I suspect that anyone who serves, or has served, in the armed forces will accept, I think, that they exist or have existed in an acronym-rich environment.

I first became aware of this as a very junior subaltern, and was moved to write a whimsical piece for my regimental magazine which incorporated as many of the then current acronyms in everyday use that I could think of.

It was indeed a foreign language to everybody else.


This article is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal. If you would like to submit your own article on this topic or any other, please see our submission guidelines

The author, Stuart Crawford, was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. 


More recently I was reminded of this phenomenon when compiling the glossary for a military themed book I have just completed. It runs to at least four and a half pages of mostly acronyms. Although most would probably understood by the military reader, a civilian would most likely be mystified by the bulk of them. We military and ex-military people do speak a different language at times, which is probably not altogether a good thing.

More recently, however, I have been alerted to the growing concern over what can only be described as military gobbledy-gook being spouted by, in some cases, the higher echelons of our military hierarchy. The first example I took any note of was when a commander of some nameless organisation asserted that his unit’s mission was to “deliver effects”. What on earth does that mean? It sounded to me like he was in charge of a white van delivery service.

Whatever has happened to “defeat the enemy”?

I noted that there was a groundswell of opinion on the topic from others on this particular topic, so I decided, as one does in these enlightened times, to turn to the wonderful world of social media to ask my fellow travellers for examples with which I might further illustrate this article. Some of the responses are listed below and need no additional comment from me.

Some of the views expressed were:

“Pieces written at the senior level could come straight out of a business management lecture from the 1980’s, hosted by David Brent. The ability to write so many words and yet say so little make politicians look like amateurs.”

“It’s awful in some places. Some of my favourites so far: ‘Unpacking a problem’ ‘Get after it’ ‘Opera-cise’ ‘Federated Sprints’ ‘Set piece back briefs’ ‘Leadership acumen’ ‘Talking to space’ ‘Information is lethal’ ‘Blue light matrix’. The list goes on and on.”

“If only real English were used in grammatically normal sentences then it would at least be understandable. The lazy careerist adoption of ‘vogue’ phraseology is an area I would seek adjustment. ‘Get after’, ‘piece’ and countless short-hand phrases our allies don’t recognise.”

“Some recent examples: ‘delivery’ for anything from projects to security but not of supplies; ‘migration’ meaning change; ‘stepping up to plates’; ‘victim operated devices’ (mines); ‘interface’ (boundary); ‘game-changer’; & the worst alongside ‘delivery’ is ‘kinetic’ for lethal.”

“‘Getting after’ has made its way into the Navy too. I don’t think it’s going away any time soon as CDS and the other 4*s use it all the time … any unscripted address or Q&A session with a senior officer seems to include a few ‘getting after’s’ these days. Absolute nonsense.”

“When did parachuting become ‘Joint Theatre Entry’? Why? It’s just total rubbish.”

And some examples from official published sources:

“Today, all operations are a combined effort. Pulling together every component of the army, including those engaged in activities in cyberspace, to create an irresistible effect. All elements in an orchestra, operating in harmony.”

“Air-to-air sniping is about as challenging as it gets. The seam between the air and ground domains is complex, the RAF Regiment brings focus and intellectual rigour to understanding this environment.”

And finally a heartfelt plea from a civilian organisation on the prospect of moving away from such mumbo-jumbo:

“That would be super useful for those of us who work with the MoD as a client who aren’t military ourselves.”

Now, these quotes are merely the result of a random straw poll on Twitter and cannot be taken as hard scientific evidence of the extent of the plague that currently besets military language. Nor am I the best qualified to draw attention to these matters, in fact some would say that I am hardly qualified at all. For those who might to delve deeper into the lack of plain English in current military discourse may I draw your attention to the splendid article ‘It is time to kill our darlings by the wonderful and expert Merryn Walters in the online blog The Wavell Room? 

I won’t spoil it for you but must just feature one particular quote here:

“There is no easy way to put this: until leaders turn their backs on buzzword-laden homilies that are an inspiration to no man and, instead, find some respect for a skill mastered by few but instinctively admired by many … we will carry on shooting ourselves in the foot. It is only a matter of time before that will lead, directly, to someone getting shot in the head (if it hasn’t already).”

And in passing I must just ask; has anybody hired Ms Walters to teach our senior officers how to write and speak in plain English and, if not, why not?

The other question I need to ask is why people do this? Why do they employ obscure and convoluted language to express themselves when there are easier ways to get their ideas across? I think there may be a number of inter-related answers to this one. The first is perhaps acceptance, or the need not to be seen to be different from the current paradigm. If CDS, for example, is championing this sort of gibberish then best just to go with the flow and not stand out. Might not be good for future advancement, know what I mean? It’s very easy to fall prey to what others have called “the tyranny of the prevailing orthodoxy”, although maybe I’m in danger of going down the same path with that one!

Next might come what I call entry into the brotherhood of the cognoscenti, a sort of closed, quasi-masonic sect, without having to go through all the hassle of rolling up your trouser leg and jumping over the goat’s back, or whatever they do. Using the convoluted language and expressions of modern military-speak brings admittance to an exclusive club where everyone can speak complete codswallop without fear or criticism or ridicule because all the other members express themselves in the same manner. Safety and security from the outrageous arrows of fortune in the form of the mirth of others is provided by the exclusive language cult.

Closely related is the overwhelming desire to be regarded as clever and smarter that one’s direct competitors and peer group. In their minds using esoteric language signals their higher intelligence and greater knowledge, gaining entry to the brotherhood of like-minded souls who, clearly, are a superior breed. The reality is, of course, is that it tends to do exactly the opposite and make those who espouse the new military-speak the objects of amusement and ridicule. Plus most folk don’t have a Scooby-doo what they’re talking about.

So, a plea from me and many, many others. Let’s get back to using plain, simple English in our written and spoken communications. As the army diminishes in size and accordingly becomes even more distanced from everyday society, being understood by both the soldiers under command and the population at large becomes ever more important. If they don’t understand, they are less likely to be supportive. How could they be? They don’t know what’s going on.

I finish with some words of advice from George Orwell, who I think most would agree was quite good at writing:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word when a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Orwell’s fifth rule above seems to me to be particularly apposite, and I commend it to you. Senior officers and their drafting staff take heed!

Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. He now works as a political, defence and security consultant and is a regular commentator on military and defence topics in print, broadcast and online media.
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Baldrick
Baldrick
10 days ago

I have followed Merryn Walters work for a while and I strongly suggest everyone else does. Nothing is dumbed-down – quite the opposite in fact – but presented in straightforward no-nonsense English. She knows her stuff.

Tim
Tim
7 days ago
Reply to  Baldrick

Anyone remember that bus driver who got an award for changing the operation manual from “Adust the climate controls for best passenger comfort” to “Turn the heater on when it’s cold”?

I never understood why cutlery is called diggers, or sleeping bag a dos bag, or my favorite; a housewife is a sewing kit! Why not use the same names as everyone else on the planet?

Darren hall
Darren hall
6 days ago
Reply to  Tim

Digger… “Foods ready dig in”… Doss, to sleep rough, Dossbag “a bag to sleep rough in” The term housewife referring to a portable sewing kit was used in print for the first time in 1749. Such kits were also known as a “hussif”. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was common for mothers, wives and sweethearts to embroider personalised sewing kits for their menfolk to take to war… “hence the Housewives package, became House wife… I understand what people are saying, but why should we loose our language, colloquialisms, military jargon just to be ”hip”… Before JPA we would be… Read more »

Something Different
Something Different
10 days ago

To be a contrarian there is nothing wrong with a profession having a common lexicon which the current generation of practitioners understand and utilise. What may seem incompressible to a previous cohort in the industry may just be appropriate in the modern context. For example in the IT world words and phrases that may have seemed jargon at one point (such as e-mail, cloud, file storage, operating system etc) is such common parlance that quite a lot of the general public understand, or at least heard of, these terms. Also, some individual phrases that have been called out for scorn… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by Something Different
Trevor Holcroft
Trevor Holcroft
10 days ago

Not sure that is quite the right point. e-mail as an example is a good descriptive word. In the electonic world everything was/ is new. A new language, a new lexicon was created by necessity by IT. And as we see, its created it’s own two letter achronym.
But we have had ‘artillery’ for centuries. Why now does it have to be called ‘fires’?

expat
expat
9 days ago

But doesn’t every language evolve, words like ‘sick’ now have different meanings today than 20 years ago. People are drawn to the need to be part of a group or fashionable so use language differently, this is just another permeation of that and part of human nature.

Airborne
Airborne
9 days ago

Because nowadays “fires” is a term which covers all indirect and direct weaponry when used in the offensive support role, to include fast air ordnance, missiles (both ground and air launched, smart or dumb) mortars and other such ordnance delivery system. While I agree that there is an excess amount of corporate speak by head sheds, I am a firm believer that terminolgy should change with the weapons and task description and capability. Cheers

TrevorH
TrevorH
9 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

Dont see the logic in that at all. You have listed a wide range of munitions, juts what does ‘fires’ mean?

Airborne
Airborne
9 days ago
Reply to  TrevorH

Yes I have listed a large list of munitions which are to be used in the offensive support role, and provide the kinetic effect. Suppose you, and me no longer need to see the logic, but as a previous JTAC, it’s called “joint fires,” and fires for short. Modern warfare has changed and changes continuously and the terminology to describe both actions and capability needs to change also. Here’s a simple one, no longer is a rifle a rifle, it’s now a weapon system due to the fact a different number of “systems” can be added to improve its operational… Read more »

TrevorH
TrevorH
9 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

Hmm
A rifle fires bullets. The vast majority of which don’t hit their target.

It could easily be called an Area Supression Delivery System…. with Minimum Collateral Damage

It’s a rifle.

Airborne
Airborne
8 days ago
Reply to  TrevorH

Its actually a weapon, add further capabilities to it and it becomes a system. But you can call it what you want want mate, as it seems to be an issue with you. But I also see you also ignored the previous explanation in regard to fires. Don’t worry, the military moves on and many of the older served lads do get left behind and don’t understand current thinking. And I’m not refering to the corporate chuff the head sheds bleat, I’m talking about the changes in capabilities and assets which also eventually require a different nomenclature and description.

dan
dan
6 days ago
Reply to  TrevorH

All depends on who’s firing said rifle. lol

Rogbob
Rogbob
8 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

It is actually still a rifle. Calling it a weapon system takes longer and doesnt describe what it does without even more words because “weapon system” could be anything from a flick knife to Trident. Rifle tells you exactly what it is and its broad capabilities. Did you/others really refer to it as a “weapon system” when someone say dropped one, or you asked them to pass it to you or they told you theirs was broken/jammed? What if they had the rifle and say another “weapon system” such as a pistol, machine gun or rocket type with or near… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
8 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Maybe in the RAF you call it a rifle as it’s not your primary role, but as it’s more than a rifle, it becomes a system. And generally if you need to talk about it, to the armourer etc you call it a weapon. And once you add further capabilities it becomes a system. But, then again, many pie and mash units call it a gun……..

Rogbob
Rogbob
8 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

You do realise that denigrating other’s service (and assumptions make what remember…), doesnt really form an effective argument as it just illlistrates you cant counter a point? Still, if that’s your style then that’s just your style I suppose. For the record, when I served alongside Royal Marines they referred to it as a rifle. To easily distinguish it from all the other weapon systems. (And called it the carbine when we switched to that variant as more suited to what we were doing) They were the most professional and effective soldiers I’ve seen, far above the Infantry I’ve been… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
8 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Wow talk about pot kettle. That was a most childlike response, to my simple statement that as you once stated you repaierd “chinnys” and confirmed to me you served in the RAF, then the “rifle” was not your primary role/task. What was the problem with that? have I hit a nerve? I do appreciate your efforts at pontificating and instead of countering an opinion with another opinion, you seem to try to admonish others for having a seperate experience and lose your “cool front” and resort to childlike “experience dits”. You would seem to be the most experienced and professional… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
7 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

Wowser, that was dafter than I expected. Nope not a RM, although if I’ve regrets its not going down that route as they really impressed me. I suppose given the RAF have actual complicated things called weapon systems, a rifle seems absurdly simple so whilst there is a vast array of complicated terms say to do with a Typhoon, it would be laughable to apply that approach to a mere rifle. Unless you want to appear more intellectual and pretend that really they are similar in some way. No idea why you mention RMs and “fires” with regard to me,… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
7 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Oh dear, if we are talking about upset you do seem to be spending far to much time making best effort at justifying yourself. Theres no need, Im not overly concerned. But you still ignore the subject matter and continue to resort to child like comments and child like phrases. And as for “fires”, er, come on, please make an effort to read your own posts, your final paragraph is all about the term. But, I do expect you to ignore that and go off on a tangent, with some “my experience dit”…..bah blah. You have to understand, this is… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
7 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

Ahh, interesting, so you dont see a need to justify yourself or evidence experience to make an argument, it just “is” what you say it is. Which explains your complete inability to take being challenged or even questioned on the BS you spouted. Please just qoute where I’ve linked fires to the RMs. But hey, you like whinging about tangents so I’m hardly surprised you go off on one. As for childlike: “ many pie and mash units call it a gun” “ do appreciate your efforts at pontificating” “ and we all should be learning from you, thats for… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
7 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Wow, your responses continue to come thick and fast, and continue to contain immature replies. But at least we didnt get a “my experience” dit, which surpasses all others, and thats a bonus. Advice for future communication, maybe listen to other people, and if you want to reply, try not to make out that yours is the only voice to be heard. Comunication is two way, not just your way.

Rogbob
Rogbob
6 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

Ah, I miser a reply, what a shame. I had a nagging sense the world had deteriorated a bit more but I put it all down to penalties. You really need to get a dictionary and look up irony and hypocrisy! Seriously I’ve not seen such a case of bleating complaints about your own behaviours in this forum before! Honestly your posts right from the outset dripped with snide remarks aimed at anyone not on your self appointed pyramid and goading comments – but boy can you not take what you give eh! Look, its not my fault you fell… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
6 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Completely ignored the question and tried to deflect with more extended waffle. It’s just that it’s interesting to know why an RAF missile engineer (18 years ongoing) is talking to people about “fires”! Which raise the question (well quite a few) about when you were “ANA, embedded” as the mentoring the Kandaks, only started on 2006 (OMLTs) first was non Inf ,7RHA, the rest on ever HERRICK was Inf. Other questions are now raised in regard to your TA service, “2000s” etc…. I could go on, lots more you have claimed, none add up. It’s only an internet site for… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
6 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

A much slower response this time I see. Most commentators will be suprised at your bluff, bluster and childish diversionary reply, to my polite (not demanding) question. Therefore I will ask once more, could you please let me know how an RAF misslie “engineer” (18 years ongoing) would need to talk to to various people in regard to “fires”? Is that at FST, TACP level, or Bde/Div Arty Cell level? Also, how would an RAF missile engineer (18 years ongoing) (apologies for my probably incorect terminology) be deployed in an ” fully embedded” mentoring role to a Kandak, when you… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
6 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Ah just reading your reply once more, as sorry to say I only skim read it prior as it was quite boring, I see you have to talk to others about “fires” “as you have and do”, and you have to add a question/modifier on what fire it actually is….I’m intrigued on how and why you need to speak to people about it? Do you mean on the ground on a fire mission, CAS mission? Or at planning Bde/Div level? Thank you in advance.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

To me ‘weapon system’ sounds as if it should refer to a major medium/heavy weapon, possibly a crew-served weapon when often just a rifle, used as rifle, is meant.
Seemes strange when we like to shorten everything (Afghanistan to Afghan, non-commissioned officer to NCO – that we want to be more wordy elsewhere).

Sorry, I am old school, but not resistant to (good) changes.

Got to go – must now get to the Line of Departure with my 5.56mm weapon system to deliver some kinetic effect to a major player (with support from the fires people, of course!)

Airborne
Airborne
6 days ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Mate im also pretty old school, and know when head sheds are talking corporate chuff. But the rifle thing was just an example (taken way out of context by the argumentive amongst us) of how names can and do change, of both weapons and systems, to describe the “newer” or more updated use or changes to capability. “Fires” is another good example, as thats in common useage and actualy does describe, and collate all the various assets and capbilities of modern OS, which isnt all just kinetic effects or just Arty. Cheers mate.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
6 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

Thanks Airborne. I always enjoy your posts. Served alongside your kith and kin in Colchester in 2006-9, less a sunshine 6-month break in Helmand.

Airborne
Airborne
6 days ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Thanks mate, lovely Colchester, still live there now….

Wilbo
Wilbo
8 days ago
Reply to  TrevorH

Fires means fire support, usually indirect and in support of ground troops.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago
Reply to  Wilbo

True. I am an old codger and prefer the term ‘fire support’ or a more specific term to define what type of fire support ie ‘CAS’, ‘artillery support’, ‘mortar support’ etc.

Terminology would then be common – in use of the word ‘support’ ie ‘Engineer support’, REME support’, logistic support’. So why not stick with ‘fire support’ too.

No advantage in saying ‘fires’ – its too American, too imprecise.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago

I fully agree with your last point. ‘Fires’ is clearly an Americanism, possibly dressed up to be a ‘Natoism’; it has replaced the much better words ‘artillery’ or ‘fire’.
Even worse is ‘the very passive sounding ‘Line of Departure’ rather than ‘Start Line’.

Lou Armour
Lou Armour
9 days ago

Technical language is OK but verbiage is not. ‘Business acumen’ makes sense, ‘leadership acumen’ shows ignorance of the meaning of the word leadership.

Last edited 9 days ago by Lou Armour
Gareth
Gareth
10 days ago

As I was reading this I was thinking exactly that I’d encoutered this before in George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language, only then to come across the quotes from the very same that the author references. History certainly has a habit of repeating itself. Orwell wrote his essay in 1946. Here are a couple of representative examples of the above from that time which he quotes: “Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes such egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate or put at… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by Gareth
Nick Cole
Nick Cole
10 days ago

Well said!

David
David
10 days ago

This sort of crap language is everywhere. I first came across it in the ’80’s when I heard an American explain that he was in a job he hated because he “was in a negative alternative employment situation”. Since then it has invaded most sectors of UK working life as well.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago
Reply to  David

The words we now have for a ‘bin man’ defy belief! I could cipe with ‘refuse operative’, but we now have ‘cleansing team member’ etc.
Back to subject – politicians have long since used this weird verbiage for nefarious purposes, thus we have a ‘restructured army’ or ‘an army fit for purpose’ or a ’21st Century army’, rather than mentioning that it is very much smaller and can take on fewer tasks.
Too much business-speak in the MoD and weird Americanisms throughout Defence.

Ron
Ron
10 days ago

Well said that man, I totally agree, when I was in school I was taught to write short and directly to the point. When In later life I was asked to write a evaluation on a piece of equipment which I did a 30 page document and a four page summery. By the time my American boss finished with my work it was 150 pages and a 30 page summery. After the work was presented the senior engineers got me to the side and asked me what the hell had I presented, I gave them my four page summery a… Read more »

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
10 days ago

Hi Stuart, This is a great article and highlights a real issue for the services and MoD. However, it is nothing new. I read a book about WW1 a couple of years ago and there was a passage referring to the working relationship between the British and newly deploying US forces. Apparently, the Americans prefered working with the French because the British spoke the kind of gibberish you describe even back then! I also had experience of this in the written word when I was working as a contractor. I was helpfully given a functional block diagram of a system… Read more »

Andy P
Andy P
10 days ago

“Closely related is the overwhelming desire to be regarded as clever and smarter that one’s direct competitors and peer group. In their minds using esoteric language signals their higher intelligence and greater knowledge, gaining entry to the brotherhood of like-minded souls who, clearly, are a superior breed. The reality is, of course, is that it tends to do exactly the opposite and make those who espouse the new military-speak the objects of amusement and ridicule. Plus most folk don’t have a Scooby-doo what they’re talking about.” ^^^^^^ This. Its hard to take the ‘business talk’ guff seriously at the best of… Read more »

Ian M
Ian M
10 days ago

In my role as a Technical Training Specialist I often come across corporate jargon from the top floor, but this is as nothing when compared to the military. I often have cause to be subjected to many examples of the drivel mentioned in Mr. Crawford’s excellent article by the red tab brigade, who, once handed the talking stick are very reluctant to pass it on. I served 24 years in the Army and still find the best and most effective communication tool I have in my box is to speak my mind, use the vernacular where appropriate and sound like… Read more »

Trevor Holcroft
Trevor Holcroft
10 days ago

Indeed.
Acronyms are increasingly impossible to follow, and add to that a string of letters formed from first letter of meaningless words that spell a catchy word.

Press releases are increasingly indecipherable.

Andy P
Andy P
9 days ago

Press releases are increasingly indecipherable.”

I must admit, when I’m reading an article on here and I’ve picked up the bones of it thanks to the writer I tend to skip the quotes from the highheidyns from either the Forces or the Contractor. You know its going to be bollox. I then skip onto the comments.

Ian
Ian
10 days ago

Part of the reason for using rather generic descriptive language is that it (hopefully) fosters innovative thinking by deterring the mindset that there is only one way to achieve a goal, e.g. getting troops into theatre, eliminating the capability of an enemy platform to threaten you etc. The phrase ‘deliver effects’ for example can encompass disabling a target by jamming it or blinding its electro-optic systems, or by blasting it off the face of the earth (the latter being a ‘kinetic’ effect). Which is the best solution depends on the circumstances.

Alan McShane
Alan McShane
9 days ago
Reply to  Ian

?

Rogbob
Rogbob
9 days ago
Reply to  Ian

Not unreasonable point, in theory, except what I think actually happens is that all this BS just saps capacity as people have to interpret “deliver effects” and think about what it means then go “oh, we mean put people and kit where they need to go, which we know because its obvious”. So we actually think less as thinking is occupied translating, and we then switch off in wearisome frustration. Plus before we did this, its not like we didn’t innovate – we created the global industrial revolution, the armoured fighting vehicle, the all big gun armoured warship, the jet… Read more »

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Strike is an interesting word. First used by the RAF, possibly, when they formed Strike Command which was the amalgamation of Bomber Command and Fighter Command, with the slighlly later addition of Signals Command and Coastal Command. So mixing kinetic with support components. But this word usage was for an organisation, not a concept.. Use of the word ‘strike’ in the army is unclear to me. I presume it means delivering ‘kinetic effect’ against light and medium armour and strongpoints. But does it include armoured reconnaissance, as Ajax (a Strike vehicle) was originally roled as such? Does it include the… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
6 days ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Strike was always meant as “instant buckets of sunshine” hence the Bucc being S1/2 as a nuclear capable bomber using tac nukes as its primary weapon. Hence also the S in TSR2. Not sure who got there first but RAF/RN seemed certain of that concept upto the end of the cold war (hence SHAR FRS1, having WE177 against surface targets – Ive even heard a claim that the S in helicopter HAS was for strike via nuclear depth bombs!) From Tornado, Strike was used to mean a nuclear task, hence I think Strike Comd as although the deterrent had passed,… Read more »

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
6 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Thanks Rogbob, the army is certainly in a mess. Development of the heavy side became increasingly ignored as soon as HERRICK started – my own tank support project in 2010 at Abbey Wood did not survive. The army got good at doing counter-insurgency, provincial reconstruction and training team/mentoring stuff in hot/arid Afghan with some good UOR kit – but much of that UOR kit was not taken into core and we have had skill fade on Afghan-type operations since Oct 2014 close-out of HERRICK. Army comes back to UK to find the armour has not been developed in the 12… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
6 days ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Mate thats the best summary ive read for some time. No “corporate” speak there lol. The sad thig is the Army is mostly to blame for its own sad situation. Constant re-evaluation of needs and requirments, continued changes to CONOPS etc all mixed in with political direction, CDS inactivity (where it was needed) and the “selling” of the Strike concept which has cost the Army most of its armour. Sad to say the RN has got there shit together, had plans and stuck with them and are in the best shape they can be at this time. Cheers.

Rogbob
Rogbob
6 days ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Yeah I can certainly sympathise with the Army having to fight the fire in front of it, very much my world at the moment, but even then it took a few years to get to that realisation. Against that the heavy stuff was largrly abandoned. But you cant but heavily criticise say the Warrior saga whilst Ajax seems flawed from the outset too. Neither of those lacked for money or interest – yet the decision making and execution has failed one and seems to be failing the other. I think the bigger failing is not looking back at the last… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
5 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Can I ask why its “very much your world at the moment” as you stated you are, I quote “RAF 18 years ongoing ASRAAM, METEOR technician”? And who did you warn about FRES, as during that time, in the 2000s you stated you were in the TA/AR, at sub unit level increasing your recruitment figures “with a very good PSI”? I await a polite response for a polite question.

Ian
Ian
7 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

True- there’s always a danger that you complicate things when it’s not appropriate to do so.

Rogbob
Rogbob
6 days ago
Reply to  Ian

Quite – thats the problem, this is all complicated enough without adding to that. Problem is people get brainwashed by it and think its special when it’s just daft – proper Emperor’s Clothes scenario. The other issue being the force’s culture is very poor at dealing with that incoming truth, although that’s probably true of any organisation really.

If I knew the solution I’d be making a fortune selling it 🙂

Nemesis
Nemesis
10 days ago

While not wanting to detract from a good article I found it ironic to use the word “apposite” in the last paragraph when “apt” would have done. Especially when it is used in reference to rule 5.

Peter S
Peter S
9 days ago

This kind of gobbledegook isn’t confined to the military. It is common in large organisations, especially those with top heavy management structures. Senior staff with little real work hide the pointlessness of their roles by initiatives whose lack of substance is concealed in meaningless jargon. Stripped to simple English, the truth would emerge. Anyone questioning the new speak is seen as awkward or disloyal as those without a real role continue to protect their unneeded positions.

John Ivor Jones
John Ivor Jones
9 days ago

Sadly army I served in 1975/83,long since passed into history…I ask who are the rifles?,Mercians,and such the county regiments were a backbone,all very sad

Mr Bell
Mr Bell
9 days ago

You think the military have a lot of acronym. Try the medical professional groups. We have more then anyone could possibly imagine.

David Steeper
David Steeper
9 days ago

Maybe the answer is that every time you hear someone spout this b……. laugh at them. Even someone as vacuous and dim as the average officer will twig.

Barry
Barry
9 days ago

It’s primarily so they don’t upset the civil servants with the cold hard reality of War fighting.

PaulSergeant
PaulSergeant
9 days ago

In short in matters animal, vegetable and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern major general.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JTSpFksJ9LQ

Paul.P
Paul.P
9 days ago
Reply to  PaulSergeant

Very good 😀

Andy
Andy
18 hours ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Answer the General Baldrick:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDQ1ljlnSjU

Paul.P
Paul.P
9 days ago

We see this phenomenon in many walks of life. For what its worth my view is that it is a symptom of a deeper malaise; a loss of sense of identity and purpose. Its a kind of cry for help…

PaulSergeant
PaulSergeant
9 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

No, not a cry for help. There is plenty of help: defence committee, public accounts committee, infrastructure and projects agency, national audit office … but none of these understand the generals’ language (and if they find out then the language is changed).

The generals don’t understand that incomprehensible language doesn’t make them experts, it makes them irrelevant.

Paul.P
Paul.P
9 days ago
Reply to  PaulSergeant

Nah, I’ll stick with my original assessment. If you sound confusing its
because you are confused. And unfortunately for the rest of us they are relevant because they are running the show…they need to be sent for a month to some kind of therapy to get themselves sorted out.

PaulSergeant
PaulSergeant
9 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Fair enough

Rogbob
Rogbob
9 days ago

As an example, one service was transforming its terms and conditions, trades and so on. It had a load of projects to do that. A key aim was engagement with the junior ranks throughout all the projects. Each project had a latin name. Latin. Who the fk learns that anymore? It took a junior rank forcibly making the point for the penny to drop with the 2 star and their coterie. To be fair they changed it, but it made me weep TF at nobody in the months of planning had thought of this, or had said anything, or had… Read more »

Airborne
Airborne
9 days ago

Correct to a degree as there is so much corporate chuff being spoke at senior levels it can be confusing and slow the understanding of the target audience. However there is always going to be a necessary change in terminology as weapons, tactics and effects change, and warfare is much more asymmetric, both kinetic and none kinetic (to include cyber etc). Therefore I do believe that terminolgy should rightly change with the effects and requirements of the mission/task, and is used and understood by those at the coal face. But yes he is correct in the fact that the higher… Read more »

David Steeper
David Steeper
9 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

Kinetic ? Why not just say kill or negatively impact there life expectancy going forward ?

Airborne
Airborne
9 days ago
Reply to  David Steeper

Don’t be silly as warfare changes and kinetic is used in a number of different ways, not just to kill. That’s one of the number of terminology changes which has been accepted and is in common use for people pretty much lance Jack and above, as they understand that change happens.

geoff
geoff
9 days ago

Haha-interesting and enlightening article! I don’t feel so bad now reading some of the acronyms on these forums, not knowing what they stand for but being too afraid to ask for fear of revealing my ignorance  😀  Sort of on subject, in the old days in the Province of Natal, the Natal Provincial Administration Works Department put out a long standard specification in which, inter alia, it had a half page formula for making limewash. It went roughly along these lines-In a forty gallon drum mix 50 pounds of unslaked lime/sludge with 30 gallons of warm water., stirring… Read more »

Last edited 9 days ago by geoff
Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago
Reply to  geoff

I remember being told that the very first Requirements document for an RFC biplane was written on one sheet of foolscap. The services used to do brevity!

Paul.P
Paul.P
9 days ago

I’m looking forward to hearing how the army proposes to ‘deliver the effect’ of an infantry fighting vehicle without an infantry fighting vehicle.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Please explain, Paul. New vehicle for the Infantry will be Boxer which is an IFV, so long as it has a turret and cannon of course!

Paul.P
Paul.P
7 days ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Sorry Graham. Just being sarki about the Warrior CSP. You are right. Everything will work out if we get Boxers with a cannon and enough dismounts. Artec have already developed 3 I see.
https://www.artec-boxer.com

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
6 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Thanks Paul. I have heard that not all Boxers replacing WR will get a cannon, as a savings measure. Hope thats not true. I still would like to see trials reports showing that a wheels/tracks mix of F Echelon in a BG will be succesful.

Paul.P
Paul.P
6 days ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Well, no surprise if we need to make savings after the money we have thrown away. Read somewhere but can’t find the link, that a year or so ago a detachment of German army Boxers exercised with the British Army here in UK. This was before we placed the order for Boxers. I would think that the purpose of that exercise was to validate the mix of wheels and tracks.

maurice10
maurice10
9 days ago

It’s all a form of military Latin, the less everyone understands it the better. Call it what it is and possibly save lives?

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
9 days ago

Nobody uses JSP101 or the associated defence writing guidance documents that encourage the use of plain English.
They even say in the documents to not use most of the sayings in the piece above, which makes me think that most releases are written by spotty faced 22 year old Uni grads with a degree in media studies and absolutely zero life experience.

They can describe in one page of A4 the square root of a banana but they cannot peal one!

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

The MoD used to issue a pamphlet on writing plainly, illustrated on the cover by a drawing from Alice in Wonderland. A commendable document, now no longer used, as the MoD does not like simple plain language. I have one somewhere.

Pacman27
Pacman27
8 days ago

The current CDS is the worst in a generation at least, he has been promoted despite numerous failures (FRES, Musa Qala, Land Rover snatch as well as several reductions in the army itself). he has almost single handedly done more damage to the army than any of his predecessors. and how has he gotten away with it, he has cosied up to the Americans and became this awful consultancy type manager, who adds no value. unfortunately I see it all too often in my day to day job, people with no interest or skin in the game making awful decisions… Read more »

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
7 days ago
Reply to  Pacman27

Very harsh criticism of Gen Sir Nick Carter. I read his Wiki bio – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Carter_(British_Army_officer)
and struggled to identify quite the level of failures you describe, although Americans Col Tunnell and Lt Gen Bolger were critical of Carter’s performance in Afghanistan – which was not endorsed by US Lt General Hodges who actually worked under Carter in Afghan.

What role did Carter play with FRES and Land Rover Snatch and in organising several army reductions?

Pacman27
Pacman27
7 days ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

he was the lead for FRES and its main sponsor and advocate of Strike.

he was also the head of the Army and is now CoS when the army has been significantly less capable and reduced in size and also allowed snatch landcovers to be deployed to Afghanistan when anyone worth their salt knew these vehicles were not suitable.

With every failure he has seemed to have been promoted.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
8 days ago

Fair play to the author, but I’m not even going to read this nonsense, it is so frustrating and does my head in!

Stan
Stan
8 days ago

Soldier 12 years, police officer 30 years. The business speak is a cancer. I challenged a business man presenting to me about how long his “road map for the future” was. He didnt know. I ended up being berated by superiors for my challenge. The business speak is now commonplace. Let’s get back to good old plain speaking. Say it like it is without prejudice or malice.

Spartacus
Spartacus
8 days ago

Stuart, great article. Immediately after I come across another article on my news feed and thought to share some of it it, it read – A British Army task group deployed in Mali as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission. 😂 hilarious.

Kindest regards

Former Signaller 20+ Years Royal of Signals.

Certa Cito

Wilbo
Wilbo
8 days ago

It’s the way acronyms are delivered that gets my back up. Soldiers rattling off acronym laden statements thinking they are going to be understood. No wonder things go wrong. If you are saying it please have the decency to spell it out the first time you use it in fresh conversation (no matter how many times you have said or heard it). And definitely if you don’t understand ask, there is no such thing as a stupid question.

Paul.P
Paul.P
6 days ago
Reply to  Wilbo

Acronyms are there to make the listener look ignorant and to establish the presenter as the ‘expert’. Its an ego thing.
In most languages there is a word already for what you want to say e.g. in English ‘predict’ is made up of pre= before or in advance and dict from the latin to speak.
The German equivalent would be vorhersagen, or vorhersehen for example. These constructs have a logic to them.
Of course its a challenge when new technology comes along. Like the Welsh for television……wireless look you 😉

Lubbersboots
Lubbersboots
8 days ago

I like this!

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
6 days ago
Jonathan
Jonathan
6 days ago

It’s interesting, as I see it there are basically three types of English that are not what you would call plan English: 1) Every day professional/technical language.The is both used for short cuts when you need to communicate quickly and precisely as well as communicate complex issues that are only related to that set of professionals. It also give and indicates membership of a Professional Club. 2) Protectionist Professional/managerial language. This is very much the dark side of Professional languages, it’s used to protect the power of groups ( only we can interpret this report or information). It’s also used… Read more »

Bob.
Bob.
6 days ago

Victim Operated Device covers more than just mines and is used to distinguish a device from, say, a remote control device.

Alex
Alex
3 days ago

“Personally, I prefer short words and vulgar fractions!” Winston S Churchill.

Paul.P
Paul.P
3 days ago
Mike Emmett
Mike Emmett
1 day ago

Good point but when it comes to the British Army it’s purely down to our politicians. We haven’t really gone out of the way to defeat our enemies since the Falklands and even that was a pretty close run thing. The British Army as been hampered by the failure of all past governments to finance our Forces in terms of manpower and equipment. We have always been the poor relation compared to our closest ally the USA. It’s all well and good building expensive carriers to show the flag but if you can’t back them up with real power it’s… Read more »

Harold Smith
Harold Smith
42 minutes ago

I think another factor in the explosion of jargon is squeamishness at expressing the brutal realities of warfare in plain language. It’s not that senior soldiers are hyper-sensitive to these things themselves, but they’re aware that they now live in a world where people frequently claim to be ‘traumatized’ by being exposed to the ‘violence’ of ‘insensitive’ language. Far from being told to grow up an stop being silly (as they might have been in previous decades) these people find a receptive audience for their victimhood, and pretty soon an online mob is baying for the blood of the ‘monster’… Read more »