NATO uses a system of code names, called reporting names, to denote military aircraft and other equipment used by the post-Soviet states, former Warsaw Pact countries, China, and other countries. The system assists military communications by providing short, one or two-syllable names, as alternatives to the precise proper names – which may be easily confused under operational conditions or are unknown in the western world.
The assignment of reporting names is managed by the Air Force Interoperability Council (AFIC), previously known as the Air Standardization Coordinating Committee or ASCC), which is separate from NATO. Based in Washington DC, AFIC comprises representatives from the militaries of three NATO members (Canada, the United Kingdom and United States) and two non-NATO countries (Australia and New Zealand).
When the system was introduced, in the 1950s, reporting names also implicitly designated potentially hostile aircraft. However, since the end of the Cold War, some NATO air forces have operated various aircraft types with reporting names (e.g. the "Fulcrum" (Mikoyan MiG-29).
The United States Department of Defense (DOD) expands on the NATO reporting names in some cases. NATO refers to surface-to-air missile systems mounted on ships or submarines with the same names as the corresponding land-based systems, but the US DOD assigns a different series of numbers with a different suffix (i.e., SA-N- versus SA-) for these systems. The names are kept the same as a convenience. Where there is no corresponding system, a new name is devised.
The Soviet Union did not always assign official "popular names" to its aircraft, but unofficial nicknames were common as in any air force. Generally, Soviet pilots did not use the NATO names, preferring a different, Russian, nickname. An exception was that Soviet airmen appreciated the MiG-29's codename "Fulcrum", as an indication of its pivotal role in Soviet air defence.[failed verification]
To reduce the risk of confusion, unusual or made-up names were allocated, the idea being that the names chosen would be unlikely to occur in normal conversation, and be easier to memorise.
For fixed-wing aircraft, the amount of syllables indicate the type of the aircraft's engine. Single-syllable code names denote reciprocating engine or turboprop, while two-syllable code names denote jet engine.
Bombers had names starting with the letter 'B' and names like "Badger" (Tupolev Tu-16), "Blackjack" (Tupolev Tu-160) and "Bear" (Tupolev Tu-95) were used. "Frogfoot," the reporting name for the Sukhoi Su-25, references the aircraft's close air support role. Transports had names starting with 'C' (for "cargo"), which resulted in names like "Condor" for the Antonov An-124 or "Candid" for the Ilyushin Il-76.
The initial letter of the name indicated the use of that equipment. The alphanumeric designations (eg AA-2) are assigned by the Department of Defense.
The first letter indicates the type of aircraft, like eg 'Bear' for a bomber aircraft refers to the Tupolev Tu-95, or 'Fulcrum' for the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 fighter aircraft. For fixed-wing aircraft, one-syllable names are used for propeller aircraft and two-syllable name for aircraft with jet engines. This distinction is not made for helicopters.
Before the 1980s, reporting names for submarines were taken from the NATO spelling alphabet. Modifications of existing designs were given descriptive terms, such as "Whiskey Long Bin". From the 1980s, new designs were given names derived from Russian words, such as "Akula", or "shark". These names did not correspond to the Soviet names. Coincidentally, "Akula", which was assigned to an attack submarine by NATO, was the actual Soviet name for the ballistic missile submarine NATO named "Typhoon-class". The NATO names for submarines of the People's Republic of China are taken from Chinese dynasties.