Military Alphabet | Code Language of the Armed Forces (2024)

Have you ever watched a war filmand wondered, “What’s a Foxtrot? Who is Charlie? Did someone say Tango?” Theseunusual wordsbelong to a powerful code language known as the military alphabet. Servicemen and women use this language to improve clarity of communication, and sometimes as a form of slang.

The military alphabet consists of 27 code words. Each represents one letter of the English alphabet. For instance, “Alpha” means “A,” “Bravo” means B, and so on. Multiple code words often arecombinedto form words or expressions. For example, to say“dog,” one would say“Delta-Oscar-Golf.”None of the 27 codewords sound alike, so there is no doubt what is said when spelling this way.

Pronunciation & Printable Charts

LetterCode WordPronunciation **
AAlpha AL fah
BBravo BRAH voh
CCharlie CHAR lee
DDelta DEL tah
EEcho EKK oh
FFoxtrot FOKS trot
GGolf Golf
HHotel HO tell
IIndia IN dee ah
JJuliet JEW lee ett
KKilo KEY loh
LLima LEE mah
MMike MIke
NNovember NOH vem ber
OOscar OSS car
PPapa PAH pah
QQuebec keh BECK
RRomeo ROW me oh
SSierra see AIR ah
TTango TANG go
UUniform YOU nee form
VVictor VIK ter
WWhiskey WISS key
XX-Ray EKS ray
YYankee YANG kee
ZZulu ZOO loo

Use in the Armed Forces

You may have noticed that many english letters sound similar. For example, it’s common to mistake “B” for a “P,” “C” for “E,” and so on. For most of us, this sort of error might cause a mislabeled package shipment or a misspelled dinner invitation. However, for a soldier or fighter pilot, a misheard command or radio signal can mean life or death.

Therefore, radio operators in the armed services often rely on the military alphabet when sending codes or relaying important information. This ensures clear communication, regardless of background noise or radio interference.

In addition, men and women in the service often use the “alpha bravo charlie” alphabet as a form of shorthand or slang. Some popular expressions include:

  • Oscar-Mike (“on the move”): a unit is moving between positions
  • Charlie Mike (“continue mission”): a mission will continued following an interruption
  • Tango Delta (“target down”): the enemy waseliminated
  • Lima Charlie(“loud and clear”): confirmationof received instructions

To discover more expressions, check out our list of military slang.

Use Outside the Military

Military alphabet has also proven a very useful tool in civilian life. Here are just a few examples:

  • Commercial airlines across the globeuse thealpha bravo charlie language to communicate flight coordinates and passenger names. 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.
  • US police forces have developed their own “phonetic”alphabet: The Police Alphabet
  • Banks, traders and financial institutions often use the military alphabet when ordering large transactions over the phone

Is Military Alphabet a Phonetic Alphabet?

Many refer to the military alphabet as a phoneticalphabet. This is technically not accurate. A phonetic alphabets aids in the pronunciation of words. Themilitary alphabet is used to spell outwords, andis more correctly known as a “spelling alphabet”.

History of the Military Alphabet

Over the the firsthalf of the 20th century, several different spelling alphabets came in and out of use. Then, in 1957, Nato and the US introduced a common system, which still remains in use.


The earliest use of into use during the early twentiethcentury. AM radio technology enabled pilots to coordinate with ground control, but poor signal and radio interference caused frequent errors. To solve this problem, flightassociations startedusing code words to represent easily confused letters.

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 systemgrew 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 II. 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 afteryears of carefulresearch and testing. Critically, the ICAO tested each code word in many common dialects. As a result, theIRSA has stoodthe test of time as an international standard.

The US government initially classified the IRSA asconfidential, but soon laterreleased it to the public.The IRSA remains in use today, and has only grown more popular with time. Today we have come to know this extraordinary code language simply as the“military alphabet.”

Military Alphabet Over Time

LetterIRSA (1957-Present)Joint Army (WW2)ITU (1927-WW2)RAF (1913)Morse code
AAlphaAfirmAmsterdam Able. _
BBravoBakerBaltimoreBoy_ . . .
CCharlieCharlieCasablancaCast_ . _ .
DDeltaDogDenmarkDog_ . .
FFoxtrotFoxFloridaFox. . _ .
GGolfGeorgeGallipoliGeorge_ _ .
HHotelHowHavanaHave. . . .
IIndiaInt (Item)ItaliaItem. .
JJulietJigJerusalemJig. _ _ _
KKiloKingKilogrammeKing_ . _
LLimaLoveLiverpoolLove. _ . .
MMikeMikeMadagascarMike_ _
NNovemberNegat New YorkNan_ .
OOscarOption OsloOboe_ _ _
PPapaPrep ParisPup. _ _ .
QQuebecQueenQuebecQuack_ _ . _
RRomeoRogerRomaRush. _ .
SSierraSugarSantiagoSail. . .
UUniformUncleUpsalaUnit. . _
VVictorVictorValenciaVice. . . _
WWhiskeyWilliamWashingtonWatch. _ _
XX-RayX-RayXanthippeX-Ray_ . . _
YYankeeYokeYokohamaYoke_ . _ _
ZZuluZebraYokohamaZed_ _ . .

**Pronunciations by Wikipedia username Valeatory. Licensed under Creative Commons

Military Alphabet | Code Language of the Armed Forces (2024)


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