[UPDATED 9/7/2021] Read this military alphabet and NATO phonetic alphabet complete guide for an easy-to-follow resource that includes definitions, examples, and the entire military alphabet with each character and code, plus more.
We also provide you explanations for each code as well as a useful pronunciation guide and easy method for memorizing the entire military alphabet.
After running through this guide, you’ll be able to clearly get your message across to anyone. This is the same insider’s strategy used by the International Civil Aviation Organization, Royal Air force, International Telecommunication Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Australian Armed Forces, American National Standards Institute, military veterans, army infantry, and government agencies around the world.
Military Alphabet and NATO Phonetic Alphabet Explained
The military alphabet and NATO phonetic alphabet are the same alphabet. It is a system of letters and numbers used by the armed forces of the United States, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and International Civil Aviation Organization, and even by civilians to spell out words and phrases or communicate in code. It is a phonetic alphabet that uses 26 code words.
These words are used to ensure oral communication is clearly understood. It is used in the military to prevent miscommunication and to communicate in code.
Miscommunication can cause loss of lives and other tragic circumstances.
The military alphabet uses distinct words like Juliet (pronounced Jew lee ett k), Charlie (Char lee), and India (In dee ah), as well as codewords like Tango Yankee, Tango Tang, Tango Mike, and many more, to code and decode messages.
These codewords are used regularly by government agencies, such as the US Army Infantry, US Navy, US Marines, US Airforce, and even by other militaries around the world.
To use the alphabet correctly spell out words using these distinct words while enunciating each syllable. For example, the word for the letter “U” is Uniform, pronounced: you nee form.
To communicate the word “up” say: Uniform Papa. Pronounce it “you nee form paa paa”. The person you’re talking to will understand that you’re communicating the word “up” and likely look up above them.
This same phonetic alphabet is the same as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet and Western Union alphabet, which also consists of 26 code words.
To recap: Each word like “Uniform” (you nee form) or “Yankee” (yang key) represents a letter of the English alphabet. For instance, “Alpha” means “A,” “Bravo” means B, and so on. Multiple code words often are combined to form words or expressions. For example, to say “dog,” one would say “Delta-Oscar-Golf.” None of the 26 codewords sound alike, so there is no doubt in what is being communicated.
The Complete Military Alphabet
The complete military alphabet is revealed in chart below.
We designed this chart to be more than just a visual aid.
We added a convenient search bar feature just above the military phonetic alphabet to help you memorize each word.
How to use the search bar feature:
- Type any letter into the search bar.
- Guess the word that matches it.
- Click search to check your answer.
- Keep practicing until you memorize each word.
This is a fast way to learn each alphabet military code word.
|Letter||Code Word||Pronunciation **|
|I||India|| IN dee ah
|J||Juliet||JEW lee ett|
|N||November||NOH vem ber|
|R||Romeo||ROW me oh|
|S||Sierra||see AIR ah|
|U||Uniform||YOU nee form|
Military Alphabet Code Words
Now after learning what each letter means, take some more time to learn common military alphabet code words.
Learning these code words, you’ll be able to strike up interesting conversations with members of the military, military veterans, morse code experts, those in a government agency and veterans affairs, and anyone else familiar with the military phonetic alphabet or who has an interest in the military.
Here are some code words used by the military that we’ve decoded for you:
11 Bravo – Army Infantry
40 Mike Mike – 40 Millimeter Grenade or M203 Grenade Launcher
Alpha Charlie – Ass Chewing
Alpha Mike Foxtrot – Adios Motherfucker
Bravo Zulu – Good job
Charlie Foxtrot – Clusterfuck
Charlie Mike – Continue Mission
Echo Tango Sierra – Expiration Term of Service (when somebody is about to finish their tour of duty)
Lima Charlie – Loud and Clear
Lima Lima Mike Foxtrot – Lost like a motherfucker
Mikes – Minutes
November Golf – No good
Oscar-Mike – On the move
Sierra Hotel – Shit’s hot
Tango Mike – Thanks much
Tango Uniform – Tits up
Tango Yankee – Thank you
Whiskey Charlie – Water Closet
Whiskey Delta – Weak Dick
Whiskey Pete – White Phosphorous
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – WTF
BOHICA – Bend Over, Here it Comes Again. Vietnam-era slang that has endured.
FUBAR – Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.
SNAFU – Situation Normal: All Fucked Up
Tips for Learning The Military Alphabet:
Flashcards – Don’t reinvent the wheel. Take 26 flashcards, write the letter on one side, and the corresponding Military Alphabet term on the other. If you want to learn prowords, military slang, or other terms, make cards for those phrases and their definitions as well. Flashcards do not take very long to make and will remain a helpful reference for you as you learn.
Write out the alphabet – Try to write out the Military Alphabet from memory. Do this at least once a day, and try to get as many of the letters right as you can. Do this until it becomes learned and second nature.
Ask a friend to test you – Some people are not visual learners. Ask a friend or family member to test your knowledge and help you keep track of the letters you have trouble remembering.
Record yourself and play it back – Make an audio recording on your phone or computer, and listen to yourself saying the military alphabet back to yourself. After listening for a while, these terms will become ingrained in your memory.
Think about the military alphabet as you read and write normally – Thinking about the military alphabet will help you get more comfortable with using it. Think about how to spell random everyday words the military way. This is a great way to increase your familiarity and use of the alphabet.
Read the alphabet before you go to sleep – if you struggle with memorization, try spending some time reading the alphabet before you go to sleep. This is a proven method used by actors, lawyers, and musicians for learning information quickly.
Do it backward, change the order, focus on problem words – You want using the alphabet to become second nature. Therefore, be sure to use different ordering, pairings, and several methods and techniques to master the alphabet.
Over the first half of the 20th century, several different spelling alphabets came in and out of use. The most important of these were the CCIR alphabet used for telegraphs starting in 1927, and the “Able Baker” alphabet used by the U.S. military during WWII.
After the world war, it was determined that this wartime alphabet included words and pronunciations particular to American English, which hindered communication between NATO allies. So in 1957, NATO and the US introduced a common system, now known as the NATO Military Alphabet, which is still in use to date.
International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA) History
The history of the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet is fascinating. We’ve put together a timeline to help understand how it has evolved into the modern military alphabet. This is the same version used by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the military.
World War I -World War II
The earliest versions of the military alphabet came into being during the early twentieth century. AM radio technology-enabled pilots to coordinate with ground control, but poor signal and radio interference caused frequent errors. To solve this problem, flight associations started using code words to represent easily confused letters. This new terminology helped them communicate both more efficiently and covertly.
During WWI, the British Royal Airforce introduced the first complete spelling alphabet, the RAF radio alphabet. Later, in 1927, the International Telegraph Union (ITU) developed a spelling alphabet for telegram communication. Over time, this system grew in popularity. By the start of WWII, most commercial airlines around the globe were using the ITU code words.
The next major evolution took place in 1941, around the start of the Second World War. At this time, the US introduced a standard spelling language across all branches of the armed forces. The Joint Army / Navy Phonetic Alphabet, also known as the “Able Baker Charlie” alphabet, can be heard in movies and TV shows dating from the 1950s. It has even made its way into modern cinematic depictions of WWII, such as Saving Private Ryan.
1957 – Present
In 1957, the U.S. armed forces and NATO adopted a common alphabet known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA) or the NATO Phonetic Alphabet for short. The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) developed this system after years of careful research and testing. Critically, the ICAO tested each code word in many common dialects. As a result, the IRSA has stood the test of time as an international standard.
The US government initially classified the IRSA as confidential, but soon later released it to the public. The IRSA remains in use today, and has only grown more popular with time. Today many have come to know this extraordinary code language simply as the “Military Alphabet.”
Many refer to the military alphabet as a phonetic alphabet. Technically this is not accurate.
Unlike the International Phonetic Alphabet, which indicates intonation, syllables, and other features of speech the Military Alphabet does not actually indicate its own phonetics. The Military Alphabet is known as a “spelling alphabet,” used to spell out words and communicate clearly (e.g., row me oh and jew lee ett for R and J).
While phonetic alphabets use symbols to describe the details and nuances of language, the military alphabet is used for oral communication. The military alphabet flattens language so everyone can communicate better.
If not used, regional accents, dialects, and unconventional voice patterns would lead to miscommunications. But no matter how you speak, “F Foxtrot,” “E Echo,” “B Bravo” and “G Golf” do not sound the same, a reason communicating code is useful.
Use in the Armed Forces and International Civil Aviation Organization
Lots of English letters sound the same. It’s easy to mistake “B” for “P,” or “C” for “E”. Wrong spellings might cause a mislabeled package shipment or a misspelled dinner invitation. For a soldier, miscommunication can spell disaster.
Radio operators in the armed services use this alphabet when sending codes or relaying important messages. A spelling alphabet ensures clear communication even when there’s heavy background noise or severe radio interference.
Besides error-free spelling, men and women in the service use the “Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta” alphabet as shorthand and slang. Popular expressions include:
Oscar-Mike (“on the move”): a unit is moving between positions
Charlie Mike (“continue mission”): a mission will continue following an interruption
Tango Delta (“target down”): the enemy was eliminated
Lima Charlie (“loud and clear”): confirmation of received instructions
Discover more expressions, check out our complete list of military slang.
Military Communication Procedure
The military alphabet is the foundational piece of the military’s codified communication procedure. This procedure helps regulate communication over the radio and other communication platforms used by the military. This system helps soldiers by restricting the flow of information, emphasizing clarity, and instituting norms for orders, updates, and important information.
There are three guiding principles for Military Communication: Accuracy, Brevity, and Clarity. Whether you are communicating via radio, in person, or on any other platform, all tactical communication should adhere to these criteria. Keep tactical messages short and to the point, and limit communication to essential items. Keep messages under 30 seconds as a rule. This way you will be easily understood, even under duress and chaos.
Radio communication is the most important way soldiers communicate during operations and conflict, and therefore has the most codified structure. This section provides you with an overview of what you need to know about radio communication. Keep in mind, whenever you spell out words or codes on the alphabet, you will use the military alphabet.
Call signs are the essential first part of any radio message, identifying who each message is coming from. Call signs can be for individuals, squads, platoons, companies, or higher officials and leaders. These should be distinct from easily identifiable names or nicknames, as they are meant to obscure identities from enemies. Here’s an example of how they are used:
“Hey [Call sign], this is [Call Sign]…Over.”
The most famous cultural usage of call signs takes place in the film Top Gun. “Maverick,” “Iceman,” and “Viper” are all call signs you are likely familiar with because of those iconic characters. In reality, though, you would want your call sign to be less tied to your personal identity.
The idea is for U.S. soldiers to be able to identify each other and communicate without revealing too much, even if messages are intercepted. Be sure to always use the call sign of the unit you are calling at the beginning of your message.
While fairly simple, radio checks are important to make sure communication lines are in tact. Radio checks are periodic check-ins that confirm that other Call Signs are effectively hearing your messages. Be sure to conduct regular radio checks, especially before and after operations.
Below is a list of important procedural words, known as “Prowords,” that play important roles in radio communication. You will need to know what these mean, and how they stand-in for and abbreviate longer messages. Important note: avoid using the word repeat. Transmissions are often interrupted or broken up, so it becomes unclear whether you are repeating a transmission or requesting a transmission be repeated.
|Proword||Definition (Quotes denote synonyms)|
|Break||Establishes that the current message will continue in a separate transmission. “Break” is inserted to keep transmissions short.|
|Correction||Establishes that an error has been made in the transmission. A revised transmission will follow this Proword.|
|Do Not Answer||“Do not reply or acknowledge receipt of this message.”|
|Execute/Immediate Execute||Establishes the action/order within this message is to be carried out upon receipt of this message.
|I Say Again||“I am repeating a previous transmission.”|
|I Verify||“I am verifying message/info upon request.”|
|More to Follow||“There is more information coming.”|
|Out||This Proword is the last word of all transmission sequences, and establishes the end of the conversation. Can only be spoken by the person who initiated the transmission.|
|Over||Ends individual messages.|
|Read Back||“Repeat this transmission back to me.”|
|Relay||“Forward this transmission to ___”|
|Roger||“I have received your message.”|
|Say Again||“Repeat previous message.”|
|SIlence (Repeat 3x or more)||“Discontinue communication on this net.”|
|Silence Lifted||“Communication on this net may resume.”|
|Unknown Station||“I am sending this to an unknown party.”|
|Verify||“Verify this message and/or info.”|
|Wilco||“I will comply.”|
Typically, radio messages will feature at least one of these Prowords. These four are particularly important because they determine the nature of the message. Roger and Negative establish agreement or disagreement at the beginning of a message. Likewise, Break and Over will determine whether a particular transmission is a complete message or not.
Use Outside the Military
According to the International Telecommunication Union the “Military Alphabet” is not just for the armed forces. As we explain further in the History section of this page, this alphabet was actually developed by the International Civilian Aviation Organization (ICAO) as a set of terms that would be mutually comprehensible across the international community. The Able Baker Alphabet, like Morse Code, was designed to minimize miscommunication and is used in non-military settings where codes and clarity are key.
Aircraft Communication Military Alphabet Uses and Notes
Flight coordinates and passenger names are communicated using the Military Alphabet.
Pilots rely on the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS), which provides a continuous broadcast of weather information, runway logistics, and other vital information. Updates are assigned different Military Alphabet letters so pilots know how current its updates are. ATIS also features a lot of Military letters and numbers to communicate logistical data.
The military alphabet is used to make up Squawk Codes, officially known as Aircraft Transponder Codes, which is used to distinguish flights and aircrafts by air traffic control.
Aviators often use many of the same prowords and slang terms as the military, and conduct radio communication using similar norms. For example, Roger/Negative/Over/Break are just as foundational to aircraft communication as military radio communication.
Some airlines replace Delta (code for “d”) with an alternative word. This is to avoid confusion with Delta Airlines. This is sometimes known as the Aviation Alphabet.
Finance Industry Uses and Notes
Banks use the military phonetic alphabet to communicate security codes and to verify customer information.
Banks, traders, and financial institutions use the military alphabet when trading or ordering large transactions.
Military Phonetic Alphabet Final Thoughts
This complete guide to the military alphabet and NATO phonetic alphabet has given you everything you need to know to learn and use the military phonetic alphabet. You’ve learned code words used in both the United States and the Royal Air Force. You have learned the words that match each of the 26 letters in the military phonetic alphabet to communicate more clearly. And, you’ve learned the history of the military alphabet from its early Able Baker Alphabet roots.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following frequently asked questions are some of the questions we get asked the most. We’ve compiled a list of these questions to make learning the military phonetic alphabet easier.
What is the military alphabet A to Z?
A is for Alpha, B is for Bravo, C is for Charlie, D is for Delta, E is for Echo, F is for Foxtrot, G is for Golf, H is for Hotel, I is for India, J is for Juliet, K is for Kilo, L is for Lima, M is for Mike, N is for November, O is for Oscar, P is for Papa, Q is for Quebec, R is for Romeo, S is for Sierra, T is for Tango, U is for Uniform, V is for Victor, W is for Whiskey, X is for X-ray, Y is for Yankee, and Z is for Zulu. Memorize these words for error-free spelling.
What is mission Echo Tango Sierra?
Mission Echo Tango Sierra means Expiration Tour of Service; a phrase used when a service member is on their last tour of duty, and about to retire from the military and begin receiving their veterans benefits. These are the only four words you need to say, because only four words are all it takes to make another soldier realize the veterans benefits, i.e., GI Bill benefits, waiting for them when they get out.
What is Oscar Tango Mike?
When communicating code, Oscar Tango Mike is military code for “On the move”.
Do people create their own versions of the military alphabet?
Yes. According to the aviation organization ICAO, some people create their own versions of the military alphabet. The Association of Anaesthetists advocate for changing the NATO phonetic alphabet for medical telecommunication when necessary.
Does learning the military alphabet constitute DOD endorsement?
No. According to the International Telecommunication Union learning the military alphabet does not constitute DOD endorsement.