MIL-SPEC connectors, also known as MS or Military Standard connectors, are electrical or fiber optic circular shell connectors that were originally devised by the military for tactical service and aeronautic applications in the 1930s. At the time, they were called AN or Army/Navy connectors, but their name is not the only thing that has changed about these complex components since then. Today, they serve as a standard feature in military equipment and other demanding environments, such as marine, aerospace, oil and gas, industrial, and automotive sectors.
MIL-SPEC connectors in particular were developed to protect connections that are subjected to environmental extremes; thus, being constructed with durability in mind. Depending on the application at hand, connectors can be chosen for their corrosion, vibration, and temperature resistance characteristics. Nonetheless, they are generally composed of a mating pair, one half which consists of a plug and the other a receptacle. Keep in mind that each pair must match a male (pin) contact with a female (socket) contact.
To achieve electrical connections, the connectors are made of a phosphor-bronze or beryllium-copper alloy that is plated with some type of highly conductive and non-corrosive metal like gold. For fiber optic connections, the connectors are typically male plug connectors that feature a protruding ferrule which holds the fibers in place and aligns them properly so a connection can be made. It is important to consider insertion loss when making a decision. Insertion loss is a measurement in decibels (dB) of the amount of signal power or light that may be lost during installation.
Choosing a MIL-SPEC Connector
To narrow down connector selection, we will outline the main parameters to take into consideration.
The number of contacts determines how many conductive elements are in a particular MIL-SPEC connector. They provide an electrical path when the connection is formed between pins or sockets. There are many types of coupling methods available, including threaded, bayonet, breech lock, quick connect/spring rack, and ball detent coupling variations.
The connector housing is called a shell and is often made of anodised or plated aluminum for protection against corrosion. Shell housings are designed in a variety of styles such as straight or angled plug, in-line or cable, dummy, jam nut, through-bulkhead, and other shell receptacle types. Similar to contacts, connector shells are also gendered as male or female. The male plug is often called a free connector or header, and it is normally adjustable and affixed to a removable sub-assembly cable. To make a circuit connection, it is inserted into a female connector that can be a jack, receptacle, or another outlet.
Terminals, on the other hand, can be attached to studs, posts, or other conductor types to achieve an electrical connection. They can be screws, lugs, cage clamps, wires soldered onto PCB, quick-connect tabs, and many others. Complex terminals are also common, those of which include the use of a solder cup or cable insulation with an insulation displacement connector.
As their name suggests, MIL-SPEC connectors are specially designed to comply with military specifications, some of these specifications include MIL-C-5015, MIL-C-22992, MIL-C-26482, MIL-C-26500, MIL-C-27599, MIL-C-38999, MIL-C-81703, MIL-C-83723, MIL-DTL-5015, MIL-DTL-32139, MIL-DTL-38999, MIL-DTL-83513, MIL-DTL-83723, among others.
Beyond such specifications, MIL-SPEC connectors are also available with specialized features. For instance, some connectors are designed for underwater use, or they can be hermetically sealed to prevent leakage of any internal moisture. Additionally, they can be furnished with ESD/EMI shields or RFI/EMI filter characteristics.
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