RT Phraseology in Civil/Military Integration

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RT Phraseology in Civil/Military Integration

41TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Cancun, Mexico, 15-19 April 2002

WP No. 90

RT Phraseology in Civil/Military Integration

Presented by SC1


1.1  This paper has been written against the background of little or no information from sources outside the United Kingdom. Therefore it has been written using the knowledge of military aircraft using civil airfields and in the en-route phase of flight within the United Kingdom.

1.2  The use of civil ATC services by military aircraft throughout Europe has always occurred, but this has been mainly the larger aircraft type, such as, for example, the C5, C17, C141, C130, C160, KC135, L101, VC10, P3, LJ35, CP140, and the Nimrod. These aircraft are users of the civil ATC system, and their use varies from frequent to infrequent. However the most common factor is that, in general, they are used to civil ATC phraseology through training. But the cause for concern is basically 3 fold:

i  The use of civil ATC by military ‘Fast Jet’ crews;

ii  The differences between military phraseology and civil phraseology in the important stages of flight; and

iii  International variations.


2.1  Phraseology Interpretation

It is recommended that this subject is deferred for the next IFATCA year, and that SC1 ask MAs to collate the differences in civil / military phraseology in their countries, in order that a full collation of differences can be completed. The essence of phraseology is that any chance of ambiguity should be reduced to the absolute minimum. The ambiguities can just as much occur within the host nation of the Military Crews as can happen abroad. The problems that can occur can be centred on:

i. What it is that the military crews are wanting to do; and

ii. The capability of the civil ATC controllers to understand the request, and be able to action it.

2.2  Domestic

In the United Kingdom the use of Civil ATC is centred on 3 phases of flight operations:

2.2.1  Airfield Operations

Larger military aircraft (para 1.1) use civil airfields to varying extents, but their crews are used to the civil ATC phraseology and general modus operandi. Also the civil ATC agencies at those airfields are used to, in varying degrees, the military operations and their requirements. Any problems that may occur will tend to relate to the military ‘fast jets’; whose use of civil airfields and phraseology will be sporadic. It is an increasing tendency for those ‘fast jets’ operating authorities to book civil airfields as either weather or crash diversions in areas where there is a scarcity of other military airfields. Consequently it is necessary for the operating authorities to ensure that crews make fairly regular ‘practice diversion’ approaches to the most commonly used civil airfields. In the United Kingdom examples of civil airfields being used in this way are: Newcastle (EGNT), Teeside (EGNV), Edinburgh (EGPH), and Prestwick (EGPK).

2.2.2  The control and phraseology used in the civil environment is different, but with correct briefing and training on both civil (ATC) and military (Crews) sides the end task of the safe recovery of military aircraft can be achieved. The control differences are mainly within the visual circuit, where the civil ATC actively control the visual circuit at all stages, whereas the military pilot is used to a visual circuit where the main control element from military ATC centres on clearance to join the visual circuit, clearance to land, clearance to take off, an instruction to ‘go around’, and an instruction to ‘overshoot’.

2.2.3 It is these last 2 control instructions that may be a cause for misinterpretation.

a) In UK military ATC phraseology the instruction to a pilot to ‘go around’ will be for the pilot not to commence the ‘finals’ descending turn towards the runway threshold but to commence a level turn onto the ‘dead side’ of the runway before turning crosswind onto the downwind leg again.

b) The Military ‘overshoot’ instruction (or clearance) relates to the civil clearance to ‘go around’. This is when the pilot has commenced the descending turn from the downwind leg onto ‘finals’, and due to the runway being in use the pilot is cleared to overshoot only. The military pilot commences the climb at either decision height ‘Low Overshoot’ or at 500ft AGL or more for the ‘High Overshoot’. Additionally the Pilot must initiate the ‘overshoot’ if no clearance to land has been given by ATC by 4 nms from touchdown if on an instrument approach.

c) The problems can occur when the military aircraft are operating in another country in which crews are unfamiliar. The crews being properly briefed by their Command Structures in good time prior to departure can overcome these. However this is dependent on the National Military Command Structure having the appropriate information at hand, which then brings in the Military Attaches at the Embassy for that country.

d) The use of civil airfields may become more frequent if the military aircraft are operating inn areas where there is a distinct lack of other military airfields to be used as either weather or crash diversion airfields. Consequently it will be necessary for the operators of the civil airfields and the operators of the military aircraft that could use them to get together to iron out problems before they occur. In this phraseology and the exact meanings of the control instructions that may be issued by civil controllers must be addressed.

2.3 En-Route Phase of Flight

In the United Kingdom the larger multi-engined military aircraft are relatively frequent users of civil ATC within the controlled airspace structure. The phraseology used for control instructions is almost the same as that used by military controllers in the en-route phase. The only differences will be in what the en-route civil controller may hear from the military pilot. In the United Kingdom military pilots are able to fly in controlled airspace under civil ATC when in formation. The criteria is that the formation must all be at the same level and within 1 nm of the formation leader, who will undertake the R/T for all members of the formation.

2.4 International

2.4.1  If military aircraft are to transit into or across other countries it is must be their duty to brief themselves accordingly on that / those countries phraseologies if markedly different from their own country. This is particularly true when dealing with the essential phases of flight, and specific clearances. Aviation accidents have been invariably contributed to by a lack of understanding or mis- interpretation by either the pilot or the controller or both. Both sides have a part to play, but it must be the visiting or transiting military pilot who has the greatest onus on him to brief himself prior to departure.

2.4.2  The problem is exacerbated, because of a lack of international standards. NATO does not have any R/T standard phraseology, and this is reflected within ICAO in that there PANS-RAC Doc 4444 – Part X is only a recommended practice.


3.1  It must be the controlled airspace that if military aircraft are to use civil ATC (with which civil airlines and aircraft are familiar) then it is the military pilot’s responsibility to ensure that he is familiar with those parts of the phraseology that differ from the military phraseology.

3.2  The interests of safety and the knowledge that everyone can understand exactly what is being asked of them is too important for aircrew and controllers to be unsure of the others intentions. This is particularly true if the military pilot is wishing to use civil ATC at a busy airfield or in a busy sector.


It is recommended that:

4.1 When military aircraft operate at civil airfields or as General Air Traffic (GAT), civil ATC should expect the military pilot to use standard ICAO phraseology.

4.2 Where controllers are expected to handle military aircraft on a regular basis, they should be made aware of the differences between ICAO and military phraseology.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

March 13, 2020   363   Jean-Francois Lepage    2002    

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