When it is established that an Item of Supply is unique, its identity is fixed through the assignment of its own NATO Stock Number (NSN). NSNs are issued by NCBs.

The NSN is a 13 digit number and is divided into 3 parts :

  • The first 4 digits are the NATO Supply Classification Code and relate the IoS to the group and class of similar Items of Supply (see Paragraph 1.6.1).

  • The next 2 digits indicate the NCB assigning the NSN.

  • The final 7 digits of a NSN are computer allocated and have no inherent significance other than to uniquely identify the IoS to which they are allocated. In practice, this means that no inference should be drawn by the logistician or other data user based on any apparent serial progression. These 7 digits are assigned to one IoS within the originating nation's codification database, they may be duplicated in the Total Item Record (TIR) of another NCS user nation. To enable user friendly reading of NSN data, it is common for a dash to be inserted at strategic points in the NSN e.g. (1005-13-123-4567), however, whenever a NSN is read in an Automatic Data Processing (ADP environment, the NSN will be represented in its true form, (i.e. 1005131234567) as a thirteen (13) digit string.

An example of a NSN and related terms is shown below :

1005 13 123-4567
NATO Supply
Code (NSC)
NATO Code for
National Codification
Bureau (NCB)
NATO Item Identification Number
NATO Stock Number

The NATO Item Identification Number (NIIN) (Last Nine (9) Digits of an NSN) is the fixed part of the NSN, and it remains associated with the IoS concept throughout its life cycle. However, the NSC (First Four (4) Digits) may change if there is a revision of the IoS Classification structure. 

The principal benefits of the NSN are :

  • Uniformity. It is uniform in composition, length, structure and use.

  • Adaptability. It supports the varied requirements of logistics management in a supply system, both nationally and internationally, from initial procurement to final disposal of the IoS.

  • Simplicity. It is applicable without modification to all Items of Supply, it is unique, easy to assign, it is flexible to maintain and it is readily recognised throughout the user nations of the world.

  • Stability. The NIIN is associated with only one IoS in perpetuity, it is never re-allocated to another IoS even if the original IoS is no longer in use.

  • Compatibility. The NSN and its related data can be recorded and communicated manually or by all types of ADP systems (no two user nations have the same hardware / software configuration). Providing, through the fixed format rules of the NATO Data Exchange (NADEX) system, elegant solutions to the communications problems raised by the use of diverse operating, communication and supply systems in the current user nations.

Further the system provides for :

  • Expandability. Ten million different Items of Supply may be recorded for each NCB code.