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The ABC’s of the DoD

By Jeremy Brilliant, Managing Partner


Keep It Simple Stupid, or KISS. Every American elementary school kid learned this phrase and acronym at some point. It’s great—easy to remember and great advice- applicable in many instances.

Sometimes I wonder if those in the defense ecosystem skipped the day in school when everyone learned about KISS. Sure, the Department of Defense (DoD) got the message about acronyms—and lots of them--but that’s where it ends. There’s nothing simple about defense vernacular. In many ways, it’s a language unto itself.

Here’s a quick test. If you know what: OTA, IDIQ, DIU, OSC, AUKUS, UCOMM, FAR and Non-FAR all stand for, you speak DoD! If not, keep reading for some explanation…and perhaps a bit more confusion!

First, why does the DoD have its own language? Mainly due to its size—the DoD is the single largest employer in the world at 3.2 million sworn service members and civilians. Add another 2 million in the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) and you’ve got a number larger than the population of more than 100 countries. My point is, with that many people, it makes sense they share a common language, albeit a language filled with a complicated alphabet soup of acronyms and complex words that sometimes go mainstream (SNAFU and FUBAR come to mind). DoD-specific terms are also unique due to many of the applications that are defense-specific (think Encanistered Missiles (EM)—“encanistered” is not a word in the English language!).

I decided to write about this after discussing with a colleague the word, “attritable”. (By the way, I’m writing this in Word and half the words are underlined in red because the spell check doesn’t recognize them). Anyway, I said, “Attritable isn’t a word!” and I was right…and also wrong. No, there’s no such word in the English dictionary, however, it’s a current DoD buzzword used at the highest levels: "We've set a big goal for Replicator: to field attritable, autonomous systems at a scale of multiple thousands [and] in multiple domains within the next 18-to-24 months," said Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks last year.

So, what does attritable mean? According to the Air Force: “Attritable refers to a new class of unmanned aircraft that are purpose-designed and routinely reusable, but built affordably to allow a combatant commander to tolerate putting them at risk.” Basically, cheaper systems that could be almost disposable. The term is commonly used to describe, “attritable autonomous systems at scale,” which typically refers to drones that can be produced at lower cost in vast quantities.

There are so many terms and acronyms flying around that the DoD created a Terminology Program with 19 criteria for a word to be included in the DoD dictionary. Reason number one: Merriam-Webster dictionary term is inadequate for DOD use and reason number two: Not a Merriam-Webster dictionary definition.

The DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms is 360 pages long with 100 plus pages of acronyms! And, by the way, “attritable” didn’t make it in that dictionary either.

If you’re in the business of selling things to the DoD, there’s a subset language (a DoD dialect, if you will) you surely are familiar--or need to be—with FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) and non-FAR rules. These regulations spell out the who, what and how of DoD acquisition. This leads to the OTA (Other Transaction Authority 10 U.S.C. 2371 and 10 U.S.C. 2371b), a much less arduous acquisition process designed for quicker adoption of research and development and prototype projects.

Whether you're dealing with FAR or Non-Far, you’ll likely need some guidance from the Defense Acquisition University (DAU), which has a 73-page long online tool to look up acquisition-related acronyms and terms. The acquisition language, called DAWIA, or the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, is so complicated that students can actually obtain three progressive certifications—DAWIA Levels I, II and III.


Long story short, there is no short story when it comes to speaking DoD. IYKYK (you know?). You can always look it up!


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