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NATO Phonetic Alphabet

Jul 13, 2014

The NATO phonetic alphabet, more accurately known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet and also called the ICAO phonetic or ICAO spelling alphabet, as well as the ITU phonetic alphabet, is the most widely used spelling alphabet. Although often called "phonetic alphabets", spelling alphabets are not associated with phonetic transcription systems such as the International Phonetic Alphabet. Instead, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) alphabet assigned code words acrophonically to the letters of the English alphabet so that critical combinations of letters and numbers can be pronounced and understood by those who transmit and receive voice messages by radio or telephone regardless of language barriers or the presence of transmission static.

The 26 code words in the NATO phonetic alphabet are assigned to the 26 letters of the English alphabet in alphabetical order as follows: Alfa, 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, Zulu.

Code words

USMC NATO Phonetic Alphabet CommunicationsThe final choice of code words for the letters of the alphabet and for the digits was made after hundreds of thousands of comprehension tests involving 31 nationalities. The qualifying feature was the likelihood of a code word being understood in the context of others. For example, football has a higher chance of being understood than foxtrot in isolation, but foxtrot is superior in extended communication.

The pronunciation of the code words varies according to the language habits of the speaker. To eliminate wide variations in pronunciation, recordings and posters illustrating the pronunciation desired by the ICAO are available. However, there are still differences in pronunciation between the ICAO and other agencies, and the ICAO has conflicting Roman-alphabet and IPA transcriptions. Also, although all codes for the letters of the alphabet are English words, they are not in general given English pronunciations. Assuming that the transcriptions are not intended to be precise, only 11 of the 26—Bravo, Echo, Hotel, Juliet(t), Kilo, Mike, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Whiskey, and Zulu—are given English pronunciations by all these agencies, though not always the same English pronunciations.


LetterCode wordUS Army standard
AAlfa ATIS: AlphaAL fah
BBravoBRAH voh
CCharlieCHAR lee
DDeltaDEL tah
EEchoEKK oh
FFoxtrotFOKS trot
HHotelHO tell
IIndiaIN dee ah
JJuliett ATIS: JulietJEW lee ett
KKiloKEY loh
LLimaLEE mah
NNovemberNOH vem ber
OOscarOSS car
PPapaPAH pah
QQuebeckeh BECK
RRomeoROW me oh
SSierrasee AIR ah
TTangoTANG go
UUniformYOU nee form
VVictorVIK ter
WWhiskeyWISS key
XX-ray or XrayEKS ray
YYankeeYANG kee
ZZuluZOO loo


DigitCode wordPronunciation
(decimal point)
(full stop)