The NATO phonetic alphabet is widely used to improve communications when you absolutely have to be clear. Whether it’s radio interference or the sound of gun fire, soldiers must be able to effectively communicate. The phonetic alphabet is really a spelling alphabet and not a true phonetic alphabet, lets operators communicate clear regardless of language, noise and other interference. When you are calling for support or an air strike your commands must be clearly understood because the consequences could literally be life or death. Letters often sound the same when spoken and the phonetic alphabet gives us a way to make absolute sure that your orders were relayed exactly as you meant them to be.
Use the table below to learn the NATO Phonetic Alphabet or use the widget to the right to automatically convert a phrase.
History of the Phonetic Alphabet
The first internationally recognized spelling alphabet was adopted by the ITU during 1927. The experience gained with that alphabet resulted in several changes being made during 1932 by the ITU. The resulting alphabet was adopted by the International Commission for Air Navigation, the predecessor of the ICAO, and was used for civil aviation until World War II. It continued to be used by the IMO until 1965:
Amsterdam Baltimore Casablanca Denmark Edison Florida Gallipoli Havana Italia Jerusalem Kilogramme Liverpool Madagascar New_York Oslo Paris Quebec Roma Santiago Tripoli Upsala Valencia Washington Xanthippe Yokohama Zurich
British and American armed forces had each developed their spelling alphabets before both forces adopted the ICAO alphabet during 1956. British forces adopted the RAF phonetic alphabet, which is similar to the phonetic alphabet used by the Royal Navy during World War I. The U.S. adopted the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet during 1941 to standardize systems among all branches of its armed forces. The U.S. alphabet became known as Able Baker after the words for A and B. The United Kingdom adapted its RAF alphabet during 1943 to be almost identical to the American Joint-Army-Navy (JAN) one.
After World War II, with many aircraft and ground personnel from the allied armed forces, “Able Baker” continued to be used for civil aviation. But many sounds were unique to English, so an alternative “Ana Brazil” alphabet was used in Latin America. But the International Air Transport Association (IATA), recognizing the need for a single universal alphabet, presented a draft alphabet to the ICAO during 1947 that had sounds common to English, French, and Spanish. After further study and modification by each approving body, the revised alphabet was implemented on 1 November 1951 for civil aviation (but it may not have been adopted by any military):
Alfa Bravo Coca Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Metro Nectar Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Union Victor Whisky Extra Yankee Zulu
Problems were soon found with this list. Some users believed that they were so severe that they reverted to the old “Able Baker” alphabet. To identify the deficiencies of the new alphabet, testing was conducted among speakers from 31 nations, principally by the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States. Confusion among words like Delta, Nectar, Victor, and Extra, or the unintelligibility of other words during poor receiving conditions were the main problems. After much study, only the five words representing the letters C, M, N, U, and X were replaced. The ICAO sent a recording of the new Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet to all member states in November 1955. The final version given in the table above was implemented by the ICAO on 1 March 1956, and the ITU adopted it no later than 1959 when they mandated its usage via their official publication, Radio Regulations. Because the ITU governs all international radio communications, it was also adopted by all radio operators, whether military, civilian, or amateur (ARRL). It was finally adopted by the IMO in 1965. During 1947 the ITU adopted the compound number words (Nadazero Unaone, etc.), later adopted by the IMO during 1965.