Why was the military alphabet developed?

To understand why the military alphabet was created one would need to know the history and evolution of the creation and adoption thereof. The NATO military alphabet is the single, universal, internationally-recognised, spelling alphabet used by military, aviation and emergency services. But why was ‘Alpha’, ‘Charlie’ and ‘Tango’ created and how does it affect us still today?

The science behind miscommunication, misinterpretation and misconception of words

Sometimes we do not hear words clearly, our brains try to help by putting together phrases or words from our vocabulary sounding the most like the unclear words we heard, many times being incorrect. This grammatical phenomenon is called oronyms. The part of the brain responsible is called the angular gyrus. The angular gyrus uses all our gathered knowledge to fill in unclear phrases with predictable words. The brain will subconsciously change and fill in sentences, phrases, words and syllables that were missed or heard unclearly. In our everyday lives it might be mishearing the lyrics of a song, which is quite alright, however, imagine a pilot mishearing words that could cost people’s lives.

Why was the military alphabet created?

The main reason why the NATO military alphabet was created was to make sure that words and phrases are not misheard, misinterpreted or miscommunicated. It was created initially for military use during wars, now it is used in our everyday civilian lives. It also helps with people all over the world with different accents pronouncing the same words differently.

During the early twentieth century versions of the military alphabet had been created and came into use, mostly by aviation, in response to advances in voice-support two-way radio. The biggest problem at that time was that poor signals and radio interference caused errors with interaction between pilots and ground control. Code words were used to represent letters that could be easily confused as well as to improve communication on low quality and long-distance telephone circuits. Today still the military alphabet is still used to avoid miscommunication of similar sounding letters.

Introduction to the military alphabet in WWI

The British Royal Airforce introduced the RAF radio alphabet during World War I, however the first internationally recognised military alphabet was introduced in 1927. This alphabet was endorsed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and was highly popular and used by most commercial airlines around the world until World War II.

Evolution of the military alphabet in WWII

By this time many countries were using the RAF radio alphabet, however the US and British Armed forces had their own different military alphabets. The US standardized their military alphabet used in 1941 through all military branches. This was known as the Able Baker alphabet and in 1943 the UK adopted their RAF to almost be identical to the US military alphabet.

Development after WWII

In 1947 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recognised that a single, universal alphabet was needed and submitted a draft of the NATO military alphabet. However it was only adopted in 1956 by all organisations, becoming the global military alphabet that everyone around the world will use. After World War II the military alphabet was used by civilian organisations and the popularity grew exponentially. The NATO military alphabet was only settled on after many years of trials and the use thereof being tested, not only in a practical but also a scientific way.

Why is the NATO alphabet still relevant today?

Today the retail industry uses the NATO military alphabet to confirm customer and site details. It is especially used when confirming credit agreements and stock codes, where mistakes could cost the companies a lot of money. It is also used by the information technology industry when working with reference codes and serial numbers. Other industries that use the NATO alphabet are aviation as well as the medical field. In both these industries clear communication is vital as a mistake could mean risking the lives of others. The NATO alphabet is also used in law enforcement, banking, utility and trading companies.
We hear the military alphabet in movies and television where popular phrases are used, this website will give more insight on these popular phrases and their meanings.