Why Military Grade is Another Way to Say Stuff You Don’t Need

Advertisers often use the term “military grade” to suggest reliability and desirability, but this view may not be shared by military personnel, troops, and veterans. Consumers who regard MOLLE, picatinny rails, and profuse camouflage as tacticool accessories rather than functional products may not have had the same frustrations with being issued gear that did not hold up to its original promise in the field.

But Military Grade = Tough Gear, Right?

The average citizen most often believes that the military branches contain a bunch of tough people. It would follow logic then, that the term “military grade” would be given to products and materials that are equally as rugged. Additionally, many civilians may believe that a “military grade” product must be durable or field tested. In contrast, troops and veterans believe that the military frequently grants contracts to the lowest bidder and therefore is often neither durable nor efficient. Something that is “military grade” is garbage to individuals who have been provided gear only to have it come apart after the most mundane uses.

an army soldier holds a stack of camo clothing to give out to troops

To someone who has never driven or repaired a military vehicle, Ford’s claim that its F-150 pickup has been “battle tested” because it is manufactured from a “military grade” aluminum body may sound cool. In reality, when exactly would the average person actually need a vehicle that would be as complex to use, or maintain? Apocalypse scenarios aside, it would be very impractical, and expensive.

According to Michael Levine, director of North American product relations for Ford Motor Company, the metal used to create F-150s is “high-strength, military grade aluminum alloy”. The term “military grade” refers to the specifications that 6,000 series alloy is also used to build Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Humvees. However, another use for aluminum in the armed forces could also be the dining trays- that could also allow a company to market their product as being “military grade”.
To be fair to Ford, manufacturers and fabricators have been advertising their products as “military grade” for decades, and Ford’s use of the term is no different. Ford has also stated that the F-150 is predominantly made of 6,000 series aluminum alloy, which is heat-treated after it is manufactured to boost its strength. So while the use of a material that is made out of the same stuff that Humvees are sounds really cool, there is again the rhetorical question of what citizen really needs these specs for a personal vehicle?
ford truck military grade alloy crushed

Additionally, Humvees, with all of their positive attributes, have some negative ones as well. These military vehicles were found to be exceedingly vulnerable to explosions from underneath, making them particularly dangerous in the early days of the Global War on Terror, when improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were being used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan. In reality, even with increased armor, the Humvee “remained a deathtrap in the event of an anti-tank mine detonation,” according to a 1994 assessment issued throughout the Army and Marine Corps.

Nonetheless, troops and veterans, unlike the average citizen, are well aware that “military grade” does not always imply that the product will be reliable or that it even caters to a good design. 


Military Grade History Doesn’t Promote the Allure it Intends

When veterans scoff at commercials that utilize the term “military grade,” it is usually based on their own negative experience with gear that has let them down. When the average citizen wants to buy camping gear, for example, they shop around and compare prices. They are able to look at multiple products and read which material would suit them best for the terrain they will encounter. In contrast, when a service member is issued gear- that is the equipment they will be using, regardless if they have a better or more reliable product they use during their personal leave, or off the job. Not to mention if that gear is lightweight and therefore easier to maneuver.

‘Military Grade’ has since often become synonymous with products that were adopted because they were up to the minimum of military standards, but the most cheaply made to veterans.

There’s a lot of truth in that statement. Until 1984, the Defense Department granted the majority of contracts to the lowest-bidders. The Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) was passed into law in 1984 as a foundation for the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and to foster competition and reduce costs. The theory was that more competition for procurements would reduce costs and allow more small businesses to win Federal Government contracts. It also was hopeful that with more options, the military would have better quality goods to choose from and that it wouldn’t be a tradeoff for the bare minimum at the lowest cost type of a situation.

Trying to Obtain Balance for Equipment

While many Defense Department contracts are now awarded on the basis of both quality and cost, the military continues to buy things that are not sophisticated using the “lowest price technically acceptable” procedure. It seems that old habits are difficult to break, even for those in charge of military purchasing. The Department of Defense, being the largest employer on the planet, does want what any other company does: to make sure money is being spent wisely. What they may be failing to listen to is that by going with lower prices and minimum standards, the rate of needing replacement would technically raise prices and most definitely raise frustration with its employees.

Just take some of the classic camouflage uniform fails for instance, there are two in particular that stand out: the Navy’s Type 1 working uniform and the Army’s Universal Camo pattern. The Navy’s Camo makes a perfect storm if a sailor were to go overboard, they would blend in exquisitely with the water and the Army’s Camo actually does the opposite of what it is supposed to do by making wearers stand out.

Despite contracting reforms, the Pentagon continues to fail, even in the case of big-ticket items, including the Littoral Combat Ships, which may go down in history as the most expensive artificial reefs ever built, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which could cost taxpayers $1.7 trillion in total.

Given the stark differences between civilian and military life, advertisers are likely to continue banking on describing their products as “military grade” to boost sales, while service members and veterans will continue to shake their heads and laugh at one of the biggest inside jokes civilians don’t get.

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