Military Alphabet

Updated: April 1, 2022
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    The military phonetic alphabet uses 26 code words to represent each letter of the alphabet. The functionality of the Military Phonetic Alphabet is a communication tool for military and civilian people alike, most often used to detail error-free spelling by phone. Other military uses can function as communicating code, slang, or shortcode.

    Guide to the Military Phonetic Alphabet

    The military alphabet is more accurately known as IRSA (International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet and was developed by the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) to reduce pronunciation discrepancies during oral radio communications. It is the same phonetic alphabet NATO uses.

    Phonetic Alphabet Uses in Military Missions

    Because many letters in the English language sound similar—as in, “M” and “N” or “B” and “D”—the Military Phonetic Alphabet is crucial to help service members relay mission status, locations, codes, and other important information. For example, if directions are being issued to “muster at building DMG,” proper use of the phonetic alphabet would be to say “muster at building Delta-Mike-Golf.”

    On a larger scale, clarity in communication during military operations can be the difference between losing a comrade or bringing everyone home. For instance, to successfully convey to its command that the first phase of a mission has been completed, a squadron would report back “Alpha” (the first word in the alphabet), the second phase would be “Bravo” and so on. Likewise, “Oscar Mike” can be used to convey that the team is on the move.

    Printable Military Alphabet Charts


    Military Alphabet

    CharacterCode WordPronunciation
    AAlphaAL fah
    BBravoBRAH voh
    CCharlieCHAR lee
    DDeltaDEL tah
    EEchoEKK oh
    FFoxtrotFOKS trot
    HHotelHO tell
    IIndiaIN dee ah
    JJulietJEW lee ett
    KKiloKEY loh
    LLimaLEE mah
    NNovemberNOH vem ber
    OOscarOSS car
    PPapaPAH pah
    QQuebeckeh BECK
    RRomeoROW me oh
    SSierrasee AIR ah
    TTangoTANG go
    UUniformYOU nee form
    VVictorVIK ter
    WWhiskeyWISS key
    XX-RayEKS ray
    YYankeeYANG kee
    ZZuluZOO loo

    History of the Military Phonetic Alphabet

    Though the first recognized phonetic alphabet was adopted in 1927, the Military Phonetic Alphabet didn’t come to fruition until World War II. In 1941, the U.S. adopted the Joint Army/Navy radiotelephony alphabet to standardize communication among all branches of the U.S. military, though many nations used their own versions, and the Royal Air Force adopted a similar alphabet to the U.S.

    The system created by the U.S. would later be called Able Baker after the letters “A” and “B.” In 1943, the U.S., U.K., and Australian armed forces modified the Able Baker alphabet to streamline communication between allied nations.

    After World War II, the Able Baker alphabet was utilized, but modified, by other nations because sounds found in the alphabet were unique to English speakers. Seeing the need to adopt a universal alphabet that could be used in English, French, Spanish, and other languages, the alphabet was further revised through testing among speakers from 31 nations.


    History of The NATO Phonetic Alphabet

    Letter1957-PresentMorse Code191319271938World War II
    AAlfa (or Alpha). _AbleAffirmativeAfirmAfirm (Able)
    BBravo_ . . .BoyBakerBakerBaker
    CCharlie_ . _ .CastCastCastCharlie
    DDelta_ . .DogDogDogDog
    FFoxtrot. . _ .FoxFoxFoxFox
    GGolf_ _ .GeorgeGeorgeGeorgeGeorge
    HHotel. . . .HaveHypoHypoHow
    IIndia. .ItemInterrogatoryIntInt (Item)
    JJuliett. _ _ _JigJigJigJig
    KKilo_ . _KingKingKingKing
    LLima. _ . .LoveLoveLoveLove
    MMike_ _MikeMikeMikeMike
    NNovember_ .NanNegativeNegatNegat (Nan)
    OOscar_ _ _OboeOptionOptionOption (Oboe)
    PPapa. _ _ .PupPreparatoryPrepPrep (Peter)
    QQuebec_ _ . _QuackQuackQueenQueen
    RRomeo. _ .RushRogerRogerRoger
    SSierra. . .SailSailSailSugar
    UUniform. . _UnitUnitUnitUncle
    VVictor. . . _ViceViceVictorVictor
    WWhiskey. _ _WatchWilliamWilliamWilliam
    XX-ray_ . . _X-rayX-rayX-rayX-ray
    YYankee_ . _ _YokeYokeYokeYoke
    ZZulu_ _ . .ZedZedZedZebra

    Common Military Alphabet Phrases/Slang Terms

    • 11 Bravo – Army Infantry
    • 40 Mike Mike – 40 Millimeter Grenade or M203 Grenade Launcher
    • Bravo Zulu – Good Job or Well Done
    • Charlie Foxtrot – Cluster F**k
    • Charlie Mike – Continue Mission
    • Echo Tango Sierra – Expiration Term of Service (someone who is about to complete their tour of duty)
    • Lima Charlie – Loud and Clear
    • Mikes – Minutes
    • November Golf – NG or No Go (fail)
    • Oscar-Mike – On the Move
    • Tango Mike – Thanks Much
    • Tango Uniform – Toes Up, meaning killed or destroyed or defective equipment
    • Tango Yankee – Thank You
    • Whiskey Charlie – Water Closet (toilet)
    • Whiskey Pete – White Phosphorus
    • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – WTF

    Written by Team