Public domain
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In the gun realm, we are encouraged to think that anything “mil spec” must therefore be good. Reliable. Iron-clad tough, able to withstand the rigors and horrors of the battlefield.

But does it actually mean anything anymore?

Actually, it does…and it doesn’t.

Bear in mind that if you’re into collecting guns or other items because their military memorabilia value and so on…there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a hobby, a passion, that many people have.

This has more to do with the hoopla surrounding items sold based on their alleged adherence to military standards and practices.

The US military maintains a list of requirements and specifications for materials and goods, each of which has a document outlining the pertinent specifications thereof which is literally called MIL-SPEC or “military specifications.”

Does 'Mil Spec' Mean Anything
Dkamm at English Wikipedia / Public domain

What an item is made from, how it’s constructed, what it’s designed to do, etc. These documents exist for every item imaginable from capacitors to guns to truck tires to toothbrushes. There’s even mil spec underwear.

I don’t care that the Hanes I buy aren’t mil-spec. But I usually buy them in black, because that means they’re tactical.

In essence, it’s just a spec sheet that any item the military is going to use must fit. That standardizes equipment across the armed forces, which is a good idea for a whole bunch of obvious reasons.

Now…how and why does this matter to us civilians? Because we’re encouraged to think that somehow means an item is good, if not better than non-mil-spec.

Since we here are generally concerned about guns instead of, say, tent stoves, we’re talking about an AR-15, a SIG SAUER M17/P320, a Beretta M9 or other firearm issued by the military that is made to the same specifications as the models the military bought.

And people buy that stuff up, to be sure.

Much of the gun-buying public assumes, therefore, that their rifle, pistol, shotgun or what have you is therefore a paragon of rugged reliability. A bevy of AR-15 rifle makers market their products as being mil-spec or using a lot of mil-spec components, SIG SAUER sells civilians copies of the M17 pistol, and a bunch of companies produce M1911 and M1911A1 pistols.

Does 'Mil Spec' Mean Anything
A mil spec gun from a time when men were men and the women were glad of it. Credit: Dkamm at English Wikipedia / Public domain

This presumes the manufacturer is telling the truth, of course. The Army can check such things but we have to take their word for it.

Does that mean an item is any good, let alone better? I never served, so I can’t necessarily say it is or it isn’t from a first-hand perspective, but all my friends and colleagues who have served snicker grimly whenever they hear the term ‘mil-spec’ thrown around.

Consider how Uncle Sugar sources things. There’s an elaborate bidding process, where (presumably) a number of companies submit proposals (bids) and a winner is eventually chosen. Sometimes testing is involved, sometimes it’s not, depending on the product.

The presumption, of course, is that the choice of whatever it is they’re buying is made based on the item being the toughest or the best, or at least the best item when all factors are considered.

But that isn’t always what drives a military purchasing decision, is it?

SIG SAUER military M17 P320 pistols mil spec
Courtesy SIG SAUER

Is the SIG P320 modular handgun system — used by every branch of the militaryreally the “best” 9mm pistol on the market? It’s an excellent gun to be sure, but “best” is very subjective.

Had one to guess, the fact that SIG SAUER bid $100 million less than GLOCK probably had something to do with the final choice. Heck, the reason the military selected the Beretta M9 over the P226 in the 80’s was allegedly because SIG SAUER was going to charge extra for magazines.

History is replete with examples of items procured for militaries that were total disasters. The Bradley fighting vehicle and the first generation of the Enfield L85A1 rifles just to name a couple.

upton sinclair the jungle mil spec
Credit: victorgrigas / CC0

The meat packing scandals in the late 19th century/early 20th century started over Army beef that actually killed or contributed to the deaths of soldiers serving in Cuba. (If not from food poisoning, food poisoning plus poor nutrition plus yellow fever; disease killed five times as many personnel in that conflict as combat did.)

Why did the War Department buy it? Because it was obtained at the lowest possible price. The affair inspired Upton Sinclair to write The Jungle and the government to create the Food and Drug Administration.

3M, according to Bloomberg, is currently the defendant in a class-action lawsuit by former military members who wore their hearing protection in battle as directed, but suffered hearing loss anyway. The contention is the ear protection they were issued – which, therefore, was mil spec, was defective, and didn’t work as advertised when used as intended.

So in a certain sense “military specification” is meaningful, as “mil-spec” is a real thing. How much value that designation bestows on a thing in the real world…well, you be the judge.

What do you think, though? Ever buy something because it’s “mil spec” only to find out it was junk? Or how about something turned out to be awesome? (I think some of the camping gear is pretty decent.) Sound off in the comments.

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  1. Military handguns and rifles, and most other issued stuff, will NEVER be “the best” because no government agency can slip the price of “the best” past their accountants, and if they did actually manage to buy “the best,” the peasants who pay the taxes would be grabbing their torches and pitchforks and demanding their money back, while the company that got the contract to produce “the best” would have already subcontracted everything to the lowest bidder.

        • You too can have your very own…..less suppressors.

          Barrett Mk22 MOD 0 Advanced Sniper Rifle System .308 Win, .300 Norma Mag, .338 Norma Mag 18804
          SKU 18804-Barrett
          4 Stars1 Review
          Barrett Mk22 Advanced Sniper Rifle Suppressor
          Barrett MRAD Deployment Kit for $16,770….ships for $9.99 from Euro optic…in stock.
          The winner of the $50 million USSOCOM Sniper Rifle Contract, the Barrett Mark 22 Advanced Sniper Rifle now sits at the tip of the spear of US military might. Based on Barrett’s Multi Role Adaptive Design Sniper Rifle, better known as the MRAD, the Barrett Advanced Sniper Rifle System was able to meet and exceed SOCOM’s stringent requirements for the Mark 22 contract.

          Milled from a single block of 7075 Aluminum, the Barrett Mark 22 Advanced Sniper Rifle’s receiver more resembles the lower receiver of an AR platform rifle – housing the fire control group and magazine well, as well as attachment points for the pistol grip and folding buttstock. The upper receiver of the Barrett Mark 22 Advanced Sniper Rifle System also shares visual and functional similarities with the AR platform, with the bolt riding within a completely enclosed upper aided by a polymer bolt guide. What helped secure USSOCOM’s contract for Barrett is intuitive the caliber changing functionality of Mark 22 Advanced Sniper Rifle System (and MRAD). In order to change calibers on the Barrett Mark 22 only two parts need to be swapped: the barrel, held in place by two torx screws and the bolt head.

          USSOCOM Advanced Sniper Rifle Requirements
          Must be convertible to fire 7.62mm NATO, .300 Norma Magnum, and .338 Norma Magnum cartridges.
          Must not exceed 17 lbs. with an empty magazine, but is ideally 13 lbs. or less.
          Must not exceed 50” when fully extended, but is ideally 40”.
          Must not exceed 40” when collapsed for transport, but is ideally 36”.
          Must perform with at least 1 MOA accuracy for the 7.62 NATO and .300 Norma Mag at 300 yds. Ideally .5 MOA
          Must perform with at least 2.5 MOA accuracy for the .338 Norma Mag at 300 yds. Ideally 1.5 MOA.
          Must have a modular flash or sound suppressor
          The Barrett Mark 22 Rifles differs from the MRAD in a few small but important areas. The first being the handguard, the Mark 22 features the M-LOK attachment system with attachment points at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions and full length picatinny top rail. The Mark 22 features a single stage trigger fixed at just 2.5 lbs. and finished with protective black coating. The buttstock of the Mark 22 will include a incremental mechanical lock for adjusting comb height, an adjustable recoil pad, and a bag rider covering a picatinny rail that allows for the mounting of a monopod. The Barrett Mark 22 Advanced Sniper Rifle System will also coated in an exclusive SOCOM Coyote Brown finish.

          Components Included With The Barrett Mark 22 Advanced Sniper Rifle System Deployment Kit
          (1) Pelican 1770 Protector Hard Case (58″x18″x10″)
          (1) Armageddon Gear Soft Case
          (2) Bore Guides for 7.62 and .300/.338
          (1) Stock Spacer Kit with 4 Spacers and Hardware
          (1) Cleaning Kit with Rod
          (1) Tool Kit with Torque Wrench, Bits, and Operator Spare Parts Kit
          (5) 10 Round Magazines for 7.62x51mm NATO, .300NM, and .338NM
          (1) Armageddon Gear Precision Rifle Sling
          (1) Harris Bipod
          (1) Armageddon Suppressor Cover

      • 16k isn’t much at all. If you thinking they are paying 16k for a rifle you would be wrong. While I’m not familiar with this gun I am totally familiar with the Armys M24 sniper SYSTEM which I was issued. Not only was the rifle in it, the Leupold scope MSRP back in the 90s was $1800, the case/coffin it shipped is was a smooth grand on the civilian market and that’s not even a price on all the other parts included with the “system” and it included a lot of stuff. So I’m sure for that 16k there is a lot more in that price than a rifle.

    • Anybody who can pay $400.00 for a toilet seat or $200.00 for a hammer can afford to buy the best, they in actuallity have a bad habit of getting the wool pulled over their eyes. I negotiate multi million dollar contracts all the time for the govornment based on hours worked to preform the task, I have actually done these tasks. The people don’t like to negotiate with me because I usually want go over 7 million when they are use to getting over 10 million dollars based on hourly fees. Most govornment negotiaters don’t have a clue about what something should cost and take the sellers word for it. They pay top dollar for less than top dollar product, so yes, they can aford the best. They are using mine and yours and everybody elses money to pay for it. We are lucky however because in Germany and Denmark and other country the govornment lakes 70 to 80 cents from every dollar you earn as income tax, they still don’t get the best for their money.

  2. “Mil-Spec” is always the MINIMUM quality and performance thresholds for a given contract, whether individual or lot; some are specifications that are more rigorous, others, well, define minimum acceptable quality, usually as a lot percentage. And yup, it’s usually about contractor pricing. Usually the support costs for program management and admin are the profit areas. Ooops, did I just write that…

  3. In my head, Mil-spec = lowest bidder.

    Regardless, military choices in guns and MREs mean little to me… primarily because I’m not in the military and I’m no soldier (legally blind asthmatic and all). I don’t see myself doing soldier shenanigans with my guns.

    • A lot of gun owners are convinced the civil war is coming, and they’re going to be heroes. I think if stuff hits the fan once they realize they can’t do anything against military jets, drones, armored vehicles, and whatnot, the $3,000 AR15 will return to the safe pretty quick.

      • Hitler, history’s second most famous leftist, had tanks, military jets, and chemical weapons. But he didn’t use any of those to herd people he didn’t like into camps and slaughter them.

        It took men with guns.

        And they would have been stopped by the same.

      • I recall a time in the late 1700s when the greatest army in the world was defeated by a bunch of farmers. This says nothing about a lot of countries (including the US) having not so great results in defeating armies engaging in asymmetric warfare.

        This says nothing about such battles being fought on the home front where there’s a lot of soft targets. Just because the world is dotted with our military bases doesn’t mean the US is one of those military bases.

        Don’t conflate military victories with political ones.

        • The British Empire was defeated by American Forces due to the Continental Congress getting the French, Dutch, and Spanish involved. It was the French Army and Navy directly supporting American operations and the Spanish and Dutch pulling British Resources to other parts of the Empire by threatening their assets. The myth of the Militiamen and Farmers stopping and beating the British Army is laughably wrong. It was a professional military force that was built up and trained by other European Powers and those Powers directly involving themselves in the fight that achieved victory.

          The Dutch Republic funded most of the war. The French blockaded and attacked the British Royal Navy. The French Army directly fought beside American Army Units that were Professionally Drilled and Equipped. The Spanish attacked numerous British Holdings across the Caribbean and the Gulf.

        • Bob. None of that support would have come if the Americans had not survived the first year of the rebellion. Yes, we recieved a great deal of help from foreign interests. But only after we showed the ability to stand and fight.

          Washington’s greatest feat was not in winning victories against the british. His greatest feat was in keeping enough of his army alive and moving so that the british could not destroy it. He lost battles. But he never lost his army.

        • While that may be true Bob, who are you to say that there would be no other nations backing such an insurgency? I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw pallets of Norinco AKs and ammunition being smuggled into the country if such an event did happen. I’m not saying the most savory of governments would be involved from a foreign sense but there would be enough.

        • Not laughable Bob
          In April 1775, it was Farmers and Tradesman in the Middlesex Militia that stood against the British Army at the North Bridge in Concord, then chased them back to Boston, no laughter heard during the retreat.
          The British where then trapped and under siege until they evacuated Boston in March 1776.
          As the British sailed for Halifax, they were still not laughing.

        • Bob you are wrong. Arrogantly wrong or have an overinflated view of your own smarts. Farmers stopped the British almost 3 times at Breed’s Hill. They couldn’t repel the 3rd charge due to lack of powder and ammunition. The Bloodiest battle of the American Revolution involved Gen. Herkimer’s Tryon County Militia at Oriskany, NY. I know it well 18 of my ancestors fought in that Battle. They were farmers. The Continental Army was comprised mostly of State militia’s. The British took a heck of a beating retreating back to Boston after Concord. Guess what? Farmers and common folk. Just who the hell made up the Continental Army? Farmers and Shopkeepers. French Army involvement in the actual ground battles were rare till Yorktown. For all the Spanish, Dutch and French behind the scenes or indirect aid, it was still American common men facing the British.

      • Tell that to the Afghans against the Soviets, the VC and NVA against the US, French, Australians. The Taliban and ISIS against the US, ISAF, and so on. You get my point. An armed guerrilla force can be extraordinarily effective.

        • The VC were wiped out in thenTet Offensive. The NVA won because of massive industrial and economic support from the Communist Bloc, and that we never invaded North Vietnam. Additionally, we didn’t support South Vietnam when we pulled out and they lost the war because of a lack of logistical support that we promised.

        • The communists in the North did not want the communists in the South having a say in running a united Viet Nam. So they used them as cannon fodder during Tet. The VC ceased to exist as an organization after 68.

          Communists are famous for eating their own. Yet folks still think they can be trusted. What a world.

        • In ‘Murica we know who the military’s friend’s & loved one’s live. So there’s THAT😒

        • the us government lost that for us by trying to run it from over here and not providing everything the men needed and also by keeping the airforce from attacking North Vietnam at all they were not allowed to bomb their cities or anything the men that fought and died over there were some brave men that was one screwed up mess over there all thanks to dam politics thank God I Missed it barely because the year I turned 18 is the year they stopped the draft and I had lost enough friends there that I sure was not going to go there as a volunteer

      • Frank, you are confusing civil war with a revolution. You forget that most of the military is right wing and probably 98% of Special Ops guys are right wing, and those are the guys who really know how to fight an asymmetric war. You don’t have to go toe to toe with the military to wipe out the opposition’s supporters. If it’s right against left, the left is congregated in big cities which are quite vulnerable to a number of attacks. Imagine the power grid of New York city being taken out in the middle of summer which opens up a plethora of attacks partially due to the fact that many people take to the streets during such an event. God forbid someone decided to use poison gas like phosgene. I am not condoning any of this, I am simply pointing out what can happen.
        Imagine 50,000 people in each State and their only job is for each person to take out ONE of the opposition and try to make it look like robbery or accidents. In this day and age it’s easy to find out who is registered and active in which party. That is 2,500,000 of the other sides voters who are removed. The Left is at a disadvantage because they are so centralized while the Right is spread out. These are only a couple of ways things could play out and I am not condoning any violence…. I am a very peaceful person. However, the Left is trying to return us to a time of feudalism when only the powerful had weapons. I have only scratched the surface of this topic, I just wish things would calm down to where people are not considering it anymore. My best friend of the last 35 years is a retired Green Beret Colonel so I have a little insight into this subject, after all, asymmetric war is their business and they often train groups how to fight superior forces. And, every one of those guys I have met are right wingers.

        • invading North Vietnam would have evolved into another Korean style war…the Chinese were already there…and who came to our aid at the battle of Saratoga where a British army was defeated in the field largely by a bunch of farmers?…..

        • “…and who came to our aid at the battle of Saratoga where a British army was defeated in the field largely by a bunch of farmers?…..”

          Truth is, we could not have won that revolution without the help of the French and Spanish who thought they would gain territory and wealth in return for their help. (They were sorely disappointed, especially France when the US refused to assist with their revolution later.

      • You do realize that in the event of a civil war, not all military personnel are going to follow orders, and fire on their fellow citizens. For an example, consider Robert E. Lee. It won’t be the tremendously lopsided conflict as so many people expect.

        And, even if it WERE all that lopsided, well, no soldier lives forever inside of his tank, or his jet fighter, or even on base.

      • Yeah Rep Salwell, the military will really drop bombs and fire on civilians with tanks nevermind the collateral damage to those not fighting against them…and if all else fails you can nuke whole US cities…

      • Frank you are an idiot. You wrongly assume the US military would openly kill American citizens. More likely to stand down, and let the Police State act like Stormtroopers. Those planes, tanks etc. you stated need operators/pilots. They have to get out to eat, piss, sleep. Lastly, there is a warrior culture in the US. Those of us who served, and still take our oaths to defend the Constitution seriously. I served 14+ years in US Army Special Operations. Retired after 24 years and 3 wars. Myself, and those like me can still f-shit up if need be. Not afraid of a fast ass LEO who without a K-9 couldn’t run down a toddler trying to enforce unconstitutional laws/directives.

      • We have been in Afghanistan for 19 years.
        Fighting a bunch of goat herders with AK’s and a few machine guns and IED’s.
        And with all our drones, planes, MRAP vehicles and artillery we are losing.
        I doubt our government will be able to use rules of engagement in the U.S. that we can use in far off Afghanistan.

        • Since the time when world opinion counted for more than the best interests of our armed forces (and our country) did we haven’t fought any conflict to WIN. Korea, Viet Nam, and the continuing perpetual middle east conflict are ,or seem to be, only money pits that bankrupt our nation and strip same of our young people, all the while the “military- Industrial Complex” is doing just fine. I am a Viet vet, and try to support my country and honor disabled vets ,but I wish our government wouldn’t make so many broken or disabled AMERICANS. I know that I will feel the heat, but examine things for yourself. Why are we in the middle east? Let them kill each other and not our boys. just my opinion (I know). pm

  4. The first thing I think of when I hear someone say “military grade” is “So, it was built by the lowest bidder?”

    • military specs means someone got a hell of a deal…and made a lot of money…no wonder these contracts are so eagerly sought after….

  5. The “Mil-Spec” Specifications has been obsolete & superseded by other spec’s since the 90’s such as the “ASTM”, “AMS” etc . All it means is a min. uniformity from anodizing to Mag part insp or what ever process is being performed!

    • This is very true, and is especially true in small arms.

      Most people don’t realize it, but after the heat treatment issues of the Springfield 1903’s under s/n 800,000, the War Department (that’s what the DOD used to be called when we actually won wars), started setting specifications for steels used in small arms construction. We had steels that were called out as “W.D. xx” – and that steel would have a specific alloying content of various elements, carbon, etc.

      These gave way to ASTM and AISI steel alloy designations after WWII.

    • a lot of people got rich during the civil war by selling substandard products to the government….”the age of shoddy”…

  6. Mil spec defines materials of construction and dimensional characteristics.

    That’s really handy if you are deploying a rifle to hundreds of thousands of soldiers because the parts should be interchangeable.

    Might not be the best but good enough and plenty of them.

  7. “I don’t care that the Hanes I buy aren’t mil-spec. But I usually buy them in black, because that means they’re tactical.”

    TMI, Sam, TMI.

    *Anything* bought by the military has a minimum specification, and that includes a bucket and a mop.

    How much more are you wiling to pay for a ‘Mil Spec’ bucket and mop? Yeah, me neither.

    I had fun years back when a salesman tried to run the ‘Mil Spec’ claim on a piece of car audio gear. I asked to see the spec.

    I informed him that buckets, mops, and even desktop calculators had a Mil. Spec, and so do the components in orbital surveillance satellites, and I seriously doubted there was chain-of-custody documentation on the parts in that car amp he was selling.

    Geeks have fun like that… 😉

    • The author quoted mil-spec for chemical warfare undies.
      “AR 670-1: Chapter 20-28: Undergarments, Underwear, Bras” specifies
      “c. Drawers (male).
      (1) Type. Drawers are clothing bag issue items.
      (2) Description. The drawers are brown, in brief length.
      (3) How worn. Males will wear drawers with all uniforms. Either the brief or boxer style drawers are authorized for wear. Males also may wear commercially purchased brief or boxer versions of drawers, in white, brown, or other neutral colors.”
      Commercial mil-spec for drawers is in white, brown, or other neutral colors.

  8. Mil-spec, specifically the TDP, for an AR-15/M-16/M-4means something. There is a certain level of developed technology there, and the M-16 series rifles are very reliable if used as intended. Technology and the required Mil specifications continue to develop to this day. Often new technology comes R&D based on a identified need – like Armalube, or the new rifle competition to replace the current military rifle and MGs.
    However, the move from civilian “hobby” AR’s to firearms that are “professional grade” like BCM, Geissele, etc. are a big improvement in quality, reliability, and longevity over the DPMS and Bushmasters of 20-40 years ago.

    • DPMS (Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services) as a company started out making and selling mil-spec parts to the government for M16s, M14s and M203s about 35 years ago. They then got into manufacturing AR pattern rifles for civilian sales, and before everyone started assembling their own ARs in basements & garages, was about the only option for custom ARs. For a while they were the go to company for competition rifles. Bushmaster was also a quality rifle in that era, as the advice was to buy an “A, B or C”. I don’t remember who A was (Armalite maybe?) but B was Bushmaster and C was Colt. DPMS got a bad rep after some internet troll claimed they didn’t stake their gas keys (horrors!) which wasn’t really true and isn’t really necessary anyways if you torque the bolts properly or use the proper thread locker.

    • For buffer tubes, you can get “commercial” or “mil spec” and they are different sizes. The commercial is .02-.03″ larger in diameter, and a mil spec stock won’t fit or won’t adjust smoothly. A commercial stock will have more slop on a mil spec tube. Colt also made commercial (aka big pin) and mil spec (aka little pin) receivers with different diameter trigger and hammer pin holes and are totally incompatible with each other.

  9. “MilSpec” is how you get $300 hammers, and $1000 foot stools. Not to mention microwave ovens for transport aircraft that are required to withstand something like 3000ftlb of impact (crash survivability).

    And history is replete with milspec compliant items that later proved fraudulent and/or unserviceable.

    On the other hand (why is there always an “other hand”?), government contracting has always been a game of “catch me if you can”.

    • $300 is not much at all for a hammer used in space (shuttle or space station). It’s also not much for an envoice when the government placed an order for a shipment of hammers to be distributed.

      I might have paid $300 for an air hammer off of a tool truck.

      • I seem remember a story about Boeing charging hundreds of dollars each for a plastic plug that went in the bottom of the four legs of the chairs used on AWACS airplanes.

        It turns out that the Pentagon specified an odd size square tube steel to make the chair legs. In order to fabricate the specified plastic plugs, Boeing had to have a custom plastic moulding machine made to fabricate the plugs at a cost of $20,000. The price of the plastic plugs was simply $20,000 divided by the number of plugs ordered.

      • “Mil spec, when contractor grade isn’t good enough.”

        “MilSpec” when you’re a government contracting agent, and you don’t want to risk getting caught up in a quality dispute. In the IT world, we hid behind the mantra, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM brand.”

  10. Mil-spec is merely the minimum requirements necessary for a piece of equipment that will accomplish the task it is intended to do, a specified number of times. Often, these specifications are over and above the typical civilian standards in terms of shelf life and ruggedness (i.e. proofed against rough handling by soldiers who don’t care about taking good care of something they didn’t pay for themselves) but not necessarily better in terms of precision or fit and finish.
    “Made by the lowest bidder” isn’t a factor in the military specification itself, just the finished product submitted under contract.

  11. All things being said about mil spec. An old astronaut saying: Anyone who is willing to strap their ass inside a rocket. Propelled by 500,000lbs of rocket fuel. Built by the lowest bidder. Is either very brave or very stupid.

  12. It’s all relative to desire, purpose, need. I might not want a mil-spec 1960 Jeep for a daily driver. But that might be just the ticket for a vet to be honored.

  13. The rise of “mil-spec” as a marketing tool to civilians came along with the popularity of the AR-15 platform.

    When I was young, no one thought “mil-spec” was a compliment or indication of quality in guns. There was an expression tossed around in my youth of “…good enough for government work…” which was a long-winded way of saying “acceptable…”

    Since the 1990’s, it seems that “mil-spec” has become a marketing term tossed around by all manner of vendors. eg, I’ve been at gun shows and someone is selling “mil-spec” MRE’s. And he’s wanting a tidy price for mil-spec MRE’s. When someone asked if I was going to buy some MRE’s, I replied “Sure… just as soon as I find some vets who brag about how good the MRE’s were compared to civilian food.”

    Same deal in guns. There are lots of civilian-sector guns that are miles and miles better than anything the military has ever purchased. The pre-war Winchester Model 70, for example, is of significantly better quality than a 1903[A3].

    But we now exist in a time and market where the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the US market, and so the term “mil-spec” has become a marketing tool. Personally, I typically don’t buy “mil-spec” parts for my AR’s (or any gun) – and that’s because I want something better. Things like barrels, triggers, bolts, etc – I want better than what Uncle Sugar wants.

    • Well said, was going to also say the mil spec thing is a buzz word and refer to good enough for government work. Another thing the mall ninjas want to boast about…

    • FWIW:
      In general, the MIL SPEC document will reference specific standards for the production of products.
      For detail parts, various MIL-STD and MIL-PRF docs will define materials, heat treatment, NDT, surface treatments, coatings etc, as well as identification preservation and packaging.
      In many if not most cases, the MIL docs have been superseded- custodians of these are now organizations such as SAE, ASME, ANSI and ASTM. (One exception is MIL-A-8625, anodize.)

  14. Mil-spec is the MINIMUM companies have to – scratch that – are supposed to, abide by when they win a contract by bidding the cheapest amount. In other words the lowest bar of approval to be accepted and not be out of compliance with the contract.

    However, john q public is not very bright and gets sold on this by all the snake oil salesman that populate our industry. Of which there are many. You also have the shills on youtube and instagram that get paid or receive free products to review items, don’t tell their viewers about it, and act like they have no connection to the companies paying them or giving them stuff. Be careful of what you believe because there are some well know names that are very guilty of this.

    In the age of ‘fake news’ no one should be surprised about the ‘fluffed reviews’.

  15. None of this matters at all, because unless your item is made under government contract and shipped on an DD1149 and received on a DD250, it’s not mil spec. It can be made on the exact same equipment by the exact same people using the exact same parts, but it won’t be mil spec. There’s more to mil spec than just the specifications. Does your favorite “mil spec” company have all of the following approved by DCMA?

    Vendor certification system.
    Receiving inspection system.
    Separate stockroom for government parts and equipment.
    Property management system.
    Production facility.
    Test facility.
    FAT process.
    Tool and test equipment calibration system.
    Quality management system (no, I don’t mean ISO 9000 or AS 9100).
    IPC certified inspectors.
    Packaging and shipping system.
    Cost control system.
    Labor reporting system.
    Engineering process.
    Program management process.
    Training and retraining system for workers.
    Record keeping and disposition system.

    • In other words, mil spec means inflated price and total cost of ownership due to bureaucracy…better than “contractor grade”? 😅

  16. MIL Spec simply means it meets the minimum requirements that the Military has for the item(s). Doesn’t mean that it exceeds those requirements, just that it passes Sargent SNAFU’s minimum expectations for whatever it is. PFC FUBAR can still break it.
    That being said, with an AR, MIL Spec is generally preferable to Commercial grade parts and components.

  17. The only real advantage I can think of for weapons advertised as mil-spec is that they will likely be popular, which means that spare parts and accessories will be a lot easier to find.

  18. Ford is doing their dead level best to sell F-150’s bragging about their construction from “military grade aluminum”. I presume this is the same military grade aluminum used in the mess kits. In any event, it still rips like aluminum foil in minor fender benders.

    • Aluminum body is an attempt to conform to “Government-Spec” in the ever increasing requirement, to obtain an arbitrary selected increase in fuel mileage. Aluminum has its limits and at least the federal bureaucracy has not yet forced its use in frames. Realize that these mileage requirements were not designed so much as to reduce CO₂, but to remove fuel burning vehicles from the roads completely!

  19. This article and many of the comments confuse engineering drawings with military standards. Engineering drawings control the geometry and dimensions of parts, and call out the various MIL-SPECs which govern materials, processes, and performance. As such, the engineering drawings are the master documents controlling defense articles.

    When firearms manufacturers claim their products are “MIL-SPEC”, they are usually claiming that the dimensions and geometry of the component parts meet the requirements of the applicable, DoD approved engineering drawing. While this may be so, many fail to also meet the various MIL-SPEC requirements called out on the engineering drawings.

    This leads to the cynicism on display here. Truthfully, the MIL-SPEC system is pretty good and is actually a storehouse of the knowledge gleaned over the years as cutting edge defense articles are evaluated in the field. Smart people appreciate this trove of knowledge because the alternative is the “Groundhog Day” school of repetitive learning.

  20. To me “Mil-Spec” means it likely has the ability to continue to function in battlefield conditions. It is not the prettiest, or the most accurate. But as long as I provide the correct ammo, and clean minimally, it is likely to continue to function.

    Now this conversation has evolved somewhat into one about the feasibility of the intent of the 2nd Amendment. First realize that the term militia, defined several related ways by Merriam-Websters, in the debate of the day, as discussed in the Federalist Papers, is a volunteer force of able bodied, in that time, 𝙢𝙚𝙣 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙫𝙞𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙞𝙧 𝙤𝙬𝙣 𝙖𝙧𝙢𝙖𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙢𝙢𝙤.

    The intent that those arms and ammo in the hands of our citizens was to be roughly equivalent and thus able to resist the invading army or our own government gone rogue or tyrannical, in disregard of the Constitution. We would not be a resistance facing-off across a common, though that might have been the initial thought, but one of Guerrilla warfare, defining what a current day conflict would resemble: 𝘼 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙢 𝙤𝙛 𝙞𝙧𝙧𝙚𝙜𝙪𝙡𝙖𝙧 𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙛𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙞𝙣 𝙬𝙝𝙞𝙘𝙝 𝙨𝙢𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙜𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙥𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙗𝙖𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙨, 𝙨𝙪𝙘𝙝 𝙖𝙨 𝙥𝙖𝙧𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙩𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙤𝙣𝙣𝙚𝙡, 𝙖𝙧𝙢𝙚𝙙 𝙘𝙞𝙫𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙖𝙣𝙨, 𝙤𝙧 𝙞𝙧𝙧𝙚𝙜𝙪𝙡𝙖𝙧𝙨, 𝙪𝙨𝙚 𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙩𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙩𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙘𝙨 𝙞𝙣𝙘𝙡𝙪𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖𝙢𝙗𝙪𝙨𝙝𝙚𝙨, 𝙨𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙩𝙖𝙜𝙚, 𝙧𝙖𝙞𝙙𝙨, 𝙥𝙚𝙩𝙩𝙮 𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙛𝙖𝙧𝙚, 𝙝𝙞𝙩-𝙖𝙣𝙙-𝙧𝙪𝙣 𝙩𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙘𝙨, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙢𝙤𝙗𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙩𝙮, 𝙩𝙤 𝙛𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩 𝙖 𝙡𝙖𝙧𝙜𝙚𝙧 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙡𝙚𝙨𝙨-𝙢𝙤𝙗𝙞𝙡𝙚 𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙙𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙖𝙡 𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙩𝙖𝙧𝙮. 𝙂𝙪𝙚𝙧𝙧𝙞𝙡𝙡𝙖 𝙜𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙥𝙨 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙖 𝙩𝙮𝙥𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙫𝙞𝙤𝙡𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙣𝙤𝙣-𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙤𝙧.

    Right there in the last line, 𝙣𝙤𝙣-𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙤𝙧 truly defines the resolution of an armed citizen. Not an enlisted soldier or guardsman in a formal nationally created fighting force, but the self armed civilian coming to the aid of his countrymen of his own accord when the need arises! That need would include one’s community, neighborhood, and family.

    Don’t be talked out of you guns by those claiming that the disarmament of law abiding citizens would stop crime end murders. Within the last year it has become known that London England has exceeded the murder rate of New Your City. And the murders in London were all accomplish with knives as Britain confiscated all guns from Law Abiding Citizens many decades ago.

    Be aware that in countries like France ALL guns are forbidden, but terrorists appear to have no problem obtaining fully automatic weapons to kill unarmed citizens. Also be aware that in the US, 2 million+ crimes a day are prevented by legally armed citizens. Also keep in mind that since the beginning of the movement in many states, 30 years ago, to actually make it easier for law abiding citizens to obtain and carry concealed, crime of all forms have dropped by about 50%.

    • the European Union permits easy movement within its borders…automatic weapons that make their way to France…usually via Belgium…are easily obtained in the Balkans….

  21. Yes, “mil spec” does mean something, but not what most marketing people and gullible consumers think it means. “Mil Spec” means the firearm in question is made to conform to the exact specifications stipulated in the Technical Data Package for said firearms. In the case of the AR-15 and all variants this means the AR in question is built strictly according to the TDP for the AR-15. Only COLT owns that TDP. They license it to FN. So, if you want to get precise (and correct) about this…that’s what “Mil Spec” means.

    This comment will, no doubt, fall on a lot of deaf ears on TTAG where a whole lot of stupid is to be found in one precise location.

    Those who know, know. Those who do not, do not.

    • all of my Colt guns function pretty well…start mixing in after-market components…not so much….especially in the really short barrels….

  22. Mil-spec is a good ‘standard’ to go by. If it doesn’t at least meet that it can be considered sub-standard. A lot on the market surpasses mil-spec standards.

  23. To me, and specifically with respect to AR-15s, it means the various parts that one buys from different manufacturers will very likely fit together (i.e. dimensional spec), and this is pretty much limited to the receivers and the bolt size. I haven’t bought any other part because it was “mil-spec,” particularly not barrels or trigger sets.

  24. mil-spec is useful in ARs and other platforms that allow for interchangeability and building.

    It shouldn’t be used to imply quality outside of that, but people are dupes for marketing.

  25. We always joked when we were getting ready to go out on patrol “remember everything we have was produced by the lowest bidder.”

  26. If you look at the latest M4 contract awarded to FN, this was a build-to-print contract. That means the contractor has to build the rifle to not just specifications, but drawings provided by the Government. The DCMA inspector will inspect samples of the rifles to ensure they are compliant with the spec and the drawings. This is a “lowest bidder” contract. The cheapest guy wins, but does have to deliver to the letter of the specification and drawings. If this weren’t a build-to-print effort, it could have been released as a “best value” contract. Best value gives the Government more leeway in cost vs. value for the product, but can be more subjective, and many times is easier for a loser to challenge the award

  27. I always have to purpose of looking for milspec with respect to buying AR-15 parts was to make sure that they would all fit together?

  28. This –> “Mil-spec is merely the minimum requirements necessary for a piece of equipment that will accomplish the task it is intended to do, a specified number of times. Often, these specifications are over and above the typical civilian standards in terms of shelf life and ruggedness…”

    Meeting several of the “mis spec” environmental standards is helpful for something you’re gonna throw in the trunk of a car, and expect to still work. In part, buyers are buying expertise embedded in the spec: “These are things you need to care about in this kind of use.”

    I’ve been a producer and a consumer of gizmos where “viable scope of use” specs were relevant. There’s a whole industry that provides assessment of whether a given product meets this spec or that.

    Indeed, my current mobile phone meets an environmental mil-spec, useful because I keep dropping the things, and drag them out into the weather all the time. As a ruggedized version of a consumer product, it costs, actually, just about the same as the baseline model. Manufacturing volumes are your friend.

    Unfortunately, the last time I looked merely *commercial* environment laptops were $3k-4k for a general market $750 machine. You’d think the volume of laptops hauled into combat conditions n outdoor commercial uses would drive the “ruggedized” price down. I haven’t seen it yet, but that could be just me.

    • When I was in Silicon Valley, we had all branches of the DOD as our customers. The Navy and USAF (especially) would send us these hilarious RFP’s, hoping we’d be dumb enough to bid on them. Engineering would typically read the spec and laugh, then sales would look at the amount of money possibly on the table, and we’d all reckon that we could make far more in the civilian marketplace for the amount of time invested.

      But then one week, the USMC came through. They wanted to buy some gear. Most Americans want to be nice to Marines – they seem like the under-loved and under-supplied guys of all the branches. We sighed and asked “OK, where’s your absurd RFP?” and the jarheads (one Lt and one GySgt) said “We ain’t got one. We just want to buy what you sell to civilians.”

      “OK, how much paperwork will that be?!”

      “None. Here’s our American Express card. Do you take credit cards?”

      And sure enough, the Lt had an Amex card with his name, rank and “United States Marine Corps” embossed on the card.

      “Uh, yea, we guess. Don’t you guys want mil-spec this, that or some other thing?”

      “Nope. We buy consumer grade electronics, knowing that Marines will break it eventually. So we buy a bunch of them. When one breaks, we dig a hole, we put the laptop/router/printer/disk drive in the hole, and we pop a thermite grenade and dump that in the hole. Poof – electronics destroyed, no classified information issues. Then we go open the next box of consumer-grade electronics, and get back to work. It’s actually cheaper than mil-spec stuff – a lot cheaper.”

      Holy shit. Some guys who had their heads on straight. So we made sure that these guys would come to our customer appreciation party. They did. And they cleaned up on female attention in a big way.

      Marines: Improvise, adapt, overcome – with consumer-grade electronics.

  29. I don’t understand. Poor people accept standard issue from the government and rich people buy their own gear. It’s a toss up. Sometimes you come out ahead and sometimes you either spent too much or too little. It’s tricky to know what is the right balance between performance and price. It takes experience to understand quality for a given product, function or industry. Without experience any label or spec sheet offers clues but isn’t the full story. I think spec sheets only apply to insiders and outsiders are duped by hype. Now if you can read long boring spec sheets then you know more and can make better decisions as a consumer.

    Okay I understand now. Mil Spec should mean something but sellers use it as a term to rip off customers and either make them buy a regular item that has a silly claim of authenticity when in fact any item would perform the same or it is just standard issue for inventory reasons and people buying custom gear could get something better but at a much higher price to performance ratio.

    mil spec or not I think your gun will work unless it’s made from some weird place or a relic. Buying as a civilian something stated mil spec is just marketing and doesn’t mean anything. I think civilians who never served who buy mil spec probably don’t shoot their guns or train much. They just like that branding because it gives them peace of mind.

    • This is where doing homework comes in before putting money down. The same applies to all kinds of other things (like computers). There are those that think only the poor shop at Walmart. Even though much of what Walmart sells is cheep junk and wears out quick. All too often, better quality can be had at a store in the mall for the same or better price.

      Buy and own what ‘you’ want. Not what your sold.

  30. I work for a barrel maker, and mil-spec barrels have extremely tight tolerances for land and groove and contour dimensions. I can’t speak for what “mil-spec” means in general, but if you get an actual mil-spec barrel you can be assure you’re getting a very tightly controlled product.

  31. You can have the best written specifications, but without documented evidence that the manufacturer is following them, they are worthless and so is the product. I worked in the Nuclear Industry for 30 years. We had to audit suppliers to verify they were manufacturing items “to spec”. Anyone advertising that their firearms are built “mil spec” should have documentation readily available to back that up.

    • Indeed.

      There’s a whole industry that does that. For some products independent testing is a requirement, n often a sensible one.

  32. How many names have you had in the past month troll? Over 8 by my count.
    What a pathetic existence. Enjoy the basement, and the Taurus Douchbag Splatter.

  33. I would say my Daniel Defense AR15 is a better rifle than my army issued M16. Both have great accuracy. Basically the same for both guns.
    But the AR is lighter by about 1 1/2 pounds. It has accessory rails. And K mod forend. Minus the select switch for full auto, I think my AR15 is a better rifle than my army issued rifle.

    With a bump stock acessory on an AR-15. You wouldn’t need a select switch. And it would cost you a lot less money for the rifle.

    The civilian market is way ahead of military requirements. Which are the minimum for anything.

    Colt simply does not make the best rifle anymore. And they haven’t made the best rifles for a very long time now. But they did get the military contracts for decades.

  34. The mil spec sidearm choice of the military is chambered in euro trash caliber 9×19.

    Which means the mil spec is a limp wristed NATO/UN sanctioned non gender bias approved POS.

    When they could have broken away from politically correct obsolete German invented weakling 9mm and picked the modern American invented scientifically proven superior Lightning Of God 40SW it speaks volumes about mil spec.

    And dont get me started on 5.56x45mm NATO.

  35. You know that saying, “Milspec sounds awesome unless you’re in the military and realize everything’s milspec and nothing works.”


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