From COUGAR to MOOS-DAWG: 2013’s strangest military acronyms

19 December 2013 (Last Updated December 19th, 2013 18:30)

Just when you thought military acronyms could not get any more contrived, silly, ingenious or tortuous, as 2013 comes to a close we are delighted to report the industry hasn’t let us down this year. Here in a festive special are the best and worst that came to our attention over the last 12 months and have baffled, intrigued and entertained us.

From COUGAR to MOOS-DAWG: 2013’s strangest military acronyms

MOOS-DAWG

Just when you thought military acronyms could not get any more contrived, silly, ingenious or tortuous, as 2013 comes to a close we are delighted to report the industry hasn't let us down this year. Here in a festive special are the best and worst that came to our attention over the last 12 months and have baffled, intrigued and entertained us.

Animal kingdom

Animal acronyms are always a popular choice for the military, and the tendency to select more aggressive beasts was picked up on with Northrop Grumman's ground/air task oriented radar (G/ATOR) and DARPA's compact ultra-stable gyro for absolute reference (COUGAR) programme.

The meeker side of the bestiary was not forgotten, though, with the tactically exploited reconnaissance node (TERN), generic ocean array technology sonar (GOATS) and portable all-terrain wireless system (PAWS) all contenders.

However, for combining two animals while making the reader mentally adopt a southern US accent, take a bow mission oriented operating suite - development and applications working group (MOOS-DAWG).

Clever stuff

There is no doubt that some acronyms have undergone a little more thought than others, like the US Army's IED detection system, shadow class infrared spectral sensor-ground (SCISSOR-G). Possibly the cleverest of all are those programmes where the contraction relates directly to the meaning, such as brain research through advancing innovative neurotechnologies (BRAIN).

Also deserving a head-nod of intellectual appreciation are simulation toolset for analysis of mission, personnel & systems (STAMPS, multi-user system environment (MUSE), research on core noise reduction (RECORD) and vanishing programmable resources (VAPR).

"Possibly the cleverest of all are those programmes where the contraction relates directly to the meaning."

Blatant backronyms

Conversely, the inventors of some abbreviations try too hard, transparently starting with a cool word and coercing the technology name to fit, a concept known as the 'backronym'. One case in point is BAE Systems' advanced radar target indication situational awareness and navigation (ARTISAN) system.

Also suspected of falling foul of the backronym challenge are advanced wide FOV architectures for image reconstruction and exploitation (AWARE), solar portable alternative communications energy system (SPACES), command operations interference navy (COIN) and Stevens passive acoustic detection system (SPADES).

And while MALE UAS have been with us a while, they are now joined by a future european medium-altitude, long-endurance (FEMALE) version. But will there be an armed model, deadlier than the MALE?

The name game

Sometimes when you see human names adopted for military technology, you suspect a secret tribute to the project manager's children. Examples are Lockheed Martin's joint asset management engineering solution (JAMES) and IFS Defense's autonomic logistic information system (ALIS) for the F-35.

Even though the result is slightly misspelled, the US Army deserves credit for calling a jamming product of its communications electronic attack with surveillance and reconnaissance (CEASAR) programme networked electronic warfare, remotely operated (NERO).

Military matters versus not tough enough

There are bonus points for any acronym that can be made to sound like it has military heritage, like the US Navy's Mine Warfare and Environmental Decision Aid Library (MEDAL), and the Cultural Awareness for Military Operations (CAMO) project underway in Afghanistan.

Similarly tough-sounding are handheld azimuth measuring, marking, electro-optic imaging & ranging (HAMMER), and joint effects targeting system (JETS).

"There are bonus points for any acronym that can be made to sound like it has military heritage."

On the other hand, you have to wonder how some fluffier names made the grade. No-one will quake in fear at the mention of turboshaft engine exhaust noise identification (TEENI), distributed agile submarine hunting program (DASH), or, borrowed from the passenger air industry, common-use terminal equipment (CUTE) and common-use passenger processing systems (CUPPS).

Frankly baffling

This year, several acronyms received 'could do better' on their report cards, for making pronounceable combinations that aren't real words, such as data reporting analysis corrective action system (DRACAS) and British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS).

Some of them sound nearly-but-not-quite rude - take for example Thales' Future Communiations (FUCOM) study for the European Defence Agency, and the multinational maritime training exercise, code-named FRUKUS because it involved the French, Russian, UK and US navies.

And some words seem like a completely unsuitable choice for a military project, one extreme example being demonstration of satellites enabling the insertion of remotely piloted aircraft systems in Europe (DeSIRE).

The tastiest acronym of all

And finally, for sheer Homer Simpson-inspired deliciousness, BACN - otherwise known as battlefield airborne communications node - an airborne communications relay and gateway system hosted on a variety of aircraft. Mmmmm, BACN...

If there are any humorous military acronyms we've missed, be sure to get in touch. Given this year's crop, there should be plenty of material for 2014's strangest list.

Defence link


Related content


Deep Secret - secure submarine communications on a quantum level

Quantum key distribution technology could enable submarines to communicate securely both at depth and speed. Berenice Baker investigates how rapid underwater communication can be achieved at a level of secrecy protected by the very laws of physics themselves.

Video feature: Building the supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford

In just four years, workers at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, US, have built a machine of mammoth proportions. Since the first keel was laid in 2009, shipyard workers have laboured around the clock to complete CVN-78 USS Gerald R Ford.