rec.aviation.military FAQ, Part 4


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Last updated 1998 Mar 31

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Subject:  H.1.  American aircraft designations

The US Air Force (and its predecessor, the US Army Air Force) has used
several aircraft designation systems in its history.  The three most
important are the USAAF system adopted in 1924 and used through World War
II and up to 1948; the USAF system used from 1948 to 1962; and the
Tri-Service system adopted in 1962 to provide a common system for USAF, US
Army, and US Navy aircraft.  The three systems are similar enough that they
can conveniently be described together.

A designation consists of a letter (or set of letters) indicating the type
and mission of the aircraft, and a sequence number indicating a specific
aircraft within a category, separated by a hyphen.  The number may be
followed by a series letter to indicate a variant of an aircraft.  Most
aircraft are also given a proper name, but this is not part of the formal

Mission codes used in the USAAF system included the following:

    A  = Attack
    AG = Assault glider
    AT = Advanced trainer
    B  = Bomber
    BC = Basic combat
    BG = Bomb glider
    BQ = Guided bomb
    BT = Basic trainer
    C  = Cargo transport
    CG = Cargo glider
    CQ = Target control
    F  = Photographic reconnaissance
    FG = Fuel-carrying glider
    FM = Multiplace fighter
    G  = Gyroplane
    GB = Glide bomb
    GT = Glide torpedo
    JB = Jet-propelled bomb
    L  = Liaison
    O  = Observation
    OA = Observation amphibian
    OQ = Target
    P  = Pursuit
    PB = Biplace pursuit
    PG = Powered glider
    PQ = Manned target
    PT = Primary trainer
    R  = Rotorcraft
    TG = Training glider

These were sometimes modified by one of the following prefixes, indicating
a special status or modification:

    C = Cargo transport
    F = Photographic reconnaissance
    K = Ferret
    R = Restricted operations
    T = Trainer
    U = Utility
    V = Staff/VIP transport
    X = Experimental
    Y = Service test
    Z = Obsolete

The first version of a type had no series letter; the second was suffixed
with "A", the third with "B", and so on.  For obvious reasons, the letters
"I" and "O" are usually skipped.  For example, the B-29A is the second
version of the 29th bomber aircraft identified by the USAAF.

The USAF system (1948) was similar to the USAAF system; it retained the
three-part code, although the series letters now started with "A" for the
first version rather than the second.  The mission codes were rationalised
somewhat; "F" for "Fighter" replaced "P" for "Pursuit" (the existing
P-series aircraft being redesignated, and new aircraft receiving F-series
numbers continuing the old P-series), "H" for "Helicopter" replaced "R" for
"Rotorcraft", and "R" for "Reconnaissance" replaced "F" for "Photographic".
The "L" for "Liaison" code was subsumed by "O" for "Observation", and most
of the two-letter codes were combined into one (e.g.  a single "T" series
replaced the old "AT", "BT", and "PT").

The Tri-Service system (1962) underwent further changes, although it still
retained the basic scheme of the older systems.  The most important changes
were that the system now included Navy aircraft as well as USAF and Army,
and that most of the numeric sequences were restarted from 1, since some
were now well past 100 and were becoming unwieldy.

Starting from the central dash and moving *left*, the letter codes now
consist of up to four letters (although only the "basic mission" code is
mandatory, and I've never seen a real designation with more than three

(1) Vehicle type (optional; indicates something other than a conventional
fixed-wing aircraft):

    G = Glider
    H = Helicopter
    V = VTOL or STOL
    Z = Lighter than air (Z for Zeppelin)

(2) Basic mission:

    A = Attack
    B = Bomber
    C = Cargo transport
    E = Special electronics
    F = Fighter
    O = Observation
    P = Maritime patrol
    R = Reconnaissance
    S = Anti-submarine warfare
    T = Trainer
    U = Utility
    X = Research

(3) Modified mission (optional; indicates that a type originally designed
for the mission indicated by its "basic mission" code has been modified for
a different mission); includes the A, C, E, F, O, P, R, S, T, and U mission
codes, plus:

    D = Drone control
    H = Search and rescue
    K = Tanker (K for Kerosene)
    L = Cold weather
    M = Multi-mission
    Q = Drone
    V = VIP or staff transport
    W = Weather observation

(4) Status (optional; indicates any unusual status):

    G = Permanently grounded
    J = Temporary special test
    N = Permanent special test
    X = Experimental
    Y = Prototype
    Z = Planning

The sequence numbers are based on the vehicle type (if present) or the
basic mission.  For example, all helicopters (vehicle type "H") are
numbered in a single sequence regardless of the basic mission code, while
conventional aircraft (with no vehicle type code) follow separate sequences
for attack aircraft, bombers, transports, and so on.  There are a few
oddities here; for example, the AV-8 Harrier seems to have taken the number
8 slot in both the "A" and "V" sequences.  For some reason, the "T"
(trainer) sequence, last seen in the Cessna T-47 in 1984, was restarted
with the Beech T-1 Jayhawk in 1990.

The system has not been followed perfectly; exceptions include the A-37
Dragonfly (attack version of T-37 trainer; there was an AT-37, so the A-37
should have either continued the AT-37 designation or been given a proper
A-series number), F/A-18 Hornet (should have been just F-18, or possibly
AF-18), FB-111 (bomber version of the F-111; should have been BF-111),
SR-71 (the letters indicate "strategic reconnaissance", not an
anti-submarine modification, and the number is actually from the pre-1962
bomber series!), and a few others.


Subject:  H.2.  US Navy aircraft designations (pre-1962)

Before the adoption of the Tri-Service system in 1962, the US Navy had its
own system of aircraft designations, completely different from that used by
the USAAF and USAF.  This consisted of up to five parts:

(1) One or two letters to indicate the function.  These included:

    A  = Attack
    BF = Fighter-bomber
    F  = Fighter
    HC = Transport helicopter
    HO = Observation helicopter
    HU = Utility helicopter
    J  = Utility
    N  = Trainer
    O  = Observation
    P  = Patrol
    PB = Patrol bomber
    R  = Transport
    SB = Scout bomber
    T  = Trainer
    TB = Torpedo bomber
    W  = Early warning

(2) A sequence number, to distinguish between aircraft of the same function
built by the same manufacturer.  The number was left out if it was 1.

(3) A letter to indicate the manufacturer.  Because the US Navy used
aircraft from considerably more than 26 different manufacturers, most of
the letters of the alphabet were shared between several companies; the same
company frequently used more than one letter at various times.  If the same
aircraft was built by more than one firm, the designation was changed to
reflect the individual manufacturers (for example, the Chance-Vought F4U
Corsair was also built by Goodyear, whose Corsairs were designated FG).
Some of the most important manufacturers were:

    A = Brewster, Noorduyn
    B = Beech, Boeing, Vertol
    C = Cessna, Curtiss, De Havilland Canada
    D = Douglas, McDonnell
    E = Cessna, Piper
    F = Fairchild, Grumman
    G = Goodyear
    H = McDonnell
    J = North American
    K = Fairchild, Kaman
    L = Bell
    M = Bell, Martin
    O = Lockheed, Piper
    P = Piasecki
    Q = Fairchild
    S = Sikorsky, Stearman
    T = Northrop
    U = Chance-Vought
    V = Lockheed, Vultee
    W = Wright
    Y = Consolidated, Convair

(4) After a dash, a number to indicate a subtype.

(5) Optionally, a letter to indicate a minor variation on a subtype.

For example, the F4U was the fourth fighter designed by Chance-Vought for
the US Navy.  The F4U-1A was a modified version of the first subtype of the
F4U.  The F4U was commonly known as the Corsair, but, as with Air Force
types, the name was not part of the formal designation (Vince Norris, who
has quite a few hours in USN aircraft, reports that they were always
referred to by their designations, not the proper names; using names
instead of numbers was the mark of a civilian).

When the Tri-Service system was adopted in 1962, aircraft then in USN
service (as well as some under development or recently retired) were
redesignated under the new system.  Some were simply given the designation
already used by the USAF for the same aircraft; others were given new
designations.  They included:

    Beech SNB Expediter           = C-45 *
    Bell HTL/HUL Sioux            = H-13 *
    Convair F2Y Sea Dart          = F-7
    Convair P4Y Privateer         = P-4
    Convair R4Y Samaritan         = C-131 *
    De Havilland Canada UC Otter  = U-1 *
    Douglas AD Skyraider          = A-1
    Douglas A3D Skywarrior        = A-3
    Douglas A4D Skyhawk           = A-4
    Douglas F3D Skyknight         = F-10
    Douglas F4D Skyray            = F-6
    Douglas JD Invader            = B-26 *
    Douglas R4D Skytrain          = C-47/117 *
    Douglas R5D Skymaster         = C-54 *
    Douglas R6D Liftmaster        = C-118 *
    Fairchild R4Q Boxcar          = C-119 *
    Grumman A2F Intruder          = A-6
    Grumman F9F Panther/Cougar    = F-9
    Grumman F11F Tiger            = F-11
    Grumman S2F Tracker           = S-2
    Grumman TF Trader             = C-1
    Grumman UF Albatross          = U-16 *
    Grumman WF Tracer             = E-1
    Grumman W2F Hawkeye           = E-2
    Kaman HOK/HTK/HUK Huskie      = H-43 *
    Kaman HU2K Seasprite          = H-2
    Lockheed GV/R8V Hercules      = C-130 *
    Lockheed P2V Neptune          = P-2
    Lockheed P3V Orion            = P-3
    Lockheed R7V/WV Constellation = C-121 *
    Lockheed TV Shooting Star     = T-33 *
    Lockheed T2V Seastar          = T-1
    Lockheed UV Jetstar           = C-140 *
    Martin P5M Marlin             = P-5
    Martin RM                     = C-3
    McDonnell F2D/F2H Banshee     = F-2
    McDonnell F3H Demon           = F-3
    McDonnell F4H Phantom II      = F-4
    North American AJ Savage      = A-2
    North American A3J Vigilante  = A-5
    North American FJ Fury        = F-1
    North American T2J Buckeye    = T-2
    North American T3J Sabreliner = T-39 *
    Piasecki HUP Retriever        = H-25 *
    Piper UO Aztec                = U-11
    Sikorsky HO4S/HRS Chickasaw   = H-19 *
    Sikorsky HR2S Mojave          = H-37 *
    Sikorsky HSS Sea King         = H-3 *
    Sikorsky HUS Seabat/Seahorse  = H-34 *
    Sikorsky HU2S Seaguard        = H-52
    Vertol HRB Sea Knight         = H-46
    Vought F8U Crusader           = F-8

(* Designation already used by USAF)


Subject:  H.3.  USAF/USN fighters and attack aircraft

A complete list of US aircraft would take up far too much space; instead,
I've listed only the post-war "F" and "A" series, the ones most often asked

One star indicates a type that existed only as one or more prototypes and
never entered service; two stars indicate a type that never left the
drawing board; three stars indicate that the number was never assigned at
all (as far as I could determine).

USAF fighter designations, since the initiation of the "F" series in 1948:

    F-80:  Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star
    F-81:  * Convair XF-81 (experimental mixed-power jet/turboprop fighter)
    F-82:  North American F-82 Twin Mustang
    F-83:  * Bell XF-83
    F-84:  Republic F-84 Thunderjet/Thunderstreak/RF-84 Thunderflash
    F-85:  * McDonnell XF-85 Goblin (parasite fighter experiment)
    F-86:  North American F-86 Sabre
    F-87:  * Curtiss XF-87 Blackhawk
    F-88:  * McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo
    F-89:  Northrop F-89 Scorpion
    F-90:  * Lockheed XF-90
    F-91:  * Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor
    F-92:  * Convair XF-92
    F-93:  North American YF-93 (F-86 derivative)
    F-94:  Lockheed F-94 Starfire (F-80/T-33 derivative)
    F-95:  North American YF-95 (became F-86D)
    F-96:  Republic YF-96 (became F-84F)
    F-97:  Lockheed YF-97 (became F-94C)
    F-98:  Hughes F-98 Falcon (air-to-air missile; became GAR-1, later
    F-99:  Boeing F-99 Bomarc (ground-to-air missile; became IM-99, later
    F-100:  North American F-100 Super Sabre
    F-101:  McDonnell F-101 Voodoo
    F-102:  Convair F-102 Delta Dagger
    F-103:  ** Republic XF-103 (turbojet/ramjet hypersonic interceptor)
    F-104:  Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
    F-105:  Republic F-105 Thunderchief
    F-106:  Convair F-106 Delta Dart
    F-107:  * North American YF-107 (F-100 derivative)
    F-108:  ** North American XF-108 Rapier (long range interceptor and
        XB-70 escort)
    F-109:  Reserved for the F-101B (but see below)
    F-110:  McDonnell F-110 Spectre (designation used briefly for USAF
        version of F4H/F-4 Phantom II)
    F-111:  General Dynamics F-111 (the common name "Aardvark" is
    F-112:  ***?  (may have been attached to Russian aircraft)
    F-113:  ***?  (may have been attached to Russian aircraft)
    F-114:  ***?  (may have been attached to Russian aircraft)
    F-115:  ***?  (may have been attached to Russian aircraft)
    F-116:  ***?  (may have been attached to Russian aircraft)
    F-117:  Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

Note:  Bell applied the designation "XF-109" to a VTOL fighter project of
the late 1950s (one prototype was built but never flew); however, this was
assigned unilaterally by the company, and was not sanctioned by the USAF.
The "F-109" designation has never been officially used, probably as a
result of Bell's breaking the rules.

USAF/USN fighter designations, since the adoption of the Tri-Service
designations in 1962:

    F-1:  North American F-1 Fury (formerly FJ)
    F-2:  McDonnell F-2 Banshee (formerly F2H)
    F-3:  McDonnell F-3 Demon (formerly F3H)
    F-4:  McDonnell F-4 Phantom II (formerly F4H, briefly F-110)
    F-5:  Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter/Tiger II
    F-6:  Douglas F-6 Skyray (formerly F4D)
    F-7:  * Convair F-7 Sea Dart (formerly F2Y)
    F-8:  Vought F-8 Crusader (formerly F8U)
    F-9:  Grumman F-9 Panther/Cougar (formerly F9F)
    F-10:  Douglas F-10 Skyknight (formerly F3D)
    F-11:  Grumman F-11 Tiger (formerly F11F)
    F-12:  * Lockheed YF-12 (A-12/SR-71 derivative)
    F-13:  *** (never used)
    F-14:  Grumman (now Northrop Grumman) F-14 Tomcat
    F-15:  McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
    F-16:  General Dynamics (now Lockheed) F-16 Fighting Falcon
    F-17:  * Northrop YF-17 Cobra (lost to F-16 in Lightweight Fighter
    F-18:  McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (YF-17 derivative)
    F-19:  *** (never used, at least officially)
    F-20:  * Northrop F-20 Tigershark (F-5 derivative)
    F-21:  IAI F-21 Lion (leased Kfirs, used as Aggressors in training)
    F-22:  Lockheed/Boeing F-22 Lightning II
    F-23:  * Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23 (lost to F-22 in Advanced
        Technology Fighter contest)

Note:  The Rockwell XFV-12 was number 12 in the "V" series, not part of the
"F" series.

USAF/USN attack designations, since the adoption of the Tri-Service
designations in 1962:

    A-1:  Douglas A-1 Skyraider (formerly AD)
    A-2:  North American A-2 Savage (formerly AJ)
    A-3:  Douglas A-3 Skywarrior (formerly A3D)
    A-4:  Douglas A-4 Skyhawk (formerly A4D)
    A-5:  North American A-5 Vigilante (formerly A3J)
    A-6:  Grumman A-6 Intruder (formerly A2F)
    A-7:  Vought A-7 Corsair II (F-8 derivative)
    A-8:  British Aerospace/McDonnell Douglas AV-8 Harrier
    A-9:  ** Northrop YA-9 (lost to A-10 in AX contest)
    A-10:  Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II
    A-11:  ***?  (apparently never used)
    A-12:  ** McDonnell Douglas A-12 (cancelled A-6 replacement)

Notes:  The Harrier seems to have taken the number 8 slot in both the "A"
and "V" series.  The designation A-12 for the original, single-seat version
of the aircraft that became the SR-71/YF-12/M-21 was an internal Lockheed
designation, not an official USAF one (the A-12s were operated by the CIA
and never officially entered military service).  The designation A-37 for
the attack version of Cessna's T-37 was derived from the trainer version of
the aircraft and was not part of the real "A" series.


Subject:  H.4.  American missile designations

These have their own version of the Tri-Service designation system,
consisting of a three-letter prefix, a dash, a series number to indicate
the specific type, and a letter to indicate subtypes.  Series numbers are
assigned within vehicle types, so there are only two numeric series, the
M-series for guided missiles and the R-series for unguided rockets.

The three letters indicate (left to right):

(1) Launch platform:

    A = Aircraft
    B = Multiple
    C = Container
    F = Individual
    G = Runway
    H = Silo stored
    L = Silo launched
    M = Mobile
    P = Soft pad
    R = Ship
    S = Space
    U = Underwater

(2) Mission type:

    C = Cargo transport
    D = Decoy
    E = Electronics or communication
    G = Surface attack
    I = Interception
    L = Launch detection or surveillance
    M = Calibration or scientific research
    N = Navigation
    Q = Drone
    S = Space support
    T = Training
    U = Underwater attack
    W = Weather

(3) Vehicle type:

    M = Missile (guided)
    R = Rocket (unguided)

Example:  AIM-9L Sidewinder.  Aircraft-launched interception missile (i.e.
air-to-air missile), the ninth missile to be designated since 1962, and the
eleventh version of the AIM-9.  As with aircraft, an official proper name
is usually assigned, but is not part of the formal designation.

(See C.17 for current American air-to-air missiles)


Subject:  H.7.  American electronic systems designations
Updated 1998 Mar 31

All electronic systems developed for the US forces are given a designation
under the Joint Electronics Type Designation System (JETDS), sometimes
called the "AN" system.

All designations start with "AN/" which stands for Army Navy, 
which has its roots in the time before there was a US Air Force,
and thus really means it's for all branches of the armed forces.
This is followed by three letters describing the item, a dash, and 
a number.  The number is sometimes followed by a "variable group", 
consisting of "(V)" to indicate a variant, optionally followed by another 
number to indicate subsequent variants.

For example, the radar in the F-16C/D is designated AN/APG-68.  The "APG"
part can be broken down into an installation code of "A" (piloted
aircraft), an equipment type code of "P" (radar), and a purpose code of "G"
(fire control).  If variants were developed, they would be designated
"AN/APG-68(V)", "AN/APG-68(V)2", and so on.

First letter -- Installation:
    A -- Piloted aircraft
    B -- Submarine
    C -- Air transportable
    D -- Pilotless carrier
    E -- Blank
    F -- Fixed ground installation
    G -- General purpose
    K -- Amphibious
    M -- Ground mobile
    P -- Portable
    S -- Water
    T -- Ground transportable
    U -- General utility assemblies
    V -- Ground vehicle
    W -- Water surface/underwater combination
    Z -- Piloted/pilotless airborne combination

Second letter -- Equipment type:
    A -- Infrared/ultraviolet
    C -- Carrier
    D -- Radiac
    E -- Nupac
    F -- Photographic
    G -- Telegraph/teletype
    I -- Interphone/public address
    J -- Electromechanical/inertial wire covered
    K -- Telemetering
    L -- Countermeasure
    M -- Meteorological
    N -- Sound in air
    P -- Radar
    Q -- Sonar/underwater sound
    R -- Radio
    S -- Special types
    T -- Telephone (wire)
    V -- Visible light
    W -- Armament
    X -- Facsimile/TV
    Y -- Data processing

Third letter -- Purpose:
    A -- Auxiliary
    B -- Bombing
    C -- Communications
    D -- Direction finding/reconnaissance/surveillance
    E -- Ejection/release
    G -- Fire control/light finding
    H -- Recording/reproducing
    K -- Computing
    M -- Maintenance/test
    N -- Navigational aids
    Q -- Special purpose/combination
    R -- Receiving/passive detecting
    S -- Detection/range bearing/search
    T -- Transmitting
    W -- Automatic flight/remote control
    X -- Identification/recognition
    Y -- Surveillance/control


Subject:  H.6.  Russian aircraft designations

In the 1920s and 1930s, many different designation systems were used for
Russian aircraft; the People's Comissariat of Defence had its own system,
and each manufacturer had another, usually based on the initials of the
designer or organisation (for example, A N Tupolev's ANT-6 was also known
as the TB-3).

Prefixes used included:

    A    = Autogyro
    ARK  = Arctic coastal reconnaissance
    B    = Bomber
    BB   = Short-range bomber
    BSh  = Armoured attack aircraft (Sh = Shturmovik)
    DAR  = Long-range arctic reconnaissance
    DB   = Long-range bomber
    DVB  = Long-range high-altitude bomber
    DI   = Two-seat fighter
    DIS  = Twin-engined escort fighter
    G    = Paratroop transport
    I    = Fighter (Istrebitel; literally "destroyer")
    KOR  = Ship-borne reconnaissance
    M    = Seaplane
    MA   = Amphibian
    MBR  = Short-range maritime reconnaissance
    MDR  = Long-range maritime reconnaissance
    MI   = Fighter seaplane
    MK   = Maritime cruiser (heavily armed seaplane)
    MP   = Transport seaplane
    MR   = Reconnaissance seaplane
    MTB  = Maritime heavy bomber
    MU   = Trainer seaplane
    P    = Mailplane
    PB   = Dive bomber
    PI   = Single seat fighter
    PL   = Transport
    PS   = Mail/passenger transport
    R    = Reconnaissance
    ROM  = Open sea reconnaissance
    SB   = High-speed bomber
    SCh  = Low-level attacker
    SChR = Attack fighter/reconnaissance
    SPB  = Fast dive bomber
    TB   = Heavy bomber
    TSh  = Heavy attack aircraft
    U    = Primary trainer
    UT   = Basic trainer (Uchebnotrenirovochny)
    UTI  = Fighter trainer
    V    = Airship
    VI   = High-altitude fighter
    VIT  = High-altitude tank destroyer
    VT   = Supervised design

In the early years of WW2, a new systematic designation scheme was set up
for all Soviet aircraft (military and civil), based on (usually) the first
two letters of the designer's name; this replaced the former military
designation system.  Later, as the original designers became the heads of
design bureaus (OKBs), and eventually retired or died, the original
initials were retained for all aircraft produced by each OKB.

The full designation consists of the OKB initials, a dash, a number to
indicate a particular aircraft type designed by that OKB, and optionally a
letter or letters (and sometimes numbers) to indicate a subtype.  Unlike
the American system, subtype letters are not a simple alphabetic sequence,
but are assigned arbitrarily, sometimes to indicate some particular feature
of the subtype.  Common suffix letters include "D" (long range), "K" (which
can mean export, ground attack, or naval), "M" (modified), "P"
(interceptor), "R" (reconnaissance), "T" (transport), and "U" (trainer).

Stalin decided that fighters would be given odd numbers, while bombers and
transports would get even numbers; this rule largely fell out of use after
his death.

OKB abbreviations include the following (for those still in use I've added
a description of what the letters look like in the Cyrillic (Russian)
alphabet, since you will often see an aircraft's designation written on

    An  = Antonov          (AH)
    Be  = Beriev           ([broken B] [reversed E])
    Il  = Ilyushin         ([reversed N] [linked JI or inverted V])
    Ka  = Kamov            (KA)
    La  = Lavochkin
    M   = Myasishchyev     (M)
    Mi  = Mil              (M [reversed N])
    MiG = Mikoyan-Gurevich (M [reversed N] [gamma])
    Pe  = Petlyakov
    Po  = Polikarpov
    Su  = Sukhoi           (CY)
    Tu  = Tupolev          (TY)
    Yak = Yakovlev         ([reversed R] K)

The Lavochkin OKB still exists, but switched from aircraft to missile and
space technology in the 1950s.  The Petlyakov and Myasishchyev OKBs are
really the same bureau, which was headed by Myasishchyev after Petlyakov's
death in 1942, disbanded in 1946, but revived in 1952 under Myasishchyev's
name.  Polikarpov's OKB was disbanded after his death in 1944.

The remaining OKBs recently became companies in the wake of perestroika.
With the breakup of the USSR, Antonov is now a Ukrainian company; the rest
are Russian.  Beriev has been renamed Taganrog (after the city in which the
new company is based), and Mikoyan-Gurevich is now just Mikoyan, but the
original abbreviations are retained in their aircraft designations.

One special case is the A-50 AWACS aircraft ("Mainstay").  This was a joint
venture of the Ilyushin and Beriev OKBs (providing the airframe and
electronics, respectively); the A-series designation, normally used by
Beriev to indicate a prototype or experimental aircraft, has been retained
for the production aircraft. Beriev argued that they had designed the
most important part of the aircraft, so an Ilyushin designation was
inappropriate.  They were still arguing when the aircraft entered
service, so its internal name of A-50 went to the print shop.

A few cases where confusion has reigned should be mentioned; the present
climate of openness has allowed these to be settled.  All Sukhoi "Flagon"
versions carried Su-15 designations; the later versions were not Su-21
(which in fact referred to Sukhoi's Su-27-derived supersonic bizjet
project, now abandoned).  The designation Tu-20 was used for the early
"Bear" bombers ("Bear-A/B"), but was changed back to Tupolev's internal
designation, Tu-95, from "Bear-C" onwards (some later versions were
Tu-142).  The Tupolev "Backfire" bomber is Tu-22M, not Tu-26.  The
"Fiddler", Tupolev's only production fighter, was Tu-128, not Tu-28.

Why Russian designations can be confusing

Russian designations are complicated, as it's not always the
manufacturer, the air force and the ASCC agree to what is a new
type or variant.

The ASCC used to designate trainer versions of fighters
differently, for example:

Su-7            Fitter
Su-7U           Moujik

but starting with MiG-23 they have had the same code name as the
fighter version.

Examples of where the manufacturer and air force have different
opinion of what's a new type and a variant:

Manufacturer    Air force
An-2            An-2
An-4            An-2ZA
An-6            An-2V
MiG Ye-5        MiG-21
MiG Ye-6,7,8,9  MiG-21 with different suffixes

But it gets worse as:

MiG Ye-7        MiG-21PF Type 76
MiG Ye-7        MiG-21FL Type 77

And sometimes it's the makers designation that's well known, as
in the case of Tu-95:

Tu-88           Tu-16
Tu-95           Tu-20
Tu-22           Tu-22
Tu-26 (?)       Tu-22M   (this was for budgetary reasons)

Sometimes, the designations change for almost incomprehensible
The MiG-29M was at one time almost called MiG-33, but it couldn't
officially get that designation until adopted by the air force,
and now it seems like it won't ever.

The Su-27IB first got renamed Su-34, then Su-32FN -- which was
completely incomprehensible, until we learned that the Su-25TM
had been re-designated Su-34.
The military trainer developed from the Su-26/29 series was also
designated Su-32 for a while, but now it's called Su-39.

And now we hear that the Su-25TM when developed will be designated Su-39.


Subject:  H.7.  Russian aircraft codenames
Updated 1998 Mar 25

During the Cold War, it was common for the West to know (or suspect) that
an aircraft existed in the Soviet inventory, but not know its correct
designation.  Even when the USSR released publicity pictures of their
aircraft (or allowed Western journalists to film them flying past during
displays), the aircraft's name was usually never mentioned.  Because of
this, a system of codenames was invented by NATO.

Each type was given a name starting with "B" for bombers, "C" for cargo or
passenger transports, "F" for fighters, "H" for helicopters, or "M" for
miscellaneous (everything else).  Fixed-wing aircraft received names with
one syllable if they were propeller-driven, two syllables if they were jets
(there is no rule for the number of syllables in a helicopter's codename).
Variants were indicated by suffix letters (e.g.  the fourth version of the
MiG-25 "Foxbat" to be identified became "Foxbat-D").

With the modern opening up of the Russian military, it's becoming more
common to refer to Russian aircraft by their real designations (now better
known in the West).  Some recent types haven't been given codenames, and
the system seems likely to disappear altogether in the near future.

Seven (at least) foreign-built aircraft have been given codenames: 
The Czech-built Aero L-29 Delfin ("Maya"), but not its successor
L-39 Albatros; The Chinese J-8 ("Finback") and Q-5 ("Fantan") 
(see section H.11); the US-built North American B-25 Mitchell ("Bank"), 
used by the Soviet air forces for a while after World War II;
Douglas A-20 Havoc ("Box"); Bell P-63 Kingcobra ("Fred");
Consolidated Catalinas ("Mop").

        An-2/3            = "Colt"
        An-8              = "Camp"
        An-10             = "Cat"
        An-12             = "Cub"
        An-14             = "Clod"
        An-22             = "Cock"
        An-24             = "Coke"
        An-26             = "Curl"
        An-28             = "Cash"
        An-30             = "Clank"
        An-32             = "Cline"
        An-72/74          = "Coaler"
        An-74AEW          = "Madcap"
        An-124            = "Condor"
        An-225            = "Cossack"
        Be-2              = "Mote"
        Be-6              = "Madge"
        Be-8              = "Mole"
        Be-10             = "Mallow"
        Be-12             = "Mail"
        Be-30             = "Cuff"
        Be-40/42/44       = "Mermaid"
        Che-2             = "Mug"
        Il-2              = "Bark"
        Il-4              = "Bob"
        Il-10             = "Beast"
        Il-12             = "Coach"
        Il-14             = "Crate"
        Il-18/20/22       = "Coot"
        Il-28             = "Beagle"
        Il-28U            = "Mascot"
        Il-38             = "May"
        Il-40             = "Brawny"
        Il-54             = "Blowlamp"
        Il-62             = "Classic"
        Il-76             = "Candid"
        Il-78             = "Midas"
        Il-86             = "Camber"
        A-50              = "Mainstay"
        Ka-10             = "Hat"
        Ka-15             = "Hen"
        Ka-18             = "Hog"
        Ka-20             = "Harp"
        Ka-22             = "Hoop"
        Ka-25             = "Hormone"
        Ka-26/126/128/226 = "Hoodlum"
        Ka-27/28/29/32    = "Helix"
        Ka-50             = "Hokum"
        La-7              = "Fin"
        La-9              = "Fritz"
        La-11             = "Fang"
        La-15             = "Fantail"
        Li-2              = "Cab"
        MiG-9             = "Fargo"
        MiG-15            = "Fagot"
        MiG-15U           = "Midget"
        MiG-17            = "Fresco"
        MiG-19            = "Farmer"
        MiG-21            = "Fishbed"
        MiG-21U           = "Mongol"
        MiG-23/27         = "Flogger"
        MiG-23-01         = "Faithless"
        MiG-25            = "Foxbat"
        MiG-29/30/33      = "Fulcrum"
        MiG-31            = "Foxhound"
        Ye-2A             = "Faceplate"
        Ye-152A           = "Flipper"
        Mi-1              = "Hare"
        Mi-2              = "Hoplite"
        Mi-4              = "Hound"
        Mi-6/22           = "Hook"
        Mi-8/9/17/171     = "Hip"
        Mi-10             = "Harke"
        Mi-12             = "Homer"
        Mi-14             = "Haze"
        Mi-24/25/35       = "Hind"
        Mi-26             = "Halo"
        Mi-28             = "Havoc"
        Mi-34             = "Hermit"
        M-3/4             = "Bison"
        M-17/55           = "Mystic"
        M-50/52           = "Bounder"
        Pe-2              = "Buck"
        Po-2              = "Mule"
        Su-7/17/20/22     = "Fitter"
        Su-7U             = "Moujik"
        Su-9/11           = "Fishpot"
        Su-11U            = "Maiden"
        Su-15             = "Flagon"
        Su-24             = "Fencer"
        Su-25/28          = "Frogfoot"
        Su-27/30/33/34/35 = "Flanker"
        Tu-2/6            = "Bat"
        Tu-4/80           = "Bull"
        Tu-10             = "Frosty"
        Tu-14/89          = "Bosun"
        Tu-16             = "Badger"
        Tu-20/95/142      = "Bear"
        Tu-22             = "Blinder"
        Tu-22M            = "Backfire"
        Tu-70             = "Cart"
        Tu-82             = "Butcher"
        Tu-85             = "Barge"
        Tu-91             = "Boot"
        Tu-98             = "Backfin"
        Tu-104            = "Camel"
        Tu-110            = "Cooker"
        Tu-114            = "Cleat"
        Tu-124            = "Cookpot"
        Tu-126            = "Moss"
        Tu-128            = "Fiddler"
        Tu-134            = "Crusty"
        Tu-144            = "Charger"
        Tu-154            = "Careless"
        Tu-160            = "Blackjack"
        Yak-6/8           = "Crib"
        Yak-7U            = "Mark"
        Yak-9             = "Frank"
        Yak-10            = "Crow"
        Yak-11            = "Moose"
        Yak-12            = "Creek"
        Yak-14            = "Mare"
        Yak-15/17         = "Feather"
        Yak-16            = "Cork"
        Yak-17U           = "Magnet"
        Yak-18            = "Max"
        Yak-23            = "Flora"
        Yak-24            = "Horse"
        Yak-25/27         = "Flashlight"
        Yak-25RV          = "Mandrake"
        Yak-27R           = "Mangrove"
        Yak-28            = "Brewer"
        Yak-28P           = "Firebar"
        Yak-28U           = "Maestro"
        Yak-30            = "Magnum"
        Yak-32            = "Mantis"
        Yak-36            = "Freehand"
        Yak-38            = "Forger"
        Yak-40            = "Codling"
        Yak-41/141        = "Freestyle"
        Yak-42            = "Clobber"


Subject:  H.8.  Russian missile designations and codenames

Russian rockets and missiles are mostly given designations in the "R"
series (guided rockets), "S" series (unguided rockets), or "Kh" series
(this seems to be reserved for air-to-surface missiles, but I have no idea
what the significance of the prefix is; "Kh" is one letter in Russian, and
looks like an "X", so you will often see these designations quoted with an
"X" prefix instead).

NATO codenames for Russian missiles start with "A" (air to air), "G"
(surface to air), "K" (air to surface), or "S" (surface to surface).  In
addition to the names, they are also given designations consisting of a
two-letter code for the mission type ("AA", "AS", "SA", or "SS", plus some
special codes such as "AT" for "anti-tank"), an "N" for naval missiles, and
a number.

(See C.17 for current Russian air-to-air missiles)

This FAQ created and maintained by Urban Fredriksson
Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.