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Daddy said to stay away from a "Juliet"...

We've got incoming "Backfires"! They're probably carrying "Kitchens"! They've got "Flanker" support!

If you didn't understand that, you're probably not alone. [1]

During the Cold War, Western reporting names were one of the main ways to refer to Soviet and Chinese military technology, for the reasons of language differences and because the actual designations (except for most aircaft), especially in the missile field, weren't generally known.

Western military technology tends to get public names, often with help from the PR department (the companies make more sales if the item has a catchy name). The Soviet and Chinese technology was (is) secret and they didn't admit it even existed, never mind the name. Of course, some super secret ("Black") projects in the USA and other nations are given "reporting names" by other nations and the press when their rumored existence is guessed at.

In many ways (especially in the West), they still are a main way to refer to these technologies, especially in naval discussion, although they are slowly dying out. It helps that they are easy to remember.

Some of these names are drawn up by the Air Standardization Coordinating Committee, made up of the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, so these are known as ASCC designations too, but this is somewhat inaccurate, as other groups chip in too.

Understandably, Soviet types and NATO's believed types don't fully match up.

The Wikipedia entry covers this in a lot more depth, but here's some of the better known reporting names:

  • "Backfire" - The Tupolev Tu-22M medium bomber, which plays a major role in Red Storm Rising. Mach 2+ capable and with the capacity to carry three nuclear or conventional anti-shipping missiles (or a lot of bombs), it scared the West so much that they got the USSR to take the refuelling probes out.
  • "Badger"- the Tu-16 medium bomber, used in both a land-attack and anti-ship role, as well as electronic warfare, air-to-air refuelling, SIGINT... you get the idea.
  • "Bear" - the Tu-95 strategic bomber (Bear-H in its current form) or the Tu-142 anti-submarine plane the subs can hear coming ("Bear-F" in that form), with other variants. Legend has it a Soviet pilot came up with the name, since the bear is the symbol of Russia. Another version has the Russians learning that reporting name from the NATO pilots, and liking it enough to adopt it.
  • "Firefox" - The fictitious reporting name for the MiG-31 from the book (and film) of the same name, which was Very Loosely Based on contemporary rumours that the new aircraft would be some kind of Soviet Superscience-powered Game Breaker. The Real Life MiG-31, which looks nothing like the plane in the movie, has the reporting name "Foxhound" — it's an interceptor with a Mach 2.8 top speed, the ability to climb to the edge of space, an advanced PESA radar and 10 missiles. Undergoing upgrades to become a multi-role aircraft.
    • And later became a web browser.
    • "Foxfire" is the NATO reporting name for the fire-control radar on the MiG-25 "Foxbat" (see below).
  • "Flanker" - the Su-27S ("Flanker-B"), the newer version two-seater Su-30 ("Flanker-C", "Flanker-G" for the Chinese version and "Flanker-H" for the Indian one), the carrier-version Su-33 ("Flanker-D"), the limited-number in service Su-35 ("Flanker-E") and the Su-37 ("Flanker-F" or the "Super Flanker" still in prototype stage). A long-range aerial interceptor, it's a pretty maneuverable aircraft and the family has been exported quite a bit. Can be described as the Russian F-15. The former would probably win a fight- although one-on-one fights rarely happen in modern aerial warfare. Capable of doing a move (some other aircraft can do it too) called "Pugachev's Cobra", where the aircraft effectively slides along on its tail. It looks impressive and is often done at air shows, but is of limited combat utility.
  • "Frogfoot" - the Su-25, known to its crews as "Grach" ("rook"). A ground-attack aircraft, a new two-seater version, the Su-39 is in production. Dubbed "The German Product" by Afghan fighters because they couldn't initially believe that something Soviet-built was that efficient. A counterpart to the A-10: not very high-and-flashy, but boy does it get the job done.
    • Intra-Russian calling name also produced a famous running gag. There is a rather popular picture "Rooks Flew In" (often less correctly translated as The Rooks Have Come Back, which loses part of the joke) by 19-century artist Savrasov. Needless to say, this picture was, and still is, more referenced by Russian frontline forces then every other piece of art combined. With much relief and Schadenfreude.
  • "Fulcrum" - the MiG-29, the Russian counterpart to the F-16. Very agile. Its best known feature is the R-73/AA-11 "Archer" missiles. Coupled to a helmet mounted sight (like Airwolf has), these highly agile missiles can be launched by the pilot merely looking at his target, up to about 60 degrees off the centre-line. This led to the U.S. developing improved Sidewinders in response.
    • According to references in The Other Wiki, the Russian pilots liked the NATO reporting name so much (they found the MiG-29 to be rather "pivotal") that they started using the Fulcrum name themselves.
      • This was somewhat common for Soviet aircraft; they didn't have official names, just model numbers, so if the pilots hadn't already come up with their own nickname (see next entry), they'd likely adopt the NATO reporting name.
  • "Foxbat" - The MiG-25 interceptor aircraft. Capable of Mach 3.2, but had a very short range and wasn't very maneuverable, as the Americans learned when a Soviet pilot defected with one of them (when they were done with it, they gave it back to the USSR. In over 60 boxes).
  • "Hind" - the Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunship/transport. Troop capacity is about half that of the UH-60 Black Hawk, weapons capacity is of AH-64 Apache level- it can carry the Russian equivalent of the Sidewinder IR missile, the R-73/AA-11 "Archer". A lot of variants. Soviet pilots called it the "Crocodile" or "Flying Tank". Widely exported and is still turning up in conflicts the world over.
    • In Afghanistan the Russians tended to *use* it carrying only four-man fireteam elements, but this was due entirely to the inadvisability of hanging around under heavy fire. It could carry a full eight-man squad, making it quite comparable to the Blackhawk or Huey. Its armament was somewhat inferior, though; as designed, it had launch rails for only four antitank missiles, compared to the sixteen even an old AH1-T could carry. It did have stub wings with four hardpoints that in theory could carry an astonishing variety of heavy ordnance but which in the field always got UM57 57mm dumb rocket launchers bolted on, because Soviet airmobile doctrine envisioned using the transport helicopter in a secondary direct-fire fire-support role as a sort of flying Katyusha artillery rocket launcher.
      • The Hind's role as a troop transport is a distant second after its primary role as a gunship, one reason being that with the increased weight of a full load of passengers it has to make a rolling takeoff to get airborne.
    • The Hind was featured in the Rambo series, Red Dawn and Blood Diamond, among other films, and Metal Gear Solid 3 went so far as to 'reveal' that Big Boss came up with the name "Hind". It also inspired the LAAT transport gunships in the Star Wars prequels.
  • "Scud" - Made most famous by the Persian Gulf War, it describes the R-11/R-17 ballistic missile series (better known by its Western designation of SS-1: see below).
  • "Aurora" - An American version. Aurora (SR-91 Aurora) is the popular name for a hypothesized United States reconnaissance aircraft, alleged to be capable of hypersonic flight. It is believed that the Aurora project was canceled due to a shift from spyplanes to high-tech unmanned aerial vehicles and reconnaissance satellites. Whether or not it ever existed, if it was ever officially "Aurora", the name was probably changed as soon as the rumors became public.

By the way, that message at the top of this page means incoming Tu-22Ms armed with Kh-22 anti-shipping missiles (which could be equipped with a nuclear warhead), backed up by Su-27s.

Variants have a letter added after them, such as "Backfire-C" for the Tu-22M3. There can be sub-categories of these too.

The Russians generally feel a bit insulted by many of these names, many of which are a bit derogatory. Who, for example, would want to fly a "Fishpot" (the Su-9), a "Fishbed" (MiG-21), a "Farmer" (MiG-19) or, for that matter, a "Flogger" (MiG-23/27)? The ultimate prize has to go to the MiG-15, which has Unfortunate Implications (It's 'fagot'. A name for a bassoon.). Some, however, are liked by their crews- "Bear" and "Fulcrum", for example.

It's also worth noting there "is" a method to these names. They are all phonetic within class. In simpler terms:

  • All Bombers have names starting with "B"
  • All Fighters start with "F"
  • All Helicopters start with "H"
  • All Cargo and transports Aircraft start with "C"
  • All Other Aircraft (reconnaissance, tankers, AWACS) begin with "M"- Miscellaneous.
  • All Air to Air missiles start with "A"
  • All Air to Surface missiles start with "K"
  • All Surface to Surface missiles (anti-tank, anti-ship, tactical nuke, ICBM, whatever) start with "S".
  • All Surface to Air missiles start with "G".

Additionally, if the name had two syllables the, fixed-wing aircraft was jet propelled. One syllable meant propeller driven.

All submarine classes are named, in random order, for a letter in the Military Alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc..). When they ran out, the next class was named "Akula" ("shark" in Russian). It should be noted that the same name was actually given by the Soviets to what the West called the "Typhoon", which causes some confusion among sub spotters. The Cold War ended before more classes came out post-"Graney". These are sub-divided with a Roman numeral afterwards, such as "Delta IV" for the Delfin type of Soviet SSBN.


  • "Whiskey"- Project 613 and some others. One of the most numerous submarine classes built in history- over 250 built. Diesel patrol subs, one ended up running aground off the coast of Sweden in 1981, an incident dubbed "Whiskey on the Rocks".
  • "Charlie"- Project 670 SSGN- guided missile nuclear submarines, capable of firing nuclear warheads. Included the "Charlie I" type, seen in the Pacific Fleet and the Northern Fleet's improved "Charlie II".

Surface ship classes have a variety of different names. A ship might go from temporary designations, to Russian words beginning with "K" to "first in class" names (rendered in "italics" here), which the Soviet Union and Russia don't actually do, tending to use names of birds for their bigger ships. There were also "shipyard first sited" names for more minor vessels, as well as Russian diminutives, bird names...


  • "Osa"- the Project 205 Tsunami missile boats. Over 400 built and widely exported, they featured in the Battle of Lakatia in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the first battle between missile vessels on sea- Syria (with the "Osas") lost to Israel.
    • "Osa" is Russian for "wasp".
    • There are two Russian platforms actually called Osa- the 9K33 (its GRAU number, a Soviet/Russian thing for equipment categorising) Osa/SA-8 "Gecko"- a mobile SAM system and the M79 Osa hand-held anti-tank missile launcher.
  • "Kirov"- the Orlan (Sea Eagle) class of nuclear-powered heavy cruisers/battlecruisers, first one originally called Kirov. Real life examples of the Cool Boat- they are seriously heavily armed. Four in Russian service, three undergoing refits.
  • "Kiev"- the Krechyet (Gyrfalcon) class of hybrid cruiser/carriers. This name gets extra flavor from the fact that the first in the class was, in fact, named Kiev. This class was equipped with one of the worst naval fighter in Cold War history, the Yak-38 "Forger".
  • "Admiral Kuznetsov"- this is actually the Russian name (the final one anyway- going through a few) for the class, but it became the NATO reporting name too, since it fit the scheme. It's a one-of-a-kind large aircraft carrier with a heavy anti-ship missile battery, although three brother (Russian ships are generally male) vessels were planned. Has suffered from maintenance problems and once had to be towed home from the Mediterranean by a tug.
  • "Slava"- the Project 1164 Atlant cruisers, also a "first-in-class" name. The reporting name remains the same, although Slava is now called Moskva- the reporting name of another class.

The other way of referring to missiles (and space launchers) is by a Department of Defense letter designation i.e. SS-20. SS means surface to surface and 20 was the 20th type identified. If there's an N in the designation, it's a naval missile. X means eXperimental (i.e. in development). This system remains today, with the under-development[2] Bulava missile (for the Borey class submarines) being the SS-NX-30.

The two designations are often combined (i.e. SS-20 "Saber"), but they assigned separately. This sometimes means that the same "name" is allocated to more than one designation, something that usually applies with surface-to-air missiles. It should be noted that while anything new that turned up got a reporting name, only stuff thought like to enter service got a DoD designation.

Other designations included:

  • SA- surface-to-air.
  • AA- air-to-air
  • AS- air-to-surface.
  • AT- anti-tank.
  • SL- space launchers.
  • FROG (Free Rocket Over Ground)- certain types of artillery.
  • -N- as a middle designator is for a naval system, for the example the P-120 Malakhit/SS-N-9 "Siren" anti-shipping missile. It does not designate a naval version: the ship-based version of the Osa/SA-8 "Gecko" is called the SA-N-4 "Gecko".

Specific examples:

  • The SS-20 "Saber" (Soviet designation RT-21M Pioneer) was a medium-range, multiple-warhead ballistic missile, which lead to the counter-deployment of Pershing II and Gryphon missiles in Western Europe.
  • SA-7 "Grail"- the Strela hand-held SAM system.
  • SA-2 "Guideline"- the famous S-75 SAM system, a major problem for US forces in Vietnam.

Radar, electronic, communications and sonar systems usually have two-word names, sometimes picked in an amusing reference to the shape of the system, such as:

  • "Slot Back" - the MiG-29's N019 radar.
  • "Fan Song" - for the search radar for the SA-2 and SA-6 among others.
  • "Mouse Roar" - the MG-519 attack sonar, found on the "Kilo" class of submarines, among others.
  • "Sky Watch" - Mars-Passat search radar, found on the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, although it's never become operational.
  • "Trash Can "- Tamara passive tracking system (tracks aircraft by radar emissions).
  • "Eye Bowl" - a fire-control radar for the SS-N-14 "Silex" (see Mnogo Nukes).
  • "Steel Yard" - The Duga-3 over-the-horizon early warning radar, including one example based in the later Zone of Alienation at Chernobyl, Ukraine. That one was known as the "Russian Woodpecker" by the ham radio community during its 1976-1989 operating life, due to the sheer annoyance factor of the thing broadcasting at 10 Hz and interfering with a lot of other traffic.
  • "Head Light" - the fire-control system for the M-11 Shtorm/SA-N-3 "Goblet".
  • Zoopark - a counterbattery radar.

A similar system was used for Japanese aircraft during World War II. "Zeke" referred to the Mitsubishi A6M Reisen fighter more commonly known as the "Zero". (Although when a new version, the A6M3, was issued, the Allies, unaware that it was a new iteration of the Zero, gave it initially the reporting name "Hap." However, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold wasn't too thrilled with the name, and it was changed in extremely short order to "Hamp.") The naming scheme was a mostly simple one, with fighters being given male names (Zeke, Oscar, Rufe), bombers/recon planes given female names (Betty, Dinah), trainers being named after kinds of trees (Maple, Ash), and a rocket-powered kamikaze guided bomb being quite appropriately referred to as "Baka."

See Mnogo Nukes, Reds with Rockets and Tricolours With Rusting Rockets for more examples of Soviet/Russian reporting names. Somewhat naturally, the idea has carried into fiction, such as the Inner Sphere-given names of Clan Omnimechs in BattleTech.

Do not confuse with "naming names", which was a rather different Cold War phenomenon. Also don't confuse with "Reporting Marks", which are the 1- to 4-character code used to identify rolling stock operated by a railroad or rail-stock owner in the United States.

Fictional examples

  • The aforementioned "Firefox"
  • "Finback" has been allocated to the fictional MiG-28s that appear in some works, but the name is actually given in real life to a Chinese fighter, the J-8.
  • "Ferret-E"- the fictional MiG-37 stealth fighter, an Italeri model.
  • "Cooker"- In the second book of the The Third World War, a section is devoted to an Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) version of the Il-76 "Candid" transport plane, called the Il-76C. Just before the war kicks off in the Central Region of NATO (i.e. West Germany), one has to make an emergency landing at a Polish airport. The Polish ground crew nick the operating manuals and pass them to NATO. As the crew don't wish to feel the wrath of their superiors for losing the documents, they don't report the theft and NATO is able to render the "Cooker" ineffective.
    • There is a real-life "Candid" AWACS version- but this was a Beriev project and is called the A-50 "Mainstay". It remains in Russian service, with examples exported.
  • The Terrans in FreeSpace 2 used Egyptian- and demonic-themed reporting names, respectively, for Vasudan and Shivan themed spacecraft, in contrast to the Greco-Roman names they gave to their own ship classes. The Vasudans, who admired Ancient Egypt, adopted the reporting names when they merged their government with the Terrans. The Shivans are too belligerent and use some kind of communication method that prevents them from being asked for their opinion of GTVA reporting names.
  • Used in the games set in the X-Universe. Due to the fact that no human is able to pronounce the original names of alien ships, all have got reporting names — Boron ships have fish names, Paranids use names from Greek mythology, and so on.
  • In Warhammer 40000 the vehicles used by the Tau are known only by their Imperial designations, which are all based on sea life: Hammerhead Tanks, Orca Drop Ships, Barracuda fightercraft, ect...
    • Similarily, the various Tyranid creatures are only ever referred to by their Imperial reporting names due to the fact that the 'Nids don't have any kind of language that humans or other intelligent life are capable of comprehending. The imperial names, gathered from different encounters all over the galaxy, don't really have a common theme, except that many sound vaguely like dinosaur names.
      • Some are Latin names for things from the Romans: Lictors were public bodyguards for Roman magistrates, Carnifexes were executioners for the lower classes, it also means Butcher as in the job description.
  • The 'Mechs used by the Clans in BattleTech usually have two names: The more famous names used by the Inner Sphere they're invading (such as the Thor or Mad Cat), and the 'Mech's true clan designation (Summoner or Timber Wolf, same two 'Mechs). Which ones are used by any individual fan are a matter of preference.
  • Star Wars, particularly the X Wing Series, is unsurprisingly full of this. Really big, impressive ships, like Executor-class Star Dreadnoughts, got no nicknames, but ships that were encountered more frequently tended to attract short names that could be shouted by surprised pilots when they came out of hyperspace. Some of the more recurring names:
    • "Eyeballs" (TIE fighters)
    • "Squints" (TIE Interceptors)
    • "Dupes" (TIE Bombers)
    • "Brights" (special models like TIE Advanced)
    • "Trips" (TIE Defenders)
    • "Clutches" (Tri-Fighters)
    • "Pointers" (X-Wings)
    • "Wishbones" or, alternately, "Wallowing Pigs" (Y-Wings)
    • "Slims" (A-Wings)
    • "Crosses" (B-Wings)
    • "Uglies" (Cobbled-together mix and match ships)
      • A sub-class of Uglies is the "die-wing", a particularly lethal combo of Y-wing and TIE fighter. (Lethal to the pilot, that is. TIE has no shields, and the Y-wing bomber is really slow. Do the math.)
      • There's also the X-Tie, the rather amusing combination of the two great rivals. TIE solar panels on an X-Wing fuselage.
      • And X-Ceptor, which is the X-Tie with TIE Interceptor wings.
    • "Lambs" (Lambda-class T-4a shuttles)
    • "Drag ships" (Interdictor Star Destroyers)
    • "Impstar Destroyers" (Imperial-class Star Destroyers, v. one and two)
      • The second edition went by "Impstar deuce"
    • "Vics" (Victory-class Star Destroyers)
    • "Skips" (Vong coralcraft)
  • Ace Online has them too:
    • Anima Mortar (A-gear)
    • Brandy Burg (B-gear)
    • Idle Sniper (I-gear)
    • Meadow Bugle (M-gear)
  • In the Halo series, Covenant vehicles are known only by their UNSC designations, which are ethereal or supernatural beings — Ghost scout vehicles, Wraith tanks, Phantom and Spirit dropships, Banshee fliers, Seraph starfighters, Shadow troop transports.
    • Human vehicle designations are themed after animals - Warthog jeeps, Scorpion tanks, Mongoose ATVs, Pelican and Albatross dropships, Sparrowhawk and Hornet gunships.
    • A few exceptions to this are Human fighters, designated the Longsword and the Shortsword.
    • And starships, both Human and (translated) Covenant, have individual names that are almost poetic - Pillar of Autumn, Truth and Reconciliation, Forward Unto Dawn, In Amber Clad...
      • More from the Covenant side: Harbinger of Piety, Sacred Promise, Far Sight Lost, Resplendent Fervor, ect.
    • It's worth noting that the UNSC also nicknames the alien species within the Covenant. "Elite" is a lot faster and easier to say than "Sangheili".
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, the Zeon refer to the titular Humongous Mecha & its carrier as "White Devil" & "Trojan Horse" respectively before learning their true names from Cozun Graham. Oddly, the Guncannon & Guntank apparently don't get reporting names & are simply refered to as "The Red One" & "You Call That A Mobile Suit?". The Core Fighters are refered to as "Mosquitoes" more than once, but this may simply be an insult. On the other side, the Zeon MS, especially the Zakus are often referred to as "Cyclops" by the Feddies due to their distinctive optic sensors, but this may just be a colloquialism, as the Zakus, at least had been known since before the start of the war. Doms are also refered to as "Skirts" at first due to their distinctive armor.
  • Command and Conquer vehicles are often given similar names. The GDI Mammoth tank and Orca Aircraft are the most iconic for the series.
    • A Nod intelligence item in Tiberium Wars suggests the name "Gravity Stabilizer" for the Scrin aircraft production is actually a name given by analysts after studying what the unknown "Visitor structure type 8" did. Presumably the other units' names were arrived at similarly, giving them a somewhat more plainly descriptive feel than the original factions' units. One imagines the Scrin themselves were less than interested in telling humans all about their fancy tech.
  • Starcraft Terran vehicles sometimes also have such names, such as Vultures or Wraiths, but some units are also simply known as Siege Tanks or Battlecruisers. These units actually do have names(the Siege Tank for example is called the Arclite, and replaced by the Crucio in Starcraft 2), but they are rarely used.
    • The battlecruisers in the original were Behemoth-class, whereas the ones in the sequel are Minotaur-class. Some of the background material suggests an older Leviathan-class that was already outdated when the series began.
    • The names of the different zerg broods (back when the zerg had discreet broods) were explicitly stated to be names given by terran analysts. Their units are presumably named similarly. The zerg are shown to use these names themselves, but that's probably just Translation Convention.
  • In Supreme Commander, everything that shoots and/or moves, as well as all experimentals, have a name.
    • Same goes for spiritual ancestor Total Annihilation, at least for anything with a gun (i.e. not construction units or non-turret structures). Also, excepting the unit called "Mobile Artillery".
  • In Super Robot Wars the various Balmar mechs are all simply given reporting names by humans based on what they look like. The six-legged ones are called "Bugs", the ones with wings are called "Birds", etc. The various humanoid types are called "Soldiers", "Knights" & "Fatmen". They are also asigned a numerical designation based on the order they were first encountered in. The Bugs, being recon units are therefore designated AGX-01. The funny thing is that their real names are also Earth words, only this time in Ancient Hebrew...
  • Full Metal Panic carries on the NATO tradition of using S-names to refer to Soviet weapons, in this case including "Shamrock", "Savage", and "Shadow". The Codarl family of Lambda Driver-equipped Arm Slaves is given the collective codename "Venom".
  • In Homeworld, due to various confusions over which race the player belonged to, Taiidan vessels ended up with Kushan names, explicitly referring to creatures and gods from Kushani mythology. This was retconned in the sequel, Homeworld: Cataclysm, to be class names invented by the latter race's Fleet Intelligence. The native Taiidani names were never revealed.
  • Inverted in Eve Online, where every ship type has an official nickname, but no actual designations; it's Translation Convention from the languages of the four Empires to English. Which may not help you as a newbie listening in to player's combat coms. "Get a point and a web on that Phoon! Put damps on it!"[3]
  • Nearly every vehicule used by G.I. Joe and Cobra has similar names. In the case of Cobra vehicules, Theme Naming is also in effect.
  • In the 1998 Remake of Battlezone 1998, the Soviet-made Cosmo Colonist Army vehicles are all known by Reporting Names. The "fighter" tank is called the Flanker, after the Su-27.
  • In the Mass Effect universe, this is how the different varieties of husks are referred to. Some of them are meant to be descriptive, such as the Cannibals (which can eat their fallen comrades to regain health) or the Banshees (which announce their presence with a terrifying wail). The only variety not to receive a nickname are the original basic human models, simply called "husks".
  1. And if you did understand it, it probably gave you the shivers. (Translation: We've got incoming Tupolev Tu-22Ms! They're probably carrying Kh-22s! They've got Sukhoi Su-27 support!)
  2. and not exactly working
  3. Get a warp jammer and a statis webifier on the Typhoon. Also, sensor dampeners.