Soviet Aircraft Codenames

The codenames you speak of are officially called the ASCC reporting names, sometimes also referred to as NATO reporting names. The system of reporting names was developed primarily to avoid confusion and provide Western pilots with a simple and universally accepted method of identifying Soviet aircraft.

Prior to the introduction of the ASCC system, the US Air Force had begun identifying newly appearing Soviet aircraft and missiles by a type number in 1947. The type numbers that were assigned during the use of this system are listed below.

However, the Type Number system was found to be difficult to remember and easy to confuse over a poor radio connection. The Air Standards Coordinating Committee (ASCC)--composed of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand--then stepped in and adopted a system similar to that used during World War II to identify Japanese aircraft. This new system, devised in 1954, assigned each Soviet vehicle a codename or reporting name according to its primary mission. The first letter of the reporting name indicates the type of vehicle. Fixed-wing aircraft (bombers, cargo transports, and fighters) received names with one syllable if powered by propeller engines (both piston and turboprop) and two syllables if powered by turbojets or turbofans. Major variants of each design were further designated by the addition of a suffix letter appended to the type name, such as the seventh version of the Tu-16 'Badger' is the 'Badger-G'. The complete list of known ASCC reporting names for manned aircraft is provided below. Note this list includes foreign planes operated by the Soviets and has also been expanded to China. Other interesting names include the 'Ferret' assigned to a supposed MiG-37 and 'Fearless' assigned in error to a fighter that never existed.

A final noteworthy naming convention was that devised by the US Department of Defense (DOD) to assign preliminary names to newly discovered aircraft spotted at Soviet research and testing facilities. The system was adopted in the 1970s and used to identify protoype and experimental aircraft observed at the following sites. This system is now used for China as well. Each site is designated by a short abbreviation of its name followed by a sequential letter differentiating planes observed there. The letters "I" and "O" are skipped to avoid possible confusion with the numbers "1" and "0."

A similar system was also developed for missile prototypes observed at Red Army test ranges and will be discussed in a future question.

Now that former Soviet design bureaus have become public companies and the cloak of secrecy surrounding the Russian military has been lifted, most newer designs have become known by their true designations rather than codenames. Many recent designs (including the Yak-130 and Tu-204) have not been given reporting names at all, leading some to speculate that the system may have been abandoned. However, it has recently been learned that the Su-47 has been allocated the name Firkin while the MiG 1-44 is known as the Flatpack. These new reporting name designations imply the ASCC system is still in use.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 17 March 2002

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