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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II, as an alliance for the collective defence of North America and Europe. There were originally 12 member countries in the NATO Alliance, but this has since expanded several times. There are now 29 member nations, with several other countries forming an association with NATO through the 1994 Partnership of Peace initiative.

As part of the allied defensive treaty, all NATO members made an agreement to standardise their military equipment and procedures, in order to simplify logistics and processes amongst member nations and facilitate sharing of stores and military support. The common standards also allow technical interoperability of equipment, information and communication systems, which is essential for joint military operations carried out by NATO members and their Allies.

NATO Stock Numbers

All material items of common stock-types that have been recognised by NATO and catalogued are issued with a 13-digit NATO Stock Number. This standardised numeric code is used in all treaty countries as well as by some non-NATO members such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Any item carrying a Nato Stock Number (NSN) is known as "stock-listed," and can be identified and used interchangeably.

NSNs are issued by the organisation that manages the coding system, the National (or NATO) Codification Bureau (NCB). Individual NCBs can publish their own NSNs, in consultation with NATO to ensure that the item is recognised. Once it has been established that some part or supply item is unique, it is assigned an NSN which permanently fixes its identity.

What Are NSN Parts?

NSN Parts are those supply items which are stock-listed under the NSN code for use by the military. These can be anything from a flat washer to a truck tyre, a pencil or a control module for field comms, with the item name also standardised. Every possible item of equipment is catalogued, including domestic furnishings, medical and dental supplies, office equipment and vehicles, as well as the more obvious items such as weapons and ammunition. NSN Parts can be as small as a wing-nut or as large as a battleship, not forgetting spacecraft, railway locomotives and track!

NATO Stock Number Structure

The 13-digit NATO Stock Number is comprised of three separate sections:

The first four digits of the code (FSCG) represent the Federal Supply Classification Group and were initially categorised according to classes of similar parts. Federal Supply Group 14, for example, is the class of guided missiles, with different categories within that class having 14 as the first two digits.

The second two digits -10, 20, 30, 40, etc. - represent the classification of a particular item within that class. Thus 1410 is the FSC for a guided missile, while 1430 is the missile's remote control system and 1440 the launcher.

The group of two digits following the first four shows which NCB assigned the NSN, with the USA being 00 and 01, and the UK 99. A guided missile launcher issued with an NSN by the UK, therefore, would be 1440-99.

The last seven digits of the NSN are each part's own identification number and are randomly allocated by a computer so that no significance should be given to any sequence or place in it. However, these last seven digits may be the same as the last seven digits assigned to a different item by a different NCB, but the preceding two digits will then be different.

Furthermore, it is possible that NATO may revise the first four digits of the supply classification so that the part numbers are regrouped, but the final nine digits (the NATO Item Identification Number, or NIIN) represent the fixed identity of the NSN, and will be unchanged throughout the item's lifecycle.

The NSN system works because it is uniform in its structure, composition and use, and can be applied to any supply item without modification. This unique numbering system is easy to assign, flexible and easily recognised by all its user nations, allowing the same equipment to be used everywhere. It also allows simple expansion, as each NCB code can support ten million different NSN parts.

The NSN is usually written for human users in this xxxx-yy-zzzzzzz fashion, but for automated readers, the dashes are omitted.

In the UK an additional alphanumeric code may be appended to the NSN for domestic management of military parts, which is known as the Domestic Management Code (DMC).

Where to Buy NSN Parts

Rowse Electrical has been a valued supplier to the military sector for more than 14 years. Our easy automated quote feature locates your part at the touch of a button: all you need to do is enter the NSN. When we've located the part for you, hit the Request Quote button and we'll get back to you with an instant quote.