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Security Resource: The Quick Guide to the Phonetic Alphabet

Organisations working in hostile environments or remote contexts often use Very High Frequency (VHF) and High Frequency (HF) radios for communication. To enhance their safety and security, people use the phonetic alphabet, also called the ICAO or NATO phonetic alphabet.

The phonetic alphabet was first released in 1956 when NATO needed a way of communicating letters and numbers that could be understood by radio or telephone no matter the person’s accent, language, or quality of the connection. Today, it is used internationally by aviation, maritime as well as radio communication such as during humanitarian responses.

Some interesting changes have had to be made to the phonetic alphabet like:

  • In the U.S. Delta has had to be replaced with Data, Dixie, or David as there was confusion over Delta Airlines and the letter ‘D’.

  • In the Indonesian and Malay languages, Lima means 5 so L is referred to as London in several countries in southeast Asia.

  • In Muslim countries, where alcohol is banned, W is pronounced Washington or White.

  • And, in Pakistan, where there are long-standing tensions with India, I is replaced with Indigo or Italy.

Want to know more about the phonetic alphabet’s history and interesting use? Click here to read NATO Declassified’s article.

Below is the full phonetic alphabet with each letter’s pronunciation.

A - Alpha (AL fah)

B - Bravo (BRAH voh)

C - Charlie (CHAR lee)

D - Delta (DEL tah)

E - Echo (EKK oh)

F - Foxtrot (FOKS trot)

G - Golf (Golf)

H - Hotel (HO tell)

I - India (IN dee ah)

J - Juliet (JEW lee ett)

K - Kilo (KEY loh)

L - Lima (LEE mah)

M - Mike (Mike)

N - November (NOH vem ber)

O - Oscar (OSS car)

P - Papa (PAH pah)

Q - Quebec (keh BECK)

R - Romeo (ROW me oh)

S - Sierra (see AIR ah)

T - Tango (TANG go)

U - Uniform (YOU nee form)

V - Victor (VIK ter)

W - Whiskey (WISS key)

X - X-ray (EKS ray)

Y - Yankee (YANG kee)

Z - Zulu (ZOO loo)

If you are going to use the phonetic alphabet on a regular basis, regular practice is key. You can use it to spell our words and organisations will also give places code names to avoid using someone’s proper name or location. The more you use it the easier it will become.

Need further security training on the use of the phonetic alphabet? We have online security e-learning courses designed to help you work with VHF and HF radios. Just email us at


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