In the 1990s and 2000s the U.S. military issued performance standards for watches, based on results expected, not details of construction and appearance. Commercial watches that met the standards became accepted military supply items along with specialized watches that still had military specific designs. By the time of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many military personnel wore the watch they personally preferred rather than a standard GI watch.
The MIL-W-46374E specification for U.S. Military watches was issued 31 May 1989. It required a change from tritium luminous paint used with previous versions of the MIL-W-46374 to the use of tritium vials to contain the radioactivity that was the illumination source. The gaseous tritium vials were safer and more effective than paint. The design of the dial and the hands were updated and the H3 mark plus the symbol for radioactivity were required.
Typical marking for this watch:
Drawing of the MIL-W-46374F dial requirements, from the specification document.
Watch, Wrist, General Purp.
Dispose Rad Waste
Typical markings for a MIL-W-46374F Type 1 watch:
MIL-W-46374F Type 1
MILLICURIES UNDER 25-3N
Part No. SANDY 490
The standard MIL-W-46374F, issued in October 1991, added a Type 6 Navigator watch to the other types specified previously. Stocker & Yale responded to the new requirements with their P650 and P660 designs while Marathon Watch Company offered the Navigator 211 (photo, left). These higher quality Type 6 watches had sturdy plastic cases with a quartz hack movement and rotating bezels. The military ordered SandY P650 watches which were issued to Special Forces in 1995, and continued to be procured into 2000.
With MIL-PRF-46374G a new idea in U.S. Military purchasing was introduced, the Performance Standard. The military no longer specifies endless detail on the design of the watch, they just state what performance tests it has to meet. This gives manufacturers more leeway to be innovative and hopefully gets a better product for the troops at lower cost. Note that some watches under the prior standard have been procured this way, under MIL-PRF-46374F.
In the G standard, issued 12 November 1999, the most noticeable change is on the dial where all extraneous markings have been removed. Only the H3 and radiation symbol remain so users can focus on the hands and numbers. The case back has similar markings to earlier models.
Under MIL-PRF-46374G, the Navigator watch is now called Type III, Class 1, new terminology for the Type 6 of the prior standard. Typical markings for these watches:
The CAGE Code refers to Marathon. Some watches of lower grades have been produced by reference to MIL-W-46374G, not a performance spec. In 2000, Stocker & Yale withdrew from the military watch and compass business and sold that division of the company to Cammenga & Associates, Inc. a maker of the U.S. Army Lensatic Compass among other products. Cammenga later stopped making watches leaving Marathon the sole supplier of watches to the U.S. Military.
What are they wearing in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Watch on the arm of Army Sgt. Mike McClanahan, Tuz, Iraq, 20 June 2005.
Regulations and practice in the U.S. ground forces in the mid-2000s is to allow decentralization of watch purchases. Individual units can buy watches for their personnel or can specify standards for private purchase. No watch is issued nor is an allowance paid for purchasing one unless the unit commander has the budget for it and orders it. As a result, many types of watches are found, the same as in a civilian environment. However, there will be rules governing tactical situations that limit watches to non-reflective metals or plastic and other limitations for the military situation.
Pilots, divers, and other occupational specialties continue to have military watches available for issue.
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