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UK military packaging requirements – An essential guide

Ian Heskins: Last Updated 27th March 2024
Posted In: Design & Innovation | Guides and Advice | Transit Protection xx 31628

A guide to military packaging requirements

An overview of how to source military-level packaging

If your business supplies products directly or indirectly to the defence sector, it is vital that you have a solid understanding of UK military packaging requirements.

But what information do you require to pack military goods?

UK military packaging requirements include adherence to defence standards (def stan 81-41). Packaging suppliers must also hold the MPAS (Military Packager Accreditation Scheme) certification. Extensive testing, alongside information including Nato Stock number, size and weight, Primary Packaging Quantity (PPQ) and contract number, is also required.

Military personnel unloading packing cases from an army vehicle.
There are several pieces of information required in order to manufacture defence standard packaging.

This article provides you with all of the relevant requirements for your defence packaging, including:

  • Requirements of your packaging supplier.
  • Levels of military packaging, including information on def stan 81-41.
  • A checklist of required information when sourcing military-grade packaging.
  • Additional considerations and requirements.


Supplier requirements

What is the Military Packaging Accreditation Scheme?

Due to the complexities and specialist knowledge required to produce military packaging, packaging suppliers themselves must be certified to the appropriate standards.

From July 2012, any company supplying Military Level Packaged products to the MoD must ensure their packager complies with the Military Packager Accreditation Scheme (MPAS). Designed around the needs of the MoD, this updated accreditation scheme replaces the existing Defence Pkg DR/14 requirements for packaging design for the defence industries.

The MOD created MPAS to ensure that the design and production of military-level packaging meets the relevant defence standards, making packaging safe for handling, transit and storage within the military supply chain.

Aluminium cases under camo nets
A wide range of packaging types are commonplace as part of the UK MOD packaging requirements.

Defence Standard 81-41

Besides being MPAS certified, military packaging suppliers must work to a detailed set of defence standards.

Defence standard 81-41 is that which applies specifically to packaging. These standards result from the MOD outlining the requirements of packaging to protect goods against deterioration and physical and mechanical damage. The standard sets out six parts. It mainly focuses on environmental conditions to preserve items during storage, general handling and distribution, or rail, road, sea and air transit.

The six parts of Defence Standard 81-41 are:

  • Part 1: Introduction to defence packaging requirements.
  • Part 2: Design.
  • Part 3: Environmental testing.
  • Part 4: Service packaging instruction sheet (SPIS).
  • Part 5: Production processes.
  • Part 6: Package markings.

What is a SPIS?

Certified packaging companies design military containers for specific requirements to suit the demands of the contract. The design is called a Services Packaging Instruction Sheet (SPIS).

A SPIS is, therefore, essentially a guide to maintaining, cleaning and packing military equipment. An SPIS is only required for military packaging.

Often, the SPIS will dictate the use of a specific material – such as a single wall, solid fibreboard carton traditionally used for small items that are sealed in a polythene envelope within the carton.

Corrugated fibreboard packaging
Corrugated fibreboard is widely used for various military packaging requirements.

What is a DEFORM 129A?

A DEFORM 129A is a document a packaging supplier can request to see the current status of an SPIS design, whether one exists, or even discover if a Standard Family Specification (SFS) has been used against the item being packaged.

A DEFORM 129A can also simultaneously request authorisation to send a copy or update the existing SPIS, switch to an SFS instead, or produce a new SPIS design.


Which products require military-level packaging?

To determine the specific items that can/should be packaged under def stan 81-41, you must refer to the latest version of the standard and any associated documentation provided by the UK Ministry of Defence.

Since standards can be updated or revised, it is recommended to check with the UK Ministry of Defence or the relevant authoritative body for the latest information on def stan 81-41 and its application to packaging-specific items.

An aircraft canopy in specialist military packaging
Products ranging from ammunition to large aircraft parts require specialist, def-stan packaging.

Military packaging grades

Identifying the level to which your packaging needs to conform

In accordance with the Ministry of Defence Standard 81-41, there are three common packing levels for preservation:

  • J – for items which may be stored anywhere in the world, within any climatic condition, for up to 2 years.
  • N – for items which could also be stored anywhere in the world, in non-climatic conditions (clean and dry), for up to 5 years.
  • P – Similar to commercial packaging and can be designated to items which need to be stored for up to 5 years but only in normal storage conditions.

Depending on the items you need to be packaged and stored will determine which type of packaging will be required.


Information required for the manufacture of defence packaging

Having identified the relevant product info and packaging level for preservation, you’ll need to provide various information to your MPAS packaging provider.

The information required to pack military goods typically includes:

  • A Nato stock number (NSN) is a 13-digit, unique identification number allocated to every item that the Ministry of Defence (and most other military forces) uses.
  • The name and description of the item which is going to be packaged.
  • Which department of the Ministry of Defence (Army, Navy or RAF) is responsible.
  • The manufacturer’s part number.
  • Size and weight of the items.
  • Primary Package Quantity (PPQ).
  • If the MOD is likely to keep your item in storage, and for how long.
  • Your items’ fragility factor.
  • Your items’ level of resistance to g-force.
  • Your items’ centre of gravity (this can be essential for safe lifting and loading during transportation).
A missile in a custom flight case
Following the checklist of requirements will allow your chosen defence packaging supplier to manufacture suitable solutions for your specific products.

Additional packaging considerations

Requirements for labels, lifting and reusable packaging

It is essential also to consider several other elements of your military packaging, especially for large or complex items.


Labels must also comply with Part 6 of defence standard 81-41. However, You can find certain materials used in labelling under different standards – both def stan 75-3 and def stan 80-132.

You must safeguard external paper labels using either a waterproof and transparent strip of tape with pressure-sensitive adhesive or a layer of adhesive emulsion and polyvinyl acetate.

Other labels, such as IPSM15, already exist for pallets, whereby the wood is heat-treated to allow you to ship goods between countries.

Handles and lifting

The decision on whether military packaging necessitates handles or lifting aids rests with the designer and will be contingent upon the characteristics of the item(s).

Suitable handling equipment is necessary when items are excessively heavy for manual lifting.

Military personnel lifting packing cases onto a vehicle.
Military packaging may require handles, but the decision is generally left to the designer.

Reusable packaging

Guidelines from the Ministry of Defence (Defence Standard 81-041 Part 1, Section 5.5 b) stipulate that packaging design should facilitate reuse and/or recovery whenever feasible to reduce the environmental impact of packaging waste. Nonetheless, for specific items, reusing packaging may not be practical.


Selecting a military packaging supplier

Military packaging typically requires greater consideration than standard packaging due to the added complexity and the nature of the challenges (and environments) it must cope with.

Mission-critical equipment must be protected against all eventualities, arrive intact and remain serviceable with the appropriate documentation.

As MPAS packaging suppliers with over 30 years of experience in the specific demands of military packaging, GWP and the wider Macfarlane Group can supply defence standard packaging regardless of your product, application, or challenges. Besides an extensive range of specialist defence packaging products, we can also provide you with free, impartial advice.

So, if you need help with military packaging requirements, please speak with one of our packaging experts.

Further reading

About the author

Ian Heskins

Ian Heskins

Business Development Director | GWP Group

Ian is one of the founding Directors of GWP, using his broad knowledge acquired over more than 30 years to oversee new business strategy.
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