During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 23, Adm. Harry Harris apologized for not recognizing an Air Force acronym. He then got in an exchange with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen about it, saying, "Acronyms kill, ma'am." (C-SPAN)

The U.S. military’s top officer overseeing operations in the Pacific cut to the heart Tuesday of something that has both perplexed and amused people  in and around the U.S. military for years: the difficulty in keeping up with an ever-changing alphabet soup of acronyms.

Adm. Harry Harris, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, was asked by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether  he saw the Air Force’s planned Long Range Strike Bomber, or “LRS-B,” as something that could be deployed from the United States to carry out strikes if aircraft carriers are forced away. The program is expected to cost at least $55 billion and is a centerpiece of Air Force plans for the future, but its acronym remains a bit clunky.

“Senator, I’m sorry,” Harris told Rounds. “I don’t know the acronym.”

After Rounds clarified that he was asking about the future bomber, Harris said that the aircraft would be helpful and is needed “to maintain our position of strength into the 2020s.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) then followed by saying she was “so glad to hear someone in your position who doesn’t know one of the acronyms that’s being used.” She added, “Makes me feel so much better.”

Harris responded: “Acronyms kill, ma’am.”


Adm. Harry Harris Jr., now head of U.S. Pacific Command, is shown here speaking at a conference in Hawaii in 2014. (MC1 Amanda Dunford/U.S. Navy)

Shaheen chuckled and complimented the admiral’s “pun,” and then asked whether there should be concern about growing Chinese investments in U.S. national security efforts. Harris responded that it depended upon where the investments were made — and then went back to using acronyms.

“We need to look at each one of these investments carefully,” he said. “We have a process called CFIUS. … Another acronym that I couldn’t begin to tell you what it stands for.”

Shaheen responded that she knew that one, and Harris said that it was “a legal mechanism to perhaps prevent China from buying or investing in certain areas.” Neither one explained the acronym, but CFIUS stands  for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a group that includes representatives from several U.S. agencies and reviews transactions that could result in a U.S. business being controlled by a foreign person.

The acronym-related chatter ended after that, but it’s hardly the first time that the issue has received attention. The Federation of American Scientists and the Pentagon itself both maintain online databases that foc‘us at least in part on explaining acronyms.

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