3 military terms mainstream media gets wrong

When reporters cover the military and conflicts, there are some military terms and words that they really ought to know but don't or misuse.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
(U.S. Army)

No one expects news reporters to be military experts. After all, media outlets bring in official military spokespeople and retired military subject matter experts to contribute to their programs. However, when reporters cover the military and conflicts, there are some words and terms they really ought to know but don’t or misuse.

Here are 3 military terms that the mainstream media should know

1. Assault rifle

assault rifle military terms media gets wrong
Lots of military rifles, but not a single one of the assault type (U.S. Army)

Despite what either side of the gun control debate might tell you, assault rifle is a real word. However, it is sometimes misused or not used where appropriate by news outlets. Going back to WWII, Nazi Germany fielded the first assault rifle with the StG 44. An abbreviation of Sturmgewehr 44, literally meaning storm (assault) rifle 44, the StG 44 utilized an intermediate cartridge that was less powerful than traditional military rifle cartridges of the time but more powerful than pistol cartridges.

m27 rifle
Designated as an Infantry Automatic Rifle, the USMC’s M27 IAR fits the definition of an assault rifle (U.S. Marine Corps)

Today, most modern militaries’ standard-issue rifles are chambered in an intermediate cartridge and offer select-fire capabilities. By definition, firearms like the U.S. military’s M4 carbine or Russia’s AK-74 rifle are assault rifles. However, this does not make every modern long gun an assault rifle. Reservists and rear echelon troops in some militaries are issued older Cold War battle rifles instead of modern assault rifles. The Swedish Home Guard issues the Ak 4C, an updated and licensed copy of the H&K G3 rifle chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. Moreover, military-style rifles restricted to semi-automatic fire are, by definition, not assault rifles.

2. Tank

tank turret
Having tracks, a turret, and a gun doesn’t make it a tank (U.S. Army)

In the same way that not every modern military rifle is an assault rifle, not every armored vehicle is a tank. The term first came about during WWI when the British developed a tracked, armored vehicle to cross no man’s land and break through enemy lines. To disguise its purpose, the new vehicle was referred to as a water carrier and, later, a tank. Since then, different armored vehicles have been introduced that bear similarities to tanks and have been referred to as such.

abrams tank military terms media gets wrong
The Abrams is America’s main battle tank (U.S. Army)

In the 21st century, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery are often mislabeled as tanks due to their tracks and turret-mounted guns. However, by definition, these are not tanks; a tank is a primary offensive weapon that balances firepower, armor, and mobility. By contrast, an IFV carries mechanized infantry and trades armor and firepower for mobility, while self-propelled artillery trades armor for firepower and mobility. The U.S. M1 Abrams is a tank, while the M2/M3 Bradley and M109 Paladin are an IFV and self-propelled artillery, respectively.

3. Carrier Strike Group

the hill strike team article
(Screenshot from TheHill.com)

To be fair, this one isn’t often misused. However, when it is, it’s noticeable. A type of carrier battle group, a CSG centers around an aircraft carrier and includes at least one cruiser, a destroyer squadron of at least two destroyers or frigates, and one carrier air wing of 65-70 aircraft. Although not required, a CSG often includes submarines, support ships, and oilers. A formidable force when assembled, CSGs are used to project American power overseas and deter adversaries from taking action.

carrier strike group military terms media gets wrong
A carrier strike group consists of a bit more than a strike team (U.S. Navy)

Following the deployment of the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the eastern Mediterranean after start of the 2023 Israel-Hamas war, the U.S. sent a second CSG with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. On October 14, 2023, The Hill reported the deployment with the headline “US sending 2nd strike team to Eastern Mediterranean.” While not a doctrinal term, strike team is understood to define a small force tasked with conducting an attack or raid. To be fair, the U.S. Coast Guard’s defunct National Strike Force utilized the term “strike team.”