Mil-Std-129 prescribes how DOD suppliers are to mark shipments to the military. Like many technical specifications it can be difficult to comprehend, particularly for those new to defense contracting. This guide is intended to simplify compliance with the latest revision of the Mil-Std-129 and provide some clarification of its complex rules.

mil-std-129R-PDF417 2D symbol
Mil-Std-129R Container Levels (DOD)

The first thing to know is that there are three kinds of containers: unit, intermediate and exterior, as shown below. There are rules for marking each container level, and for unpacked items. Note that pallets are not containers, rather something that containers sit on. However, there are special marking rules for their use, as well as Radio-Frequency ID (RFID) tagging implications.

Most shipments use a combination of unit packs and exterior containers. In a broad sense, the unit container may be thought of as the consumer packaging, while the exterior container provides protection for shipping and includes address labeling in the form of the Military Shipment Label(MSL). In cases where the exterior container serves as unit pack, only exterior container marking rules apply.

Migration to PDF417(2D) Symbols

The use of two-dimensional PDF417 bar codes for container identification was introduced in Mil-Std-129P (Notice 4) as a method of handling the demands of Unique Identification (UID) markings, which at up to fifty characters in length are practically impossible to represent with traditional Code39 linear bar codes.

The PDF417 is a very dense data symbology which can accommodate all of the data unit-container-serno2dpreviously required to be linearly bar coded (NSN, Contract, CLIN, CAGE and Shipment Number), as well as the maximum number of five serial numbers or UIDs per container. In Notice 4, the 2D symbol mostly supplemented the linear bar codes. Revision R went further, suggesting that the 2D symbol entirely replace all linear bar codes on container labels. For the contractor, this can reduce the number of labels and their complexity. For the DOD, use of the PDF417 allows the depots to use automated data collection systems, which was virtually impossible with linear barcodes. [more]

Have linear bar codes been entirely replaced by the PDF417? Not necessarily. Paragraph 5.4a states that the container identification must include PDF417 symbols and/or linear bar codes. This leaves room for interpretation and some degree of flexibility on the part of the supply chain. It may be advantageous for some data, such as serial numbers, to remain in linear bar code format in addition to the 2D symbol. This would allow automated data collection systems to read the PDF417 while still supporting those in the field with simple linear barcode scanners.

Exterior Container Markings

Exterior container markings are required on all exterior containers and unpacked items unless specifically exempted in the contract or solicitation. (Mil-Std 129, para 4.1.2 and para 4.44). That’s pretty straightforward. The definition of exterior containers includes unpacked items. More information is found about the required markings on the Exterior Container Marking page.

Military Shipping Label (MSL)

Each separate item in a shipment requires an address label in the form of a Military Shipment Label (MSL). To be precise, loose cases, crates, containers and pallets each require an MSL. The containers on a palletized unit load do not.

Unit Packs and Intermediate Container Marking

Unless specifically exempted in the contract or solicitation, the following identification information shall be marked on all unit packs and intermediate containers {Mil-Std 129, para 4.1.1) If the unit pack is also the exterior container, only exterior container markings are required (and not unit pack markings).

RFID Labels / Tags

Your contract should tell you if you are required to apply RFID tagging to your shipment. However, you may need to comply with RFID requirements even if the requirement is not mentioned in your contract. The criteria for RFID compliance is spelled out in the DFARS (Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement).

UID Container Labeling

For shipments containing items with Unique Identifier(UID) markings, it is required that the containers be marked with the Unique Item Identifiers(UII), using two-dimensional (PDF417) bar code symbols.

DD Form 1348-1A

Use of the DD Form 1348-1A as a packing list may be required by some contracts, often times for customer direct delivery (See ¶5.11)

In some cases, a DD Form 250 packing list with DD Form 1348 barcodes (see ¶5.12.1) is substituted.

5.6.3 Contractor-originated FMS shipments. The DD Form 250 shall be used as a packing list for contractor-originated FMS shipments in lieu of the DD Form 1348-1A, which may be used for FMS shipments originated by DoD activities. The DD Form 250 shall be prepared as specified in the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), Appendix F, Part 3, F301, Preparation Instructions.

Customer Direct Labeling / Direct Vendor Delivery (DVD)

In Revision R, the shipment term “customer direct” replaced “direct vendor delivery (DVD)” to align with DoD distribution definitions.

5.5 Customer direct (formerly direct vendor delivery (DVD)). Unless otherwise specified in the contract or solicitation, contractor- or vendor-originated customer direct shipments require identification and address marking with 2D (PDF417) and linear (Code 39) bar codes in accordance with this standard. The issue/receipt bar code marking shall either be placed on or printed on labels affixed to either the DD Form 250/250c or the commercial packing list. If placed on the DD Form 250/250c, they should be in blocks 15, 16, 17, etc. In either case, these documents shall be furnished in a packing list envelope as specified in 5.11.2.a.