Looking forward to the future of journalism

Learning about the arcane world of stock numbers and missile launchers

Missile Launcher and Jarrette Schule

One of the interesting things about journalism is you learn something new every day. And this odd story definitely qualifies.

Jarrette Schule found what appears to be an anti-tank missile launcher on his rural property in the Hill Country. When I visited Jarrette and saw the missile launcher, I realized I would have to try to confirm if this thing was actually real. So I started taking a ton of pictures of it — especially of this decal on the side:

Decal of Missile Launcher

When I got home I studied that photo. I keyed in on the “NSN” term. I had never heard of it before but it seemed kind of like a social security number for military hardware. It turned out “NSN” stands for “National Stock Number” and it’s used to identify military equipment. Stock numbers are widely used and have even been fictionalized. The pulse rifles in “Alienshave stock numbers, which makes Aliens even more awesome.

I looked for official government Web sites to learn more about this particular stock number and found this searchable database maintained by the U.S. Defense Logistics Information Service. The URL of the Web page ends in a “.mil,” meaning it’s a military site. As a reporter, that’s the kind of thing I look for — authentic sources of information.

Related: Top five books every student journalist should own right now

This site allows you to plug in a stock number and I typed in the 13-digit number from the decal. The query returned a match. I got a report stating this number is for launchers that fire Dragon surface-to-surface missiles. It didn’t prove conclusively that this launcher was real, but it was a piece of the puzzle, and I was more comfortable writing a story about the discovery.

Thanks to Jarrette for being a good sport and letting me learn something new about the arcane world of military stock numbers and anti-tank missile launchers.