How to use the Military Alphabet easily: simple guide

how to use the military alphabet

Explains how to use the Military Alphabet, with charts and strategies to help you lean the alphabet more quickly and use it with ease.

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The Military Alphabet, originally known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA) or NATO Phonetic Alphabet was created by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) in 1957. Prior to 1957 this alphabet was developed and tested by various Airforce, Army, and Navy entities during World Wars 1 and 2 as a means to have better communication during poor and interfered radio signals. 

The first version of an internationally used alphabet was published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 1927 and changed in 1932. The resulting alphabet was introduced by the predecessor organization of today’s ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and used in civil aviation until the Second World War.

Amsterdam Baltimore Casablanca Denmark Edison Florida Gallipoli Havana Italia Jerusalem Kilograms Liverpool Madagascar New_York Oslo Paris Quebec Roma Santiago Tripoli Upsala Valencia Washington Xanthippe Yokohama Zurich

Great Britain and America had developed their own phonetic alphabets for military use before both nations adopted the ICAO alphabet in 1956. Previously, the British used the alphabet used by the Royal Air Force during World War I. This was adapted in 1943 to the alphabet used by the Americans. This gained fame under the name “Able Baker”, after the initials A and B.

After the Second World War, “Able Baker” was also used in civil aviation, as many aircraft and ground personnel were part of the Allied occupying powers. It quickly became clear, however, that many of the sounds were exclusively English and thus discovered the need for a single, universal international alphabet. In 1947, the IATA (International Air Transport Organization) introduced the ICAO to an alphabet that contained sounds that were similar in English as well as in French and Spanish. The use of this alphabet came into effect in 1951 after thorough scrutiny.

Alfa Bravo Coca Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Metro Nectar Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Union Victor Whiskey Extra Yankee Zulu

Problems with this alphabet were immediately revealed. Some even found this to be so massive that they returned to the old “Able Baker”. In order to uncover deficiencies, 31 different nations were used for tests. The biggest problems were the confusion about words like Nektar, Viktor or Extra as well as the incomprehensibility of some words with poor radio reception. After extensive study, words with the letters C, M, N, U and X have been removed from the alphabet.

The final version of the International Spelling Alphabet was put into effect on March 1, 1956 by the ICAO and adopted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Although the IRSA was initially restricted to military use it has become well-known and used publicly for many years, creating more convenient communication methods for everyone. Oftentimes it gets confused with the Phonetic Alphabet, which is used to learn proper pronunciation of English words; the Military Alphabet is used to spell words and is also referred to as the ‘spelling alphabet’.

How to use the Military Alphabet 

Using the Military Alphabet is an easy process, but will require some level of memorization at first as there are 26 code words for each letter of the alphabet. Each code word sounds distinctly different from the others to avoid confusion when saying it. There are various methods to assist with memorizing it, these include the following. 

Using flash cards with each code word written on a separate card and the letter on the other side, writing out each code word, verbally reiterating the code words with someone and then getting them to do a test on the learner, thinking about the alphabet while reading and writing, and reading through it before sleeping to assist the brain with remembering. 

An important part of using the Military Alphabet is being able to apply it quickly, without needing to think about it or reading it from somewhere, therefore learning it in different ways will help, for example, saying it backwards, mixing the order, and doing verbalized speed tests.    

Below are the corresponding code words for each letter of the alphabet, which can be used for various purposes, as well as the military-related and non-military related uses that it can be applied to. 

  • 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

For military use

For Military use, the alphabet is used to ensure proper communication, especially for radio communication. Any form of communication in the military needs to be done as concisely and clearly as possible as it can mean life or death. It also creates a system for all military members to stick to when communicating so that everyone is on the same page. 

There are three guidelines for an effective communication procedure in the military, namely, accuracy, brevity, and clarity – all messages need to be clear and short, sticking to the topic at hand. Messages also need to be under 30 seconds in length to adhere to the above guidelines. 

For non-military use

The Military Alphabet, also referred to as the ‘Alpha, Bravo, Charlie’ alphabet, is used outside the military in situations that need clear and concise communication systems, for example, the Aviation industry will use it for aircraft communication when exchanging flight coordinates or passenger names. 

Pilots receive important information, data, and various weather, runway, and logistical updates from the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS), which is communicated by using the Military Alphabet, similarly, Aircraft Transponder Codes, also known as Squawk Codes, are composed of the the Military Alphabet to recognize different flights and aircrafts. 

In the Financial industry, for example, banks, traders, and other financial entities, the Military Alphabet can be used for communicating security codes, verification of various client details, and important and official information regarding transactions and trades.  


The Military Alphabet has extensive origins, and although originally used between private military and navy officials, it soon became open to the public, applying it to various legal and official tasks and information. The primary objective for using the Military Alphabet is to have a clear and concise means of communication to avoid any errors, especially when dealing with emergency situations or relaying important information.