NATO Revises Defense Codification System in Colombia

The system was consolidated as a tool for transparency, inventory control, and stronger interoperability for NATO member armed forces.
Yolima Dussán/Diálogo | 4 January 2019

International Relations

Each North Atlantic Treaty Organization member nation uses the NATO Codification System to identify, classify, and enumerate supply items of NATO countries’ armed forces. (Photo: Denis Aslanov, AFP)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hosted the 14th Meeting for Users of the Defense Codification System (SICAD, in Spanish) in Colombia, November 6-7, 2018. The meeting allowed countries that share the software system to exchange experiences. Participants also raised technical and technological issues with the platform. Colombia hosted the meeting, with representatives of Spain—with more than 1.5 million catalogued items—Poland, Belgium, Peru, and Saudi Arabia in attendance.

“Awareness about the NATO Codification System [NCS]’s SICAD is increasing. We evaluated how important it is for the armed forces to be able to select items efficiently, thus shortening decision-making and acquisition times for an item,” retired Colombian Army Colonel Hernando Narváez, Technical Norms deputy director at the Ministry of Defense, told Diálogo. “The meeting enabled us to analyze the system’s benefits. Products are easier to identify and locate to meet logistics requirements of the armed forces effectively.”

The importance of a database

NCS consists of a set of activities and standardized processes that help identify, classify, and enumerate supply items of NATO countries’ armed forces to guarantee that a single item is known by a unique denomination and number. This prevents duplication, facilitates technical communication, reduces distribution channels, and establishes a common language, among other advantages.

The number, known as the NATO Stock Number (NSN), consists of 13 digits that identify supply items included in the NCS. Any product or service defense forces acquire must be registered in the NCS with its respective NSN. The first four digits are the NATO series; the next two are the country’s code, and the remaining seven represent the countries where it was codified.

The system includes file maintenance and provision of the updated data of all countries registered as item users. No category is left out: weapons, vehicles, aircraft, technology, food, office supplies, clothing, as well as all components and spare parts. In short, it’s a database about each item the armed forces bought.

NCS completely changes the way the military acquire assets and services. It means working with norms defined and approved by NATO member nations. These norms guarantee and standardize the correct operation of the codification system at the national and international levels.

Service members from member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) inspect equipment at the start of a multinational military exercise in 2018. NATO’s Defense Codification System was created after World War II as a tool to classify all equipment member states use. (Photo: Denis Aslanov, AFP)

Product of the Second World War

SICAD arose after the Second World War, as a NATO initiative to fix logistics problems allied armies encountered with supplies. In 1953, NATO member nations adopted the identification system, designed and used by the United States, which took on NCS denomination from that moment on.

“Many countries with the need to obtain supplies found that the same article had different codes, which made the request difficult,” said Narváez. “President Roosevelt suggested establishing a system for that item to have the same code at an international level. That’s how the codification started; it’s a very helpful system in times of peace and essential in times of conflict.” 

The Colombian case

Colombia joined SICAD in November 2013, after its Ministry of Defense signed an agreement with NATO, in a process that started with the approval of a sponsoring country and the signature of a cooperation agreement with five countries NATO chose. “The sponsor nation was Spain, and the countries that signed agreements with us are the United States, Panama, Italy, France, and Denmark,” Colombian Army Lieutenant Colonel Luz Amparo Betancur, national director of codification, told Diálogo. “After developing the structure from our Logistics Information System, we trained our personnel."

Colombia has 83,359 products, some catalogued and others identified. “Catalogued products are those we ourselves make; identified products are bought from the countries in the group. The work helps speed up the requests,” Lt. Col. Betancur said. “Each registry has detailed technical information that facilitates identification when arranging a budget or a contract, or when you want to do an inventory. The storer enters the SICAD website and identifies the characteristics of that element with all the necessary information to make the purchase decision.”

Colombia is among the group of western countries members of SICAD. Argentina, Brazil, and Peru are in the system, and Chile is in the process of joining the group. Twenty-eight NATO member nations and 30 non-member nations use NCS.

“Now we have a clause where companies winning a contract need to provide the Ministry of Defense with all the technical information from that element,” Narváez said. “If a country wants to work with transparency, they will opt for NCS without hesitation, because in addition to optimizing defense system acquisitions’ general logistics, it’s a tool that avoids corruption and enables transparency.”

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