The Military Phonetic Alphabet

Many of us are familiar with or have heard of the military alphabet in some manner. It is commonly used in war films, video games, comics, and novels, yet most individuals are unaware of its purpose, origin, and its effectiveness as a means of tactical radio communication both domestically and internationally.

In this article, we will explore the military phonetic alphabet in greater detail, including its origins and the reasons behind selecting particular characters for its composition. Additionally, we will examine the various elements and the intentions behind their usage.

Before diving into more specific information, here is a concise table that can be used as a reference to easily find the letter and its corresponding code.

Alphabet / Code Word

A Alpha / Alfa
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliet
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mike
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Rome
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform
V Victor
W Whiskey
X Xray
Y Yankee
Z Zulu


The ICAO phonetic alphabet, also known as the military alphabet, has a long history.

Before the modern military alphabet came into existence, the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) established the world’s first internationally recognized spelling alphabet. The ITU Radiotelephonic or Phonetic Alphabet, as it was known, was formally adopted by the ITU in 1927.

In 1932, a number of modifications were implemented to the original spelling alphabet. The updated version was subsequently endorsed by the International Commission of Air Navigation and utilized for civil aviation purposes until the start of World War II. Nonetheless, it continued to be employed by the International Maritime Organization until 1965.

ICAO Phonetic Alphabet

Military Letters = Code Word

  • A = Amsterdam
  • B = Baltimore
  • C = Casablanca
  • D = Denmark
  • E = Edison
  • F = Florida
  • G = Gallipoli
  • H = Havana
  • I = Italia
  • J = Jerusalem
  • K = Kilogramme
  • L = Liverpool
  • M = Madagascar
  • N = New York
  • O = Oslo
  • P = Paris
  • Q = Quebec
  • R = Roma
  • S = Santiago
  • T = Tripoli
  • U = Upsala
  • V = Valencia
  • W = Washington
  • X = Xanthippe
  • Y = Yokohama
  • Z = Zurich

Able Baker

Prior to 1956, the British and American military organizations had formulated their respective spelling alphabets, with both forces later adopting the ICAO phonetic alphabet.

The RAF alphabet was adopted by the British, while the American forces utilized the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet.

In 1941, a system called Able Baker was developed to enable communication between different branches of the American military. This system referred to the first two letters of the alphabet, A and B, and was universally used in all branches.

Shortly after in 1943, the British made changes to their phonetic alphabet so that it closely resembled the American alphabet known as Able Baker. Ground and aircraft personnel in civil aviation continued to use the Able Baker system. However, because certain sounds were specific to the English language, Latin America created a new version of the alphabet called the Ana Brazil alphabet.

Recognizing the importance of a universal alphabet, the IATA (International Air Transport Association) developed a preliminary alphabet and submitted it to the ICAO in 1947. The initial version included sounds that were commonly found in Spanish, French, and English.

After receiving modifications from several approving bodies, a modified phonetic alphabet started being utilized in 1951.

Revised Able Baker Alphabet

Military Letters = Code Word

  • A = Alfa
  • B = Bravo
  • C = Coca
  • D = Delta
  • E = Echo
  • F = Foxtrot
  • G = Golf
  • H = Hotel
  • I = India
  • J = Juliet
  • K = Kilo
  • L = Lima
  • M = Metro
  • N = Nectar
  • O = Oscar
  • P = Papa
  • Q = Quebec
  • R = Romeo
  • S = Sierra
  • T = Tango
  • U = Union
  • V = Victor
  • W = Whisky
  • X = Extra
  • Y =Yankee
  • Z = Zulu

The Modern Military Alphabet

The issues with the aforementioned list were quickly recognized.

Under the conditions of poor radio communications, certain words were difficult to grasp, while others were challenging to distinguish, such as Delta and Extra. As a result, many individuals chose to return to using the original Able Baker alphabet because of these complications.

Additional research was carried out, resulting in modifications to five letters in the alphabet, namely C, M, N, X, and U. In 1955, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) produced a recording of the revised alphabet and distributed it to all member states.

The ICAO launched the altered edition in 1956.

The ITU ordered in 1959 that the enhanced version of the military alphabet should be utilized by all military, civilian, and amateur radio users. This particular version remains the most commonly known and is still being employed to this day.

Modern Military Phonetic Alphabet

Military Letters = Code Word

  • A = Alfa / Alpha
  • B = Bravo
  • C = Charlie
  • D = Delta
  • E = Echo
  • F = Foxtrot
  • G = Golf
  • H = Hotel
  • I = India
  • J = Juliet
  • K = Kilo
  • L = Lima
  • M = Mike
  • N = November
  • O = Oscar
  • P = Papa
  • Q = Quebec
  • R = Rome
  • S = Sierra
  • T = Tango
  • U = Uniform
  • V = Victor
  • W = Whiskey
  • X = Xray
  • Y = Yankee
  • Z = Zulu

You may have observed that certain letters’ code words have been altered over time.

Here’s the reasoning for this:

  1. To begin with, in certain countries, there are languages that lack the necessary sounds to effectively express words, resulting in unclear communication.
  2. Another factor is that certain code words previously used bore resemblance to other active code words. Ultimately, new code words were discovered and chosen to address and overcome these problems.

Name Changes

The spelling alphabet has gone through various alterations in its name and characters ever since its establishment. These changes have been influenced by the organization that had a significant role in creating, modifying, or using the alphabet. The list of these changes is provided below.

  • The International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet is a standardized alphabet used in radiotelephony communications.
  • ICAO Phonetic Alphabet
  • ITU Radiotelephonic / Phonetic Alphabet
  • NATO Alphabet or NATO Spelling Alphabet

Presently, the NATO Alphabet is highly acknowledged and utilized across various contexts.

Beyond the NATO Alphabet

In the army alphabet, it is not just about using code words for letters. It is equally important to effectively transmit numbers, even in situations with poor communication or excessive background noise. To prevent any misunderstandings, specific number pronunciations were altered to eliminate confusion and ensure accurate reception and understanding of the communication.

Number Pronunciation

  • 1 WUN
  • 2 TOO
  • 3 TREE
  • 4 FOWER
  • 5 FIFE
  • 6 SIX
  • 7 SEVEN
  • 8 AIT
  • 9 NINER
  • 0 ZERO

The Need For The NATO Alphabet

When there is a need to send, receive, and comprehend communications with clarity, utilizing the conventional alphabet, which includes letters like A, B, C, and D, raises the risk of misinterpretation of the message.

Take this as an illustration: Imagine if the transmitted message was “Gather at grid DM1098”. This specific message could easily be mistaken as CN1098, EN1098, or various other combinations of letters that sound similar, particularly if there is a significant amount of noise in the vicinity, like gunfire or aircraft flying low, or if the communication channels are not well-functioning.

On the other hand, if the message was conveyed as “Meet at coordinate Delta-Mike-WUN-ZERO-NINER-AIT”, there would be less possibility for confusion or misunderstanding, thus ensuring that the message is received according to its intended meaning.


The military phonetic alphabet was developed because it was necessary, and it has changed many times in the past few decades. Despite these changes, it is still widely used for voice communications around the world, particularly in agencies that require clear and concise radio and telephone communication.

This spelling alphabet, which is widely acknowledged and employed, is utilized in armed forces, civil navigation, maritime operations, and law enforcement agencies across numerous countries around the world.

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