By Meaghan MacDougall
You may or may not already know, but the military has its own alphabet that they use to communicate with each other over radios and other devices. The military alphabet is also called the NATO phonetic alphabet and was created for service members to improve communication with one another.

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Where Does the Military Alphabet Come From?

The earliest version of the military alphabet was created in the 1920s. It ultimately allowed pilots to communicate with ground control, but there was often poor signal and a lot of radio interference. So, flight associations began to use code words that represented letters that were easily confused. During World War I was when the first complete coded alphabet was introduced. In 1927, the ITU, International Telegraph Unit, developed the alphabet that was meant for telegraph communications, which, over time, grew very popular. By World War II, almost all commercial airlines around the world were using these coded words. In 1941, the U.S. military introduced a standard spelling language that was used in every branch of the military. The United States Army and Navy came together to create the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet, also known as the “Able Baker Charlie” alphabet. In 1957, the United States military and NATO both adopted the alphabet, known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet or the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. This system was developed by the International Civil Aviation Authority, or ICAO. They developed this system after years of research and testing. Initially, the United States government established the NATO Phonetic Alphabet as confidential before they released it to the public. The military alphabet grew popular over time and is still used within the U.S. military today.

What Is the Military Alphabet?

The military alphabet, or the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, is used by the U.S. military, NATO, and the International Civil Aviation Organization. Civilians who know this alphabet letters also use them to be able to talk in code and spell out words and phrases. The alphabet military code is used to make sure that oral communication is clearly understood. Many of the standard English letters sometimes get lost in communication because of their similar sounds over radio, like the letters B and P and C and E. There are 26 military names for letters, and these consist of standard English alphabet words that are specific to military use. Each of the military words coincides with each of the 26 letters of the standard English alphabet. The U.S. military also ensures every service member is taught the military alphabet when they first enter their branch of service. This way, they can ensure that every service member within the military knows the correct pronunciation guide.

Military Words for Letters of the Alphabet

Listed below are all of the letters of the standard English alphabet and the code words associated with them:

Military Code Letter and Words

As you now know, every member of the military knows each of the military letters and words like the back of their hand. Some civilians also enjoy the challenge of learning each and every one of the military call letters and even some of the phrases. Pretty much all of the alphabet is used for code words and even some slang phrases. For example, Charlie Mike is code for “complete mission,” while Bravo Zulu is a slang phrase to indicate general approval or appreciation. Some other code words that the alphabet is used for are:
  • Lima Charlie – loud and clear.
  • Oscar Mike – on the move.
  • Tango Yankee – thank you.
  • November Golf – no good.
  • Echo Tango Sierra – expiration term of service.

Use of NATO Alphabet Outside of the Armed Forces

Although this alphabet is usually associated with the United States Armed Forces, there are many uses for it outside of the military. The coded alphabet is also used for aircraft communication. Pilots rely on the Automatic Terminal Information Service, which provides a broadcast for runway logistics, weather information, and other important things pilots need to know. All of the updates on the broadcast are assigned with a letter from the alphabet to let pilots know how recent the updates are. The alphabet is also used for Aircraft Transponder codes or squawk codes, which are used to differentiate aircraft and flights by air traffic control. Banks also use the military or NATO alphabet so that they are able to communicate security codes, verify customer information, trade, or order large transactions. The military alphabet has been used as a way of communication for almost a century now in multiple ways. It’s been an important method of conveying information for the Armed Forces, aircraft, and even banks. It’s also a fun and challenging thing to learn if you’re interested in having knowledge of the alphabet and its code words.

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