Protocols, procedure words (“prowords”), call signs, radio checks, and best practices all play an important role in supporting safe and effective military radio communication.
Read on to learn several tips and tactics for effective military radio communication.
Overview of Military Radio Communication
Each branch of the U.S. military has its own techniques for tactical radio operations. But, some communication techniques remain constant throughout the military — from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marines, and U.S. Army.
Key Similarities in Military Radio Communication:
- Military personnel all use AM, FM, high frequency (HF), and ultra high frequency (UHF) electromagnetic waves to carry messages.
- The U.S. military uses International Morse Code as a standard for the simplest communication, which involves the use of a radio transmitter with an oscillator.
- The U.S. military uses Zulu Time to time radios precisely for the purpose of encrypting ratio transmissions.
- Military personnel use the Military Alphabet to spell out call signs and messages to ensure clear communication and avoid confusion.
- The U.S. military uses the same radio lingo to relay and respond to messages.
Military Radio Communication Protocols
Communication over two-way radios follows a universal set of rules. The military also uses certain, more restrictive protocols due to the nature of its work and the need to protect national interests.
Military Radio Protocol Best Practices:
- Identify with whom you want to communicate by using their call sign.
- Pause a moment after pressing the “push-to-talk” (PTT) button.
- Be direct and short when communicating.
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Spell out letters and numbers, using the Military Alphabet (NATO Phonetic Alphabet.
- Use correct lingo and prowords to reduce confusion and shorten transmitted messages.
Military Communication Prowords
The military uses specific lingo and prowords, also known as procedure words, to communicate messages to other members of the military.
Common Military Prowords:
- ACKNOWLEDGE: A directive requiring the recipient to confirm they received a message.
- ALL AFTER: This references a portion of the message as being “all that follows.”
- ALL BEFORE: This references a portion of the message as being “all that proceeds.”
- AUTHENTICATE: Used by a sender to ask the called station to authenticate the message that follows.
- AUTHENTICATION IS: The transmission authentication of this message is ____.
- BREAK: Used to break a message for a pause before relaying the next part of the message.
- CLEAR: Used to clear a message in order to relay another one of higher importance.
- CORRECT: Confirms the message broadcasted is correct.
- CORRECTION: Corrects a misheard message.
- DISREGARD THIS TRANSMISSION-OUT: This means “Forget this message, it was sent in error.”
- DO NOT ANSWER: Used to indicate that the called station shouldn’t reply. The sender also should end with the proword “OUT.”
- EXEMPT: Those addressed after this proword are exempt from the message sent and should disregard its contents.
- FIGURES: Used to signal that numbers will follow.
- FROM: Used to indicate who the message is from (its originator).
- GROUPS: Used to signal a message that contains numbers of groups.
- I AUTHENTICATE: Used to authenticating a message with what follows.
- IMMEDIATE: Used in the most dire of situations that require immediate implementation and top priority.
- INFO: The sender requests information from the addressees immediately following this proword.
- I READ BACK: Used to repeat the instructions back to a sender to confirm the recipients understood them correctly.
- I SAY AGAIN: Used to repeat a sent message because it was either misunderstood or extremely important.
- I SPELL: Used to spell out the words that follow phonetically, using the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.
- I VERIFY: Used to verify a request and repeated to verify a sent message.
- MESSAGE: Used to indicate that a message must be recorded.
- MORE TO FOLLOW: Used to convey that more will follow from the message initiator.
- OUT: Used to end a transmission.
- OVER: Used to end a message while asking for a reply..
- PRIORITY: Used for important messages that take precedence over regular conversation.
- READ BACK: Used to ask a message recipient to repeat back the message exactly as received.
- RELAY (TO): Transmit this message to [CALL SIGN(S)].
- ROGER: Used to confirm receipt of a message.
- ROUTINE: Used to convey that the message being transmitted is routine and normal, having less importance.
- SAY AGAIN: Used to ask a sender to repeat their last transmission.
- SILENCE: Used to signal an immediate stop of all communication until the silence is lifted.
- SILENCE LIFTED: Used to lift a temporary silence of communication.
- SPEAK SLOWER: Used to request that the person speaking speak more slowly.
- THIS IS: Used to transmit a message from one call sign to another. But, some messages omit this proword. Example: “Delta 1, Delta 2, over” vs. “Delta 1 THIS IS Delta 2, over.”
- TIME: Used to convey the time frame for complying with the message.
- TO: Used to address those who must comply with the message.
- UNKNOWN STATION: Station identity is unknown that is attempting to be communicated with.
- VERIFY: Used to verify a message.
- WAIT: Used to indicate that a sender or recipient must pause for a few seconds.
- WILCO: Used to indicate receipt of — and compliance with — the sent instructions.
- WORD AFTER: The word of the message to which I have reference is that which follows … ___.
- WORD BEFORE: The word of the message to which I have reference is that which proceeds … ___.
- WORD TWICE: Used to say the words twice to make a message more easily understood.
- WRONG: Used to say your last transmission was incorrect. The correct version is ___.
Hawk 1: “Hawk 2, Hawk 1, over.”
Hawk 2: “Go ahead Hawk 1, over.”
Hawk 1: “Hawk 2, enemy tracked 2 kilometer (km) west, break …”
Hawk 1: “Take cover 2 km east at Delta Shack, read back, over.”
Hawk 2: “I read back: enemy tracked 2 km west. Take cover 2 km east at Delta Shack, over.”
Hawk 1: “Correct, over.”
Hawk 2: “Wilco, over.”
Hawk 1: “Roger, out.”
Note: In the military, the person initiating a conversation usually is the senior-ranking official. Out of respect, this individual normally will be the one to say “OUT” to end the transmission.
According to the Naval training manual for Radioman 2,3, published in 1965, “Call signs are letters, letter-number combinations, or one or more pronounceable words used chiefly for establishing and maintaining communications that identify some communication activity.”
People use call signs to protect their identities when communicating on two-way radios. They also change call signs frequently to maintain anonymity and prevent breaches in security protocols.
Military Alphabet (NATO Phonetic Alphabet)
The Military Alphabet, also called the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, is a spelling alphabet used to distinctly spell out words and numbers. It helps people avoid confusion when communicating letters and numbers that sound similar to others.
|A – Alpha||J – Juliet||S – Sierra|
|B – Bravo||K – Kilo||T – Tango|
|C – Charlie||L – Lima||U – Uniform|
|D – Delta||M – Mike||V – Victor|
|E – Echo||N – November||W – Whiskey|
|F – Foxtrot||O – Oscar||X – X-ray|
|G – Golf||P – Papa||Y – Yankee|
|H – Hotel||Q – Quebec||Z – Zulu|
|I – India||R – Romeo|
Communicating on a two-way radio comes with both advantages and disadvantages. One of the main drawbacks is that communication doesn’t come across as clearly as talking on a mobile phone. For example, two-way radio communicators may experience:
- Noise and static
- A shared frequency
- Poor reception
It’s important to ensure the person with which you’re communicating understands you and your message. Performing a radio check will not only allow you to confirm you’re coming in loud and clear on the receiving end, but also that the recipient understands your message .
How To Perform a Military Radio Check:
- Say: “[Their call sign], this is [your call sign], radio check, over.”
- Wait for: “[Your call sign], this is [their call sign], roger, over.”
If you hear a signal coming in broken, say: “[Their call sign], this is [your call sign], message is coming in broken, over.”
Note: Use the proword “ROGER” to confirm a clear radio signal and an understood message, but “MESSAGE COMING IN BROKEN” to say a message isn’t coming in clearly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can soldiers have cell phones while deployed?
No. To ensure operational security, soldiers can’t have any electronics that might reveal their location.
Can civilians use military radios?
No. Military radios have encryption technology and aren’t available for purchase by the general public.
What radios do Navy SEALs use?
U.S. Navy SEALs use the AN/PRC-126 radio. Members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Air Force Combat Control Team, and other special forces also use this type of radio.
What is radio protocol?
Radio protocol represents the standard rules for communicating through a two-way radio. These standards vary slightly from industry to industry. For example, the U.S. Air Force will have its own set of rules while truckers and the police have theirs.
What are the basic rules of radio etiquette?
The basic rules of radio etiquette include:
- Never interrupt an ongoing conversation.
- Never transmit personal or sensitive information.
- Conduct radio checks to ensure others can understand your messages.
- Never say “repeat.” Instead use “Say again.” Why? The military uses the term “repeat” as an instruction to resume firing weapons.
- Use the correct lingo (e.g., “break,” “out,” “roger,” etc).
- Always share short, direct, clear, and articulate messages.
How do you respond to a radio check?
When someone asks for a radio check, polite and proper protocol dictates you should let them know the clarity of their connection. To do so, follow these steps:
- When clear, say: “[Their call sign], this is [your call sign], roger, over.”
- If they don’t have a clear signal, say: “[Their call sign], this is [your call sign], message coming in broken, over.”
Why do you say “over” on a radio?
Saying the word “over” at the end of a message indicates you’re finished speaking and you expect the other person to reply.
How can I talk like a military radio?
To talk like a military radio requires a basic understanding of military radio protocols. The best way to learn these protocols is by memorizing a list of military radio prowords and studying the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.
What very high frequency (VHF) channel should I use for a radio check?
Turn to channel 16, which is constantly monitored by the U.S. Coast Guard.
What type of communication is radio?
Radio is a form of shortwave communication. Radio waves travel through the ionosphere from a transmitter to a receiver.
How is radio better than other communication mediums?
Radio is useful in emergency situations when you need to broadcast a message or receive information. Scanners pick up on radio broadcasts, alerting the public of possible dangers and emergency messages. People also can use radio communication to transmit messages when the power grid goes down, making it more useful than other modes of communication.
What devices use radio waves?
Ham radios, citizens band (CB) radios, microwaves, and two-way radios all use radio waves. Many other devices, such as the AM/FM radios found in cars and radio frequency (RF) scanners, also use radio waves. These are the same frequencies the military uses to communicate.
Why should you not say “repeat” on the radio?
Never say “repeat” on the radio because the military uses the term to call for soldiers to fire on an enemy combatant. Instead, use the term “say again” to ask someone to repeat themselves.
Why do they say “roger” on the radio?
The proword “ROGER” has many uses. For example, it can mean “yes,” “okay,” “correct,” or “I hear you.” The proword phrase “ROGER WILCO” means: “Affirmative, I will comply.”
How do you end a radio conversation?
To end a radio conversation, simply say: “Out.” Despite its popularization on television, don’t say: “Over and out.” “Over” means you’re done speaking and it’s the other person’s turn to speak. “Out” means you’re done speaking. Just say “out” when you want to end a call.
Out of respect for their rank and position, the ranking officer typically will be the person to say “out” in military communication via radio. Alternatively, the person who initiated a conversation will say: “Out.”