NEWS | June 2, 2021

Communications: Equipment Codes Decoded

This article initially appeared in PS 775 (Jun 17), pp. 49-53.

Ever wonder what military equipment codes like PRC, RT or VRC mean? You’ve probably seen these kinds of codes everywhere—on data plates, shipping containers, in TMs and official correspondence and communications.

Well, DOD communications nomenclature is a special kind of language. It identifies equipment at the system, subsystem, set, group or unit level. It tells you what kind of equipment it is, where it’s used and what it’s used for.

It’s easier to understand the codes once you have the decoder at hand. That’s MIL-STD-196F, Joint Electronics Type Designation Automated System, Revision G (May 18).
For example, there’s a SINCGARS radio called AN/PRC-119F. After the AN (system/set prefix), each letter stands for a characteristic of the equipment. The number 119 is simply the equipment sequential indicator and the letter F indicates a modification. So the AN/PRC-119F is a P (portable) R (radio) C (communications) device.
 
Diagram showing how to decode military equipment codes
Military equipment codes decoded
 
 
Table of Equipment Indicators
Installation Type of Equipment Purpose
(1st Letter) (2nd Letter) (3rd Letter)
A. Piloted aircraft A. Invisible light, heat radiation A. Auxiliary assembly
B. Underwater mobile, submarine B. COMSEC B. Bombing
C. Cryptographic C. Carrier-Electronic wave/signal C. Communications receiving/transmitting
D. Pilotless carrier D. Radiac D. Direction finder, reconnaissance and surveillance
F. Fixed ground E. Laser E. Ejection and/or release
G. General ground use G. Telegraph/teletype G. Fire control or search light directing
K. Amphibious I. Interphone and public access H. Recording/reproducing
M. Mobile (ground) J. Electromechanical or inertial wire covered K. Computing
P. Portable K. Telemetering M. Maintenance/test assemblies
S. Water L. Countermeasures N. Navigational aids
T. Transportable (ground) M. Meteorological Q. Special or combination
U. General utility (multiple) N. Sound in air R. Receiving/passive detecting
V. Vehicular (ground) P. Radar S. Detecting/range and bearing, search
W. Water surface and underwater combined Q. Sonar/underwater sound T. Transmitting
Z. Piloted-pilotless airborne vehicles combined R. Radio W. Automatic flight or remote control
  S. Special or combination X. Identification and recognition
T. Telephone (wire) Y. Surveillance (search, detect, and multiple target tracking) and control
V. Visual/visible light Z. Secure
W. Armament (peculiar to armament not otherwise covered)  
X. Facsimile to television
Y. Data processing or computer
Z. Communications

Some gear (the BA-5390A, LS-671, and PP-8481B, for example) only uses one or two-letter codes. Those codes are:
 
Table of Unit Indicators
Unit indicators Family name Examples of use
AB Support for antennas Antenna mounts, mast bases, mast sections, towers, etc.
AM Amplifiers Power, audio, interphone, radio frequency, video, electronic control, etc.
AS Antenna, simple and complex Arrays, parabolic type, masthead whip or telescopic loop, dipole, reflector, etc.
BA Battery, primary type Batteries, battery packs, etc.
BB Battery, secondary type Batteries, battery packs, etc.
BZ Alarm units All types
C Controls Control box, remote tuning control, etc.
CA Computers auxiliary units Input/output peripheral, etc.
CC Cable assemblies, RF RF cables, waveguides, transmission lines, etc., with terminals
CD Controlling devices Complex controlling devices
CM Comparators Compares two or more input signals
CN Compensators Electrical and/or mechanical compensating, regulating or attenuating apparatus
CP Computers A mechanical and/or electronic mathematical calculating device
CU Couplers Impedance coupling devices, directional couplers, etc.
CV Converters (electronic) Electronic apparatus for changing the phase frequency, or from one medium to another
CW Radomes Radomes
CX Cable assemblies, non RF Non RF cables with terminals, test leads, also composite cables or RF and non RF conductors
CY Cases and cabinets Rigid and semirigid structure for enclosing or carrying equipment
D Dispensers Chaff
DA Loads, dummy RF and non RF test loads
DI Data transmission Devices for authentication and transferring recorded or generated data over transmitter/receiver links.
DT Detecting heads Magnetic, capacitive or optical pickup devices, search coil, hydrophones, etc.
DU Display unit/monitors All types that are external devices for computers, test sets, etc.
F Filter units Electronic types, back-pass, low pass, band suppression, noise telephone, filter networks; excludes non-repairable types
FO Fiber optics Electrical, electronic and communication
FR Frequency measuring device Frequency meters, tuned cavity
G Generators, power Electrical power generators without prime movers (see PU)
GO Goniometers Instruments for measuring angles for determination of energy transferred from moving to fixed coil (directional) antennas, etc.
H Head, hand and chest sets Includes earphone
HD Environmental Apparatus Heating, cooling, dehumidifying, pressure, vacuum devices, etc.
ID Indicator units, non-cathode ray tube Calibrated dials and meters, indicating lights, etc. (see also IP)
IM Intensity measuring devices Includes SWR gear, field intensity noise meters, slotted lines, etc.
IP Indicator units, cathode ray tube Azimuth, elevation, panoramic, etc.
J Interface units Interconnecting and junction units, etc. Do not use if a more specific indicator applies.
KG Key generator Units generating a pseudorandom sequence of cryptovariables using algorithms
KY Keying devices Mechanical, electrical and electronic key coders, interrupters, etc.
LA Laser Communication, electrical, etc.
LS Loudspeakers Separately housed loudspeakers and intercommunication stations
M Microphones Radio, telephone, throat, hand, etc.
MD Modulators, demodulators, discriminators Devices for varying amplitude, frequency or phase
ME Meters Multimeter, vacuum tube voltmeters, power meters, volt-ohm-millimeters, etc.
MK Miscellaneous kits Maintenance, modification, etc.
ML Meteorological devices Miscellaneous meteorological equipment, etc.
MO Multipurpose Units that perform two or more functions
MT Mountings Mountings, racks, frames, stands, etc.
MU Memory units Memory units
MW Microwave Communication, etc.
MX Miscellaneous Equipment not otherwise classified. Do not use if a better indicator is available.
O Oscillators Master frequency, blocking, multi-vibrators, etc. (for test oscillators, see SG)
OC Oceanographic devices Bathythermograph, etc.
OS Oscilloscope, test Test oscilloscope for general test purposes (see IP)
PL Plug-in units Plug-in units not otherwise classified
PP Power supplies Non-rotating machine types, such as vibrator pack rectifier, thermoelectric, etc.
PT Mapping and plotting units Electronic types only
PU Power equipment Rotating power equipment, motor-generators, dynamotors, etc.
R Receivers Receivers, all types except telephone
RB Robotics Electric-mechanical, etc.
RD Recorder-reproducers Sound, graphic, tape, wire, film, disc, facsimile, magnetic, mechanical, etc.
RE Relay assembly units Electrical, electronic, etc.
RL Reeling machines Mechanism for dispensing and rewinding antenna or field wire cable, etc.
RO Recorders Sound, graphic, tape, wire, film disc, facsimile, magnetic, mechanical, tape, and card punch, etc.
RP Reproducers Sound, graphic, tape, wire, film, disc, facsimile, magnetic, mechanical, punched tape and card readers, etc.
RR Reflectors Target, confusion, etc., except antenna reflectors (see AS)
RT Receiver and transmitter Radio and radar transceiver, composites of transmitter and receiver, etc.
S Shelter Electrical equipment, etc.
SA Switching units Manual, impact, motor driven, pressure operated, electronic, etc.
SB Switchboard Telephone, fire control, power distribution, etc.
SG Generator, signal Test oscillators, noise generators, etc. (see O)
SM Simulators Flight, aircraft, target, signal, etc.
SN Synchronizers Equipment to coordinate two or more functions
SS Special purpose Devices performing unique functions
SU Optical units Electro-optical units, such as night vision, scope, sights, auto-collimator, viewers, trackers, alignment equipment
SY Speech, secure Devices that secure voice transmission/receiving equipment
T Transmitters Transmitters, all types except telephone
TA Telephone apparatus Miscellaneous telephone equipment
TB Towed body Hydrodynamic enclosures used to house transducers, hydrophones, and other electronic equipment
TD Timing devices Mechanical and electronic timing devices, range devices, multiplexers, electronic gates, etc.
TF Transformers When used as separate units
TG Positioning devices Tilt and/or train assemblies
TH Telegraph apparatus Miscellaneous telegraph items
TN Tuning units Receiver, transmitter, antenna, tuning units, etc.
TR Transducers --
TS Test units Test and measuring equipment not otherwise classified. Do not use if more specific indicators apply.
TT Teletypewriter and facsimile apparatus Teletype, tape, facsimile miscellaneous equipment
TU Television Special types
TW Tape units Preprogrammed with operational test and checkout data
V Vehicles Carts, dollies, vans peculiar to electronic equipment
ZM Impedance measuring devices Used for measuring Q, C, L, R, or PF, etc.

Want to learn more? Get the full scoop in MIL-STD-196F at: