MIL-STD-810G is series of tests designed by the U.S military to test its equipment limits in various conditions where it is expected to be used (environment) or transported (shocks). The test vary according to the nature, size and weight of the equipment tested.
The suite and test specifications are very extensive and cover a very large array of conditions and situations. That said, in the context of consumer electronics, which is what we cover, nearly all the references to MIL-STD-810G has to do with the MIL-STD-810G Transit Drop Test (shocks). It may also happen that tests about Hot/Cold temperatures and humidity resistance are invoked, but it’s rare to see anything else. Here’s a list from Wikipedia:
- Test Method 500.5 Low Pressure (Altitude)
- Test Method 501.5 High Temperature
- Test Method 502.5 Low Temperature
- Test Method 503.5 Temperature Shock
- Test Method 504.1 Contamination by Fluids
- Test Method 505.5 Solar Radiation (Sunshine)
- Test Method 506.5 Rain
- Test Method 507.5 Humidity
- Test Method 508.6 Fungus
- Test Method 509.5 Salt Fog
- Test Method 510.5 Sand and Dust
- Test Method 511.5 Explosive Atmosphere
- Test Method 512.5 Immersion
- Test Method 513.6 Acceleration
- Test Method 514.6 Vibration
- Test Method 515.6 Acoustic Noise
- Test Method 516.6 Shock
- Test Method 517.1 Pyroshock
- Test Method 518.1 Acidic Atmosphere
- Test Method 519.6 Gunfire Shock
- Test Method 520.3 Temperature, Humidity, Vibration, and Altitude
- Test Method 521.3 Icing/Freezing Rain
- Test Method 522.1 Ballistic Shock
- Test Method 523.3 Vibro-Acoustic/Temperature
- Test Method 524 Freeze / Thaw
- Test Method 525 Time Waveform Replication
- Test Method 526 Rail Impact.
- Test Method 527 Multi-Exciter
- Test Method 528 Mechanical Vibrations of Shipboard Equipment (Type I – Environmental and Type II – Internally Excited)
Drop Test (Shock)
The important point here is to understand that a MIL-SPEC certification does NOT mean that the device could resist battlefield conditions (meaning “in combat” or “on the frontlines”). That is why consumer devices look radically different from their military counterparts that are extra-bulky.
The MIL-STD-810G* drop test consists in testing the resistance to shock of all the equipment surface: all faces, edges, and corners. In total, 26 drops from about 4 feet (phones, laptops) are necessary to perform the complete drop test. Since tests are done to test specific areas of the equipment, manufacturers can divide the 26 drops over five different devices. After each drop, the equipment is inspected for damage.
*Note that if you hear about the MIL-STD-810F, it’s an older version of the standard which was discontinued around 2008.
Also, the drop surface is 2-inches of plywood (on top of concrete) because it is the most likely surface that things fall onto in a military transport context. In the real world, this may be different because people stand on concrete, metal or marble more so than on plywood. Not perfect, but good to know.
The “drop test” is also called “shock” tests in certain documents. These tests are designed to measure the durability of equipment during load/unloading and transportation.
The 501.5 and 502.5 tests could be relevant if you live in areas with extreme conditions whether it is desertic or frozen. There are three testing procedures for this:
- Procedure 1 (storage): the goal is to see if the exposure to extremes temperatures will impair the equipment from functioning later
- Procedure 2 (operation): test if the equipment works properly and normally under extreme conditions. The temperatures can either be sustained or be varied, to simulate day/night cycles or exposure to heat/cold sources.
- Procedure 3: for hot temperatures, the test consists in storing the equipment under a temperature that exceeds the maximum “functioning temperature”, then run it at the specified running temperature. For cold weather, it’s a manipulation test to see if the equipment can be manipulated when wearing heavy winter gears.
Some tests can be done to test the resilience of the equipment to these elements. However, the electronics industry tends to use the Ingress Protection rating or IP Rating to measure and communicate about these capabilities. You can learn more about IP Ratings, but the general idea is to measure how much water or particles (dust, sand) can penetrate the equipment.
It’s also important to understand that water-resistance doesn’t always mean water-tight. Water can come in, but it should not impair the functioning of the equipment.
I won’t cover tests such as “acidic atmosphere” or “fungus” resistance because they don’t apply to the things we talk about on this site (yeah, how would you phone fare against fungus? lol).
The takeaway is that while the MIL-STD-810G certification does provide some indication of durability, it doesn’t really reflect real-world conditions. You should always check which tests were performed. Don’t assume that the device passed all of them.
Be mindful that these tests can be done by private labs and many OEMs don’t actually get a government certification, but can still claim to have passed the tests. It’s great if your equipment is MIL-STD-810G, but it doesn’t mean that you can be careless with it.