What Is the Phonetic Alphabet of the U.S. Military?


Quick Answer

Since 1957, the U.S. military has used the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, more commonly known as the NATO phonetic alphabet. The code words of this phonetic alphabet are as follows: alpha, bravo, Charlie, delta, echo, foxtrot, golf, hotel, India, Juliett, kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, tango, uniform, Victor, whiskey, x-ray, Yankee and Zulu.

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Full Answer

The NATO phonetic alphabet also prescribes different pronunciations for the numbers three, four, five and nine, which are "tree," "fow-er," "fife" and "niner," respectively. These alterations reduce the risk of confusing numerals with words; nine is difficult to distinguish from the German word "nein," for example.

Spelling alphabets allow for clearer communication in noisy environments or when speaking over the radio or telephone. While "b" and "d" may be difficult to distinguish, especially in the absence of visual cues and body language, "bravo" and "delta" are not. In general, the creators of spelling alphabets choose code words that are as distinct from each other as possible. This allows listeners to understand a message even when static or other interference cuts off part of a code word.

The British Army created the first spelling alphabet in 1898. This alphabet only had code words for the most commonly misunderstood letters, such as "Emma" for "m" and "Esses" for "s."

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