What are National Stock Numbers (NSN)?
A National Stock Number is a unique identifying number applied to an item that is repeatedly bought, issued, and used throughout the federal supply system. According to the Defense Logistics Agency, NSNs are used to identify and manage nearly every imaginable item, from aircraft parts to light bulbs. NSNs are an essential part of the military’s logistics supply chain.
Why are NSNs important for Foreign Military Sales (FMS)?
The FMS process is used to allow foreign customers to procure standard USG items. An item is considered “standard” military equipment when it is assigned a National Stock Number. Seeking to register products with an NSN is thus an important first step in an FMS sales strategy.
The NSN is officially recognized by the United States Government, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and many governments around the world. Federal agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD), use the NSN to buy and manage billions of dollars’ worth of supplies each year. The Federal Logistics Information System (FLIS) catalog currently contains about 14 million U.S. NSNs. In addition, non-U.S.NATO members hold approximately eight million active NSNs that are assigned to items produced in their countries.
For Foreign Military Sales purposes, the NSN provides a unique identifying number for each piece of equipment. Although non-cataloged items (items without an NSN) can be occasionally purchased through FMS, the DoD acquisition system and the FMS procurement process rely heavily on NSNs. Foreign Customers may request a specific item by NSN, ensuring that the DoD procures exactly what they want. For U.S defense companies, having their products catalogued with NSNs becomes a strong competitive advantage for international arms sales under FMS.
How do items get assigned an NSN?
The DLA Logistics Information Service assigns all NSNs through a review process known as cataloging. Requests for NSNs are initiated whenever an item is repeatedly ordered or when a new weapons system is being developed. The U.S. military, government agency, or NATO country may submit a catalogue request when they identify a need for a specific item. Manufacturers and suppliers may not request a NSN.
How can Defense Companies get their products catalogued with an NSN?
While manufacturers cannot directly request an NSN, they can – and should – be vigilant to ensure that their products are catalogued. Effectively, in order to get a product catalogued, the company needs to sell it to the government. Once they make that first sale, the company should follow-up to make sure that their case manager submits an NSN request for the product. Companies can check on DLA’s website to see whether their product has a pending catalogue request. If not, the company should ask their case manager to submit one (and should provide any necessary information as well).
For a great reference on National Stock Numbers, see the Defense Logistic Agency’s NSN information booklet (pdf file).
What other questions do you have about National Stock Numbers? What is your experience in getting catalogued?