HomeAbout UsBrowse This IssueBack IssuesNews DispatchesSubscribing to Army LogisticianWriting for Army LogisticianContact UsLinks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jump to top of page

 

 
Names, Numbers, and Nomenclatures

Has this ever happened to you? You’re deployed somewhere as part of a joint task force, and someone quite senior to you—a mean, grouchy, nonlogistician type—points to an object and says, “I want one of those!” Your first inclination is to respond, “Sure, no problem. What’s the stock number?” But you remain silent because you know his reply probably will be, “How the heck am I supposed to know? That’s your job. You’re the logistician.” The senior nonlogistician then walks away as he growls, “Order one, and let me know when it comes in. I need it now. If I wanted it tomorrow, I’d order it tomorrow.”

You’re left alone scratching your head. You not only don’t know what the item’s national stock number (NSN) is, you’re not even sure what the darn thing is called. Of course, the first step in ordering the item from the supply system is to find out its identifying number (an NSN, line item number, or some other identifier). But to find a number, you first need a name. Determining the item’s correct name is hardly a simple matter.

Let’s say the item is a widget. It is round, the size of a donut, and made out of some type of metal, probably steel. You wonder what its military name is. Is it a “round widget?” Is it a “steel widget?” A “round, steel, widget?” A “widget, round?” A “widget, steel?” Is it even called a widget, or is the word “widget” slang for some other, technical name?

Because of your experience, you know that using a logistics database is similar to looking up definitions in a dictionary. You have to know the exact (or nearly exact) spelling of a word or phrasing of a term in order to uncover its meaning. You won’t be able to find logistics information about a “round widget” if the large database you consult lists the item as a “widget, round.” Since you’re part of a joint task force, you wonder if the Marine Corps, Air Force, or Navy unit down the road has one. You also question if the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps all identify the item by the same name. (Unfortunately, they don’t.)

With no help available from within the joint task force, what’s your next step? If you’re going to identify your item and satisfy your impatient customer, you’re going to have to do some research. Obtaining the right name and number for an item is much more difficult than it appears. Nonetheless, a solid understanding of the complexities of the naming and numbering systems used by the Army, the other services, and DLA will help you obtain the information you need, not only to requisition an item but also to track the onhand and in-transit balances of that item worldwide.

Starting With FED LOG

Rather than the proverbial widget, let’s take a more concrete example. Let’s assume the request is for the vehicle shown in the photo to the left. What is its name? What is its identifying number? Both its name and its number depend on which database you search. Yes, the NSN for the vehicle is standardized and thus remains the same, but the NSN is not always easy to determine. Besides, the NSN often is not included in some of the more important databases, such as The Army Authorization Documents System (TAADS), the Army Pre-postioned Stocks (APS) Program, the Global Status of Resources and Training System (GSORTS), and the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System (JOPES). Many of these programs instead use the line item number (LIN) as the means of numerically identifying an item.

In your search to uncover the item’s name, you probably will use DLA’s Federal Logistics Information System (FLIS). DLA’s Defense Logistics Information Service (DLIS) at Battle Creek, Michigan, oversees the FLIS. A byproduct of FLIS is a database known as FED LOG, which is updated monthly and is available in CD ROM (six disks) or DVD (one disk) formats. FED LOG also can be accessed on the World Wide Web using disk 1 of an up-to-date (that is, less than 2 months’ old) CD ROM set. (To learn more about FED LOG, visit the FED LOG Information Center Web site at www.fedlog.com).

The FED LOG-Interactive screen shown above right displays one of the many data sets available within the FED LOG program. The screen depicts five related but distinct databases, one for DLA and one for each of the armed services. These databases are indicated by the five icons circled by the red oval at the top of the screen: FLIS, an Air Force jet, an Army tank, a Marine Corps buoy, and a Navy anchor.

Within the FED LOG database, a particular item is identified by numerous names and numbers. The types of names include the approved item name (AIN), generic nomenclature, NSN nomenclature, colloquial names, and end item identification. The types of identifying numbers include the NSN, LIN, item name code, item designator number, end item code, model number, and part number; the part number must include the 5-digit Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code for identification purposes.

The good news is that the NSN and the approved item name are standard among the services and DLA. The bad news is that the databases of the services do not always use the NSN or the approved item name. Moreover, the approved item name that is shown in the FED LOG database typically displays a maximum of 19 characters; that field length often is too short to describe the item so a user can quickly grasp what it really is. The item name in our example does not indicate if the vehicle is a 5-ton truck or a 1G-ton truck; it just says “Truck, Utility.” (See the second red oval on the screen.)

 

Selecting Names

Let’s take a look at the methods used to select names for equipment and supplies. The FLIS uses what it calls the “item name” as its standard naming convention. The item name consists of three parts: an item name prefix (which is allotted a maximum of 10 characters), a short name (allotted a maximum of 19 characters), and a name root (allotted a maximum of 1,743 characters). In FED LOG, the item name prefix and the short name are identified in the “Item Name” block. The full name (including the name root) is shown in the “Characteristics Segment” (Segment V) under the Master Requirements Code (MRC) “name” block. The lengthier full name typically incorporates the 19-character (or less) short name. For the purposes of this article, the term “item name” will be used for “short name.”

The character length used to identify an item in the data field is important because a name becomes more precise as it gets longer. This is illustrated in the chart on page 21. A character can be a letter, a digit, a space, a punctuation mark, or a symbol. In these examples, a data-field length of only 13 characters simply indicates that the item is a utility truck. However, look how much more information about the truck is included in a name that is 64 characters long. On the other hand, a character length much longer than 64 characters would be unwieldy and too long to fit on a single line of an Excel or a Word document file.

DLIS assigns item names based on the recommendations of the services, other Federal agencies (such as the General Services Administration), and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members. DLIS also assigns a 5-digit item name code (INC) for each item name it approves. There are currently over 42,000 approved item names. Item names that have not yet been approved are assigned the 5-digit code of 77777.

Referring back to our example, the NSN for the vehicle in the photo is 2320–01–371–9577. Its approved item name is “Truck, Utility,” and its INC is 11354. If you were authorized to order this item and were lucky enough to know its NSN, you could use FED LOG to find out all types of information about it, including its source of supply and related management, transportation, and characteristics data.

Military Names Have Not Yet Been Standardized


Besides the AIN, other ways are used to identify the name of an item, not all of which are shown in FED LOG. Although DLA uses the item name in its FLIS database, the Army and Marine Corps typically use a naming convention called “nomenclature.” “Item name” and “nomenclature” are not interchangeable terms; they can be quite different, although in some instances an item’s nomenclature will be based on its item name.

The Army nomenclature refers to the vehicle in our example as a “Trk, Util M998A.” The Marine Corps nomenclature is different from the Army’s. The Marine nomenclature for this item is “Truck, Utility,” which, in this case, is the same as the item name. NSN 2320–01–371–9577 also has colloquial names associated with it, such as “High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle,” “HMMWV,” or “Armored 4x4 Crew Cab Pickup.” (See the red oval at the bottom of the screen.) It also is called a “Truck, Utility: Cargo/Troop Carrier, 1G Ton, 4x4, M998” in the Army’s Technical Manual 9–2320–280–10.

Different logistics-related databases within the Army itself use different nomenclatures for this specific NSN. Department of the Army (DA) Pamphlet 708–3, Cataloging Supplies and Equipment, Army Adopted Items of Materiel and List of Reportable Items, identifies both an Army “generic nomenclature” and an “NSN nomenclature.” The generic nomenclature is restricted to 64 characters and consists of the FLIS item name followed by a colon and additional descriptive information. The NSN nomenclature is restricted to 21 characters and contains the basic noun that identifies the item along with other data that describe its make, model, size, and so forth.

Besides the NSN, this item also can be identified by its INC of 11354, an Army LIN of T61494, a Marine Corps item designator number (IDN) of 08770B, an end item code (EIC) of BBN, and a CAGE part number of 8750297. Unfortunately, this variety of naming and numbering methods reduces the usefulness of logistics databases across the Department of Defense (DOD), requires users to consult several different databases in order to retrieve item information, and prevents the integration of logistics data into an all-encompassing, interoperable, user-friendly database.

Navigating the Data Sources


In many cases, uncovering logistics information is detective work. Knowing how to navigate through the search features of FED LOG will assist you with
your efforts. For instance, you can use FED LOG to obtain the NSN for an item when you only know the LIN. A search of Supply Bulletin (SB) 708–21, Cataloging Handbook H2 (which can be accessed via www.dlis.dla.mil/forms/forms.asp), lists name-related titles of Federal supply classifications (FSCs). These can provide you with the corresponding FSC, which is the same as the first four digits of the NSN (2320 in our example). You then can use the FSC as a FED LOG search criterion to determine the appropriate item name, nomenclature, and national item identification number (NIIN). The NIIN is the same as the last nine digits of the NSN (01–371–9577 in our example).

DLA’s Cataloging Handbook H6 (which can be found at http://www.dlis.dla.mil/h6/h6_guide.asp) provides several ways to search its database, including a keyword search, an FSC search, and an INC search. In other words, you can use one of these three data elements to find the other two. (The H6 handbook also provides Federal Item Identification Group information, but that is beyond the scope of this article.)

When you have neither the name nor the identification number for an item, a good place to begin your search for both is SB 708–21 (the H2 handbook). As noted, an FSC has four digits (the same as the first four digits of the NSN). The first two digits of an FSC refer to the Federal Supply Group. The title of Group 23 is “Ground Effect Vehicles, Motor Vehicles, Trailers, and Cycles.” The last two digits of the FSC are known as the “Federal Supply Class,” which provides even more detailed information than contained in the group. For example, an FSC of 2320 (consisting of Group 23 and Class 20) includes wheeled trucks and truck tractors (see chart above right).

GROUP 23
Ground Effect Vehicles, Motor Vehicles, Trailers, and Cycles
2320 Trucks and Truck Tractors, Wheeled

Note-This class includes only complete wheel mounted trucks and truck tractors, and chassis therefor. Any end items, assemblies, parts, attachments, or accessories other than complete chassis, for use in or on such trucks or truck tractors are classified in classes other than this class.The combined chassis and body of a special purpose truck, such as a machine shop, mobile laundry, or dental laboratory, is classified in this class. The complete mobile unit, consisting of chassis, body, and additional equipment, as in an equipped truck mounted machine shop, is excluded from this class.
Includes Panel, Delivery and Pick Up Trucks, Tactical and Administrative Military Cargo Carrying Vehicles, including Wheel Mounted Amphibian Vehicles; Truck Tractors and Trailer Combinations; Armored Cars.

Excludes Fire Trucks; Special Construction Type Earth and Rock Hauling Trucks; Motorized Air Compressors; Motorized Concrete Mixers; Construction Specialized Machinery Generally; Specially designed trucks for use in and around airfields, hangers, and warehouses; Tracked and Halftracked Vehicles.

This FSC could be used to find the appropriate NSN, though this is not necessarily a simple process since each FSC can include thousands and thousands of different NSNs. Of course, the more information you have about an item, the easier your search will be.

If the FLIS expanded its database to include a standard “approved nomenclature” (which would incorporate the item name but also include appropriate modifiers so that the data field length approached but did not exceed 64 characters), and if all pertinent DOD logistics databases used approved nomenclatures along with the corresponding NSNs, many of the data incompatibility issues plaguing DOD would be resolved. According to DLIS personnel, many standardized nomenclatures are already in use in some areas, such as electronics and aerospace. If item managers for vehicles and other major items would standardize their naming practices, a new data element for “nomenclature” could be appended to the AIN, thereby standardizing the name. The services would still be free to use other naming and numbering conventions within their databases, as long as they used the approved nomenclatures and NSNs as well.

As this article demonstrates, the two most important pieces of data needed in order to retrieve supply information are the names of items and their identifying numbers. Logisticians who master the H2, H6, and FED LOG databases will be able to find the appropriate NSN, LIN, item name, and nomenclature for the items they need. These critical data then can be used to exploit the logistics information found in TAADS, JOPES, and Joint Total Asset Visibility (JTAV), as well as other databases such as the Global Transportation Network’s (GTN’s) in-transit visibility (ITV) systems.

Let’s return to our scenario to finish the story. After lengthy research, you find out that the crusty nonlogistician’s Army unit is not authorized this type of widget on its modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE). So there is no sense in ordering the widget now, since the transaction would only be rejected by the supply system. However, you help the unit write up a DA Form 2028, Recommended Changes to Publications and Blank Forms, and a DA Form 4610–R, Equipment Changes in MTOE/TDA [table of distribution and allowances], so that the Department of the Army can review whether or not the unit should be authorized this item. You also conduct a JTAV search, which shows that a Marine Corps unit located nearby has an “extra” widget, which it agrees to loan to the Army unit you’ve been supporting. You then assist the Army unit in completing the temporary hand receipt.

When all is done, you feel good about yourself. Your knowledge of supply helped a supported unit, even though one of the leaders of that unit was only vaguely aware of the substantial effort it took on your part to do so. Almost on cue, the grouchy nonlogistician pushes by you, picks up the widget, and prepares to leave. However, just before he does, he notices that his boss’ vehicle parked nearby has a new, eye-catching antenna. “Hey, supply guy,” he says to you as he departs. “I don’t know what it’s called, but get me one of those deals too.” So it is back to your research. ALOG

Lieutenant Colonel James C. Bates, USA (Ret.), works for Alion Science and Technology and serves as a sustainment planner for the U.S. Joint Forces Command, J–9 Transformation, Distributed Continuous Experimentation Environment, in Suffolk, Virginia. He is a Certified Professional Logistician and a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and holds an M.B.A. degree from the University of Hawaii. He may be contacted at James.Bates@je.jfcom.mil.

The author wishes to thank the subject matter ex-perts at the Defense Logistics Information Service for their invaluable assistance in the writing of this article.