Military Phonetic Alphabet

Alpha to Zebra

Officer talking on radio phone as line of soldiers crosses river below him
Frank Rossoto Stocktrek/Digital Vision/Getty Images

A phonetic alphabet is a list of words used to identify letters in a message transmitted by radio, telephone and encrypted messages. The phonetic alphabet can also be signaled with flags, lights, and Morse Code.  When on radio, spoken words from an approved list are substituted for letters. For example, the word "Army" would be "Alfa Romeo Mike Yankee" when spelled in the phonetic alphabet. This practice helps to prevent confusion between similar sounding letters, such as "m" and "n", and to clarify signals communications that may be garbled during transmission.

In military missions, the use of phonetic alphabet has been used to communicate with the chain of command as to what phase of the mission has been successfully performed.  For instance, if a SEAL Team has arrived on the beach and were undetected to continue the mission, they may have designated that as the first "waypoint" and use the code word "Alpha".  This will tell the upper level chain of command where you are and if you are on schedule.

An early version of the phonetic alphabet appears in the 1913 edition of The Navy Bluejackets’ Manual. Found in the Signals section, it was paired with the Alphabetical Code Flags defined in the International Code. Both the meanings of the flags (the letter which they represent) and their names (which make up the phonetic alphabet) were selected by international agreement. Later editions included the Morse code signal as well.

Military Phonetic Alphabet (adopted 1957)

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


Flags and Pennants Used by Navy / Sailing Vessels Worldwide

The Navy and other seafaring vessels use visual symbol on the mast of the ship / boats to convey status of the ship and crew.  From emergencies to dredging operations and other occupations being accomplished by the boat and crew, flags are a way to communicating on the open water ways. As seen in the picture, all flags represent the phonetic alphabet and have meanings different than the above chart.

See Link to Picture of Flag Alphabet

The use of alpha-phonetic symbols is to decrease radio traffic and to communicate status, request assistance, in easy to understand code that can be internationally understood.  The more tactical use of alpha-phonetics can be used similarly as code words to mission status, encrypted, and decrease open radio traffic with line of sight communications with flags and lights.

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