United States Military Phonetic Alphabet

You’ve probably seen military movies before where the actors portraying military members recite a series of words and numbers that don’t seem to make any sense. You were most likely hearing the Military Phonetic Alphabet, which is an open code used to communicate letters phonetically to ensure the communication is clear.

Military Phonetic Alphabet

Why does the military use the Military Phonetic Alphabet?

Because many letters sound similar when recited over the phone or radio. Think of all the letters that end with a long “E” sound: B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V, Z. These letters can sound similar when run together quickly or over a crackled radio or poor phone connection. When you see the corresponding letter/word combination in the Military Phonetic Alphabet you will see there is very little room for error.

Why use an open code for the Military Phonetic Alphabet?

I know what you’re thinking – What good is a code when everyone knows it? The point of the Military Phonetic Alphabet isn’t to hide communications, it is to communicate more effectively by eliminating errors. The Military Phonetic Alphabet reduces the chances of misinterpreting the verbal communication because each letter/word combination is unique enough that it can’t be confused with another letter, but the sounds of individual letters can be easily confused.

The other thing to remember is that the Military Phonetic Alphabet is most often used in open communications that aren’t necessarily secret, but need to be quickly and accurately understood. Think for example, of an air traffic controller directing an airplane toward to the correct approach or heading. The Military Phonetic Alphabet is also used to label sectors or divisions on a map or encampment. For example, it is easier for everyone if a row of tents is labeled Alpha Row, Bravo Row, etc., than if each row of tents was given a traditional “street name” like Main Street, Maple Lane, etc.

Did you know there are other phonetic alphabets used by other military services? See this list from Wikipedia.

What is the Military Phonetic Alphabet?

  • A – Alpha
  • B – Bravo
  • C – Charlie
  • D – Delta
  • E – Echo
  • F – Foxtrot
  • G – Golf
  • H – Hotel
  • I – India
  • J – Juliet
  • K – Kilo
  • L – Lima
  • M – Mike
  • N – November
  • O – Oscar
  • P – Papa
  • Q – Quebec
  • R – Romeo
  • S – Sierra
  • T – Tango
  • U – Uniform
  • V – Victor
  • W – Whiskey
  • X – X-ray
  • Y – Yankee
  • Z – Zulu

Having Fun With the Military Phonetic Alphabet

The Military Phonetic Alphabet can be used for inside jokes and “hidden” communications. It can also be found in pop culture, on TV, radio, and even in the name of a record album, such as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, by Wilco.

This is Romeo Yankee Alpha November Golf, signing off.

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Date published: October 18, 2010.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.

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