Defense Packaging 101: Here’s what you need to know about packaging goods for the US Military

packaging for the US Military
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For many manufacturers, a contract award from the US Military can be a great business opportunity. If you are looking to scale up your operation, the Defense Department is a great client, as they buy high quality items at scale. But before you go rejoicing at a large contract, it’s important to think through the costs that you will encounter associated with packaging these items.

That’s right, I said packaging. That’s because while it is often an overlooked element of a contract in the commercial sector, packaging is much more specific and expensive in the defense contracting world. Here’s what you should know about defense packaging when selling to the US military.

The Purpose of Defense Packaging

The primary purpose of packaging goods for sale to the US military is to protect the contents during storage, handling, and transportation. Military equipment and supplies are often subjected to extraordinarily harsh environmental conditions, rough handling, and long-distance transportation, making robust packaging imperative. Whether it’s ammunition, medical supplies, or other products, each item must be packaged in a manner that ensures its safety and functionality upon arrival at its destination.

Whereas normal products are often packaged for a specific transportation journey, with known modes of transportation and a specific destination, products sold to the defense department have to be packaged so that the products can go anywhere. When the military buys an item, it doesn’t necessarily know if the item will be needed in southeast Asia or the arctic. It doesn’t know how it will get there or how long it will take. So the packaging needs to prepare the item to be shipped anywhere and everywhere, from the rainforest to the desert and back. This requires a higher level of packaging protection.

Defense packaging also serves additional purposes beyond protection. It facilitates inventory management, streamlines logistics operations, and enhances the overall efficiency of supply chain processes. Consider that the US Military has a huge logistics operation, moving products around the globe to support thousands of soldiers and servicepeople on every continent. Properly labeled and organized packaging enables rapid identification, retrieval, and distribution of goods, thereby supporting military readiness and operational effectiveness. Here are four things to keep in mind when bidding on a contract for the Department of Defense.


1. The US military basically invented packaging standards, so expect to adhere to them!

The US Military essentially created the concept of standardized containerization. So, if anyone is going to be strict about packaging standards it is them. Standardization in defense packaging is essential to ensure consistency, compatibility, and interoperability across different branches of the military and within multinational operations. Adhering to established packaging standards facilitates efficiency, reduces costs, and minimizes logistical complexities. Be prepared.


2. SPIs can be hard to understand. Make sure you have someone with experience on your team.

SPIs, or Special Packaging Instructions, which are the rule in Mil-Spec (or Military Specification) packaging, have a language and logic of their own. They are highly regulated and those fulfilling them need to cross their ‘T’s and dot their ‘I’s, so to speak. If you are fulfilling a defense packaging contract for the first time, you’ll want to work with someone who has experience navigating these SPIs who can interpret the rules for you. Not doing so could result in extra expenses and headaches if you have to repackage the items. Before you bid on a contract, you can reach out to an expert like Reid Packaging to help you understand the packaging requirements.


3. Defense packaging tends to be more expensive to produce.

For all of the above reasons, the costs can add up. Before bidding on a DoD contract, make sure you understand the requirements from start to finish so that you aren’t hit with a cost you weren’t aware of, especially in the packaging phase. We can help you navigate SPIs and other regulatory issues that you might encounter in fulfilling defense packaging requirements.


4. Know how to label Mil-Spec Packaging

Proper marking and labeling of military packaging are crucial for inventory management, traceability, and compliance with transportation regulations. Each package should be clearly labeled with essential information such as part numbers, serial numbers, expiration dates, handling instructions, and hazardous material warnings. There is a specific approach to this that should be studied before producing these labels.

Reid Packaging has decades of experience in fulfilling defense packaging contracts and we can help you and your company navigate the ins and outs of SPIs, mil-spec labels and packaging requirements. Get in touch to speak with one of our mil-spec experts today.