The NATO phonetic alphabet is a communication system that uses words to represent each letter of the English alphabet. It is commonly referred to as the radio alphabet or army alphabet. If you are unfamiliar with it you have probably heard it in any TV shows centering around police, the military, or truckers.
The alphabet uses terms like “Alfa, Bravo, Charlie” to represent the letters “A, B, C” over radio or telephone. If you’ve ever had a miscommunication with spelling over the radio or on the phone, you can understand why the NATO phonetic alphabet exists.
Communication becomes especially difficult when there is static or a poor connection. The NATO phonetic alphabet ensures that there are no miscommunications when people are communicating over a radio or phone.
Here is the complete list of the NATO phonetic alphabet:
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.
The History of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet
The first radio alphabet was created in the first half of the 20th century by a series of international organizations that assigned 26 code words to the 26 letters of the alphabet for the sole purpose of making radio communication clear. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had its own phonetic alphabet.
It is referred to as the NATO phonetic alphabet because NATO established and popularized the alphabet so member countries could communicate clearly with each other in the 1950s.
In 1956 NATO adopted the ICAOs radios alphabet and made some modifications to it. The ICAO accepted these modifications along with International Communication Union (ITU), a few years later. The words chosen for this new modified version were modified further such that they could also be used by Spanish and French speakers.
Each word of the NATO phonetic alphabet also had to be clearly chosen to make sure that each word well-represented their corresponding letter and wasn’t easily confused with another word in the list.
The NATO phonetic alphabet, despite its name, is not a phonetic alphabet. Phonetic alphabets represent speech sounds through symbols or letters, while the NATO phonetic alphabet uses words to represent letters. Therefore, it is categorized as a spelling alphabet.
The NATO phonetic alphabet became the primary radio alphabet and was adopted by many other international agencies to facilitate clear communication across radio and telephone.
Today, it is widely used by many types of professionals that communicate over the radio, including police, military, air traffic controller, emergency services, and transportation services like trucking.
Check out our Push to Talk Two Way Radio Communication Codes and Lingo Cheat Sheet too!