The proliferation of COTS acronyms

More than two decades have passed since Secretary of Defense William Perry issued the “COTS memorandum,” dictating that the military must procure commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology. Since that time in 1994 we’ve seen budget cuts, defense buildups, sequestration, three presidents and a plethora of COTS acronym spinoffs.

Back then nobody wanted to really admit they sold , fearing the commercial part of the acronym would depict their products as something less than mil-spec, so various vendors up and down the came up with their own that they felt gave a more rugged and reliable impression than – because, let’s face it, COTS is almost as much a marketing term as a procurement trend.

Over the years I’ve collected quite a few variations of COTS and compiled them a list I often use in presentations.


: Government-off-the-Shelf
: Military-off-the-shelf
• ROTS: Rugged-off-the-shelf
• NOTS: NATO-off-the-shelf
• For companies with space products that want to avoid the dreaded C in COTS, Ken O’Neill, director of marketing for Space and Aviation suggested these three to me once:
– QOTS: QML class Q off-the-shelf
– VOTS: QML class V off-the-shelf shelf
– SOTS: class JAN S off-the-shelf
• KOTS: Kinda-off-the-shelf (This one was shared with me by a business development guy at Cisco many years ago)

And of course….
• ShOTS: I won’t spell this one out, but unfortunately there’s a lot of it floating around…

Please share any I’ve missed in the comment section below. There’s gotta be more out there!

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