The NATO Phonetic Alphabet and Its Importance to the U.S. Military

The NATO phonetic alphabet is something that is used to offer improved communications when it is essential be be completely clear. Whether your communications are impacted by radio interference or the sound of a gun battle or other background noise, soldiers need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively. The alphabet, which is actually an orthography alphabet rather than an alphabet of letters, allows operators to communicate clearly in spite of language, noise, and different interferences that might exist in the situation. It is critical that when seeking support or needing an air strike, commands have to be understood 100 percent clearly because if they are not, this could mean the difference between life or death. Some letters sound virtually identical when spoken, so this alphabet offers a foolproof to ensure that orders are given and carried out specifically how they are meant to be.

The History Behind the Alphabet

The first internationally recognized orthography alphabet was adapted throughout 1927 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is a United Nations agency that coordinates telecommunication operations and services all over the world. (It was founded in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, and as such is the oldest international organization in existence.) The expertise gained there with the resulted in many changes being created throughout 1932 by the ITU. The ensuing alphabet was adopted by the International Commission for Air Navigation, the precursor to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and was used for civil aviation until the second World War.

British and American defense forces had both developed their orthography alphabets before each adopted the UN agency alphabet throughout 1956. British forces adopted the RAF alphabet, that is comparable to the alphabet utilized by the Royal Navy up to and through World War I. The United States adopted the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet in 1941 as a way to standardize systems among all branches of its defense force. The U.S. alphabet eventually was referred to as "Able Baker," representing the letters A and B. The United Kingdom tailored its RAF alphabet in 1943, with it turning out be just like the Joint-Army-Navy (JAN) one used in the United States.

Subsequent to World War II, with a large number of aircraft and ground personnel from the allied armed forces, "Able Baker" was still used in civil aviation although it did have several sounds that were distinctive to English. Because of this, another "Ana Brazil" alphabet was set up to be used in Latin America. However, the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), seeing the necessity for one universal alphabet, gave a draft alphabet to the UN agency in 1947 that had sounds common to French, Spanish, and English. It was finally adopted for civil aviation (it was likely not adopted by any military branches) on November 1, 1951, after extensive study and modification by all approving bodies. It reads as follows:

A equals Alfa

B equals Bravo

C equals Coca

D equals Delta

E equals Echo

F equals Foxtrot

G equals Golf

H equals Hotel

I equals India

J equals Juliett

K equals Kilo

L equals Lima

M equals Metro

N equals Nectar

O equals Oscar

P equals Papa

Q equals Quebec

R equals Romeo

S equals Sierra

T equals Tango

U equals Union

V equals Victor

W equals Whisky

Y equals Extra yank

Z equals Zulu

Shortly after implementation, problems were discovered with this list. These deficiencies with the alphabet had to be identified, so extensive testing was conducted. Speakers from 31 nations participated. Most involved representatives of the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States. Some users believed that the alphabet wasn't as user-friendly as the "Able Baker" alphabet, so they simply reverted back. There was confusion, in particular, among words like Delta, Nectar, Victor, and Extra. It was also believed there was extra unintelligibility of different words throughout poor receiving conditions were the other issues.

After further study, five words ended up being replaced, those representing the letters C, M, N, U, and X were replaced. The UN agency sent a recording of the new wireless telephone orthography alphabet to any and all member states in November 1955. The ultimate version was enforced by the UN agency in March 1956, and consequently, the ITU adopted sometime in 1959 once they mandated its usage via their official publication, Radio Rules. As a result of the ITU controlling all international radio communications, it was conjointly adopted by all radio operators, whether or not military, civilian, or amateur (ARRL). It was finally adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 1965. throughout 1947 the ITU adopted the number words (Nadazero, Unaone, and so on), later adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 1965.

The final alternative of code words for the letters of the alphabet and for the digits was created once many thousands of comprehension tests were completed. These involved 31 nations. The qualifying feature was the probability of a code word being understood within the context of others. For instance, "soccer" contains a higher likelihood of being understood than "foxtrot" in some situations; however, "foxtrot" is superior when it comes to extended communication.

The pronunciation of the code words is variable, depending on the language habits of the speaker. To eliminate wide variations in pronunciation, recordings and posters illustrating the pronunciation desired by the ICAO. But there are still variations in pronunciation between the UN agency and others, and therefore the UN agency has conflicting Roman-alphabet and IPA transcriptions. Also, though all codes for the letters of the alphabet are English words, they're not generally given English pronunciations. If one is to assume that the transcriptions are not intended to be completely precise, just 11 of the 26—Bravo, Echo, Hotel, Juliet(t), Kilo, Mike, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Whiskey, and Zulu—are given English pronunciations by of these agencies, although not completely identical English pronunciations.

Several necessary short words and responses have set equivalents designed to create them a lot of dependably intelligible, and are utilized in identical things because the world organization alphabet.

Here are some other uses:

For "yes" and "no," radio operators say "affirmative" and "negative," although the shortened "affirm" is often used for "affirmative" to avoid any kind of confusion.

In an emergency situation, "mayday" is used. This is the French version of "come help me," or venez m'aider.

"Roger" is the acknowledgment of a message. Originally, it was "roger message," but that was shortened to just "roger." It is based on the World War II era word for R, which was "romeo," which stood for "received."

"Wilco" generally means that an order will be complied with, and it is short for "will abide by." "Roger" and "wilco" are generally not used together as that usage would seem redundant.

Ending a turn in speaking is signaled by "over," which is a shortened version for "over to you." "Over" and "out" are not used together as they would seem to contradict each other.

Old-fashioned telegram style is still used with words like "the," "a/an," and "is/are" being dropped altogether. Contractions are also avoided, with speakers using "do not" rather than "don't," for example. And, as noted on previously "stop" is employed to finish a sentence, contrastive with decimal for a mathematical notation during a range.


A orthography alphabet is employed to spell elements of a message containing letters and numbers to avoid confusion, as a result of the fact that several letters sound similar. For example "n" and "m" or "b" and "d" can be very difficult to distinguish in person. The potential for confusion greatly increases if there is static or other noisy interference.

In addition to the standard military usage, civilian business uses the alphabet to avoid similar issues within the transmission of messages by phone systems. For instance, it's typically utilized in the retail business wherever client or web site details are spoken by phone (to authorize a credit agreement or to confirm stock codes), though circumstantial cryptography is usually utilized in that instance. It's been used typically by info technology employees to speak serial/reference codes (which are typically terribly long) or different specialized info by voice. Most major airlines use the alphabet to speak rider Name Records (PNRs) internally, and in some cases, with customers. it's typically utilized in a medical context as well, again for the same reason: to avoid confusion about information that is being transmitted.

Over the years, there are many letter codes and abbreviations that have become quite well know. For instance:

Bravo Zulu (letter code BZ) for "well done"

Checkpoint Charlie(Checkpoint C) in Berlin

Zulu Time for Greenwich Mean Time or Coordinated Universal Time

Victor Charlie, which meant "VC" and stood for Viet Cong guerrillas during the Vietnam War

It interesting to consider the evolution of this alphabet and all it has done for both the civil and military entities of this country.

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