The Military Alphabet

Marine practices shooting at silhouettes
Cpl. Jonathan P. Garcia changes magazines while shooting at silhouette targets aboard USS Makin Island, Dec. 6, 2011. (Cpl. Gene. A. Ainsworth III/U.S. Marines)

What's the point of the military alphabet, and how do you use it? This phonetic alphabet solves what can a major problem with real combat impacts.

If you've ever talked on a call with bad reception or with someone in a loud place, you know how difficult it can be to communicate using regular English. Many words sound similar and easily can be misunderstood, and the same is true for a few letters if you attempt to spell something out.

Clear, expedient communication is vital to any military operation, and the everyday method of conveying ideas isn't always suitable. Without a solid understanding of what's being communicated, mistakes are likely to be made and may even be lethal.

Currently, the U.S. military uses the same phonetic alphabet adopted by NATO. More accurately, the alphabet is known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA). The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) developed the IRSA to account for discrepancies in similar alphabets between different countries and organizations. Currently, the only difference in the IRSA among countries that adopt it is the spelling of certain words, such as Alfa for many European countries to avoid mispronunciations.

The military uses the IRSA to communicate for many different purposes, including communicating code, shorthand, slang and certain acronyms. For example, the phrase "Tango Uniform" correlates with the phrase tits up, which refers to either a deceased individual or a broken piece of equipment.

These types of phrases said may arise from other forms of communication, such as the Naval saying "bravo zulu" which means "well done." Rather than relating directly back to the first letters of "well done," bravo zulu references flags of the same designation from a maritime tactical signals publication.

The Military Alphabet

To see the military alphabet in action, check out's glossary of military acronyms and glossary of military terms and slang.

Letter 1957-Present Morse Code 1913 1927 1938 World War II
A Alfa (or Alpha) . _ Able Affirmative Affirm Affirm (Able)
B Bravo _ . . . Boy Baker Baker Baker
C Charlie _ . _ . Cast Cast Cast Charlie
D Delta _ . . Dog Dog Dog Dog
E Echo . Easy Easy Easy Easy
F Foxtrot . . _ . Fox Fox Fox Fox
G Golf _ _ . George George George George
H Hotel . . . . Have Hypo Hypo How
I India . . Item Interrogatory Int Int (Item)
J Juliett . _ _ _ Jig Jig Jig Jig
K Kilo _ . _ King King King King
L Lima . _ . . Love Love Love Love
M Mike _ _ Mike Mike Mike Mike
N November _ . Nan Negative Negat Negat (Nan)
O Oscar _ _ _ Oboe Option Option Option (Oboe)
P Papa . _ _ . Pup Preparatory Prep Prep (Peter)
Q Quebec _ _ . _ Quack Quack Queen Queen
R Romeo . _ . Rush Roger Roger Roger
S Sierra . . . Sail Sail Sail Sugar
T Tango _ Tare Tare Tare Tare
U Uniform . . _ Unit Unit Unit Uncle
V Victor . . . _ Vice Vice Victor Victor
W Whiskey . _ _ Watch William William William
X X-ray _ . . _ X-ray X-ray X-ray X-ray
Y Yankee _ . _ _ Yoke Yoke Yoke Yoke
Z Zulu _ _ . . Zed Zed Zed Zebra

Ready to Join the Military?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you

Show Full Article
Join the Military