To ensure clearness during transmission and receiving of voice messages through radio gadgets and telephone signals. Military personnel as well as some police forces normally use the international radio-telephony spelling alphabet, otherwise commonly refereed to as the military alphabet.

The earliest alphabet system that had international recognition was adopted in 1927 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  The alphabet underwent some rapid development, which saw it being adopted by the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN) and the International Civil Aviation Organization to the Second World War.

Both the American and the British military forces used phonetic alphabets until they adopted the NATO military alphabet as a unified standard.

Despite being at times confused with international phonetic alphabets, the military alphabets do not share phonetic characteristics. They rather use some code words to assign English words in alphabetical order. For instance, A would be assigned alpha, Bravo for B, and so on. This ensures that some words that share phonetic similarities are not mistaken, especially during a crucial military or police operation. Below is a list of military alphabetic and their corresponding assigns as adopted by the NATO.

Official NATO Military Alphabet

Character Alphabet Pronunciation Character Alphabet Pronunciation
A Alpha Al fah N November No vem ber
B Bravo Brah voh O Oscar Ooss cah
C Charlie Char lee P Papa Ppah pah
D Delta Dell tah Q Quebec Qkeh beck
E Echo Eck oh R Romeo Rrow me oh
F Foxtrot Foks trot S Sierra Ssee air rah
G Golf Golf T Tango Ttang go
H Hotel Hoh tell U Uniform Uyou nee form
I India In dee ah V Victor Vvik tah
J Juliet Jew lee ett W Whiskey Wwiss key
K Kilo Key loh X X-Ray Xecks ray
L Lima Lee mah Y Yankee Yyang key
M Mike Mike Z Zulu Zzoo loo

The Numeric Military Alphabet

Number Pronunciation Number Pronunciation
0 Zeero 5 Fife
1 Wun 6 Siks
2 Too 7 Seven
3 Tree 8 Ait
4 Fow-er 9 Nine

Adoption of the military alphabet by the NATO

Initially, the alphabet was developed by the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization). Thereafter, it gained popularity with several military organs, police forces, aviation centers, communication institutions as well as learning institutions. Some of the early national and international organizations to adopt the system include the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the Federal aviation administration (FAA), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the International maritime organization (IMO) and the American National standards Institute (ANSI).

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) phonetic language originally used English numeric words with variant pronunciations, while organizations such as the International Maritime organization used compounded numeric words. In this way it became very hard and confusing to people across languages. This made NATO to adopt a harmonized International code of Signals (INTERCO) which spelled voice messages using flags and the Morse code characters. This was published in an Allied tactical Publication-1, Volume II: Allied Signal and Maneuvering Book, and used by joint navy in NATO.

NATO Phonetic Alphabet

After the integration and development of the military alphabet by NATO, the alphabet gained the name NATO Phonetic Alphabet. This was more universal as it facilitated easier communication between military, police forces, communication agencies, aviation as well as marine groups in a more global way.

Although it is largely and easily understandable by native English speakers, the modern military alphabet is not only used in United States and NATO countries, but has gained popularity worldwide. The alphabet is normally used on request when two parties are involved in communication. For instance, an aircraft pilot may need to engage a marine operator in a radio conversation across a border. However, if the two parties are from the same country, then another language that is common to them can be used.

Alphabet and Pronunciation

Since words may be pronounced differently by people from variant language backgrounds, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has an internationally recognized reference. The chart is mainly used by the aviation as well as marine personnel organs such as the IITU, FAA and the IMO.

Stressed numeric characters are always in upper case, while unstressed ones are in lower case. So as to uniform the alphabets across the styles, the IMO and the FAA style of bolding syllables takes effect.  This is to avoid confusion between underlined upper case in stressed syllables and hyperlinks; especially when the message is coded in electronic form.

Agencies also give their prevalent alphabetic styles with their corresponding pronunciations in case of difference. Usually, the difference is minimal from the standard military alphabetic; normally two letter words. Military alphabets are no longer used by the military forces only. There are other institutions that are adopting the language. Also, the language itself continues to evolve, and who knows, it may find itself in the mainstream use in the coming future.

Practice Videos For Learning the Military Alphabet

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