13 radio calls troops really love to hear

Troops on the ground spend a lot of time talking on the radio to a variety of commands and assets: planes and helicopters overhead, their headquarters, and artillery lines, and as they do, they use certain brevity codes and calls to make these communications fast and clear.

Here are 13 of the codes troops really love to hear when they’re outside the wire:

1. “Attack”/”Attacking”

Ground controllers give an aircraft the go-ahead to drop bombs or fire other munitions on the ground with the word “Attack,” and the pilot replies with “attacking.” Troops love to hear this exchange because it means a fireworks show is about to start on the enemy’s position.

2. “Bird”


Photo: US Army

The official meaning of “bird” is a surface-to-air missile, but troops sometimes use it to mean a helicopter. Since helicopters bring missiles and supplies and evacuate wounded troops, this is always welcome.

3. Bomber/CAS/CCA callsigns

While these callsigns change depending on which air unit is providing them assistance, troops love to hear any callsign from a good bomber, close air support, or close combat air pilot. These are the guys who drop bombs and fire missiles.

4. “Cleared hot”/”Cleared to engage”


Photo: US Air Force

The ground controller has cleared an air asset to drop bombs or other munitions on their next pass.

5. “Danger close”

The term means that bombs, artillery, or other big booms are being fired in support of ground troops but that the weapons will fall near friendly forces.

While danger close missions are exciting to see in movies and troops are happy to receive the assistance, soldiers in the field usually have mixed feelings about “danger close” since an enemy that is nearly on top of them is about to die, but they’ll also be near the blast.

6. Dustoff


Photo: Staff Sgt. Corey J. Hook/USAF

Service members on the ground don’t like needing a medical evacuation, but they love it when the “Dustoff” bird is en route and when it finally lands. It’ll take their wounded buddy off the battlefield and will typically replenish the medical supplies of their corpsman or medic, making everyone safer.

7. “Engage”

Fire control uses “Engage” to let operators of a weapons system know that they’ve been cleared to fire. This could open up the mortar section, gun line, or other firing unit to attack the enemy.

8. “Good effects on target”

A bomb or artillery rounds have struck the target and destroyed it, meaning something that needed to die has, in fact, died.

9. “Hit”

This is said by the ground controller or artillery observer to let a plane, artillery section, or other weapons platform know that it successfully dropped its munitions within a lethal distance of the target. If the target survived anyway, the ground controller may say “Repeat,” to get more rounds dropped or may give new firing directions instead.

10. “RTB”

Photo: US Navy Lt. Chad A. Dulac

Photo: US Navy Lt. Chad A. Dulac

It stands for “return to base” and troops love it because it means they get to head home and take their armor and packs off.

11. “Shot”

The artillery line uses “shot” to say that they’ve fired the rounds requested by the forward observer. The FO will reply with “shot out” and listen for the word “splash,” discussed below.

12. “Speedball”

This is the unofficial term for a small resupply dropped from a plane or helicopter, typically in a body bag. Troops short on ammo, water, batteries, etc. will request them. Medical supplies aren’t generally included in a speedball since the helicopter can just kick a normal aid bag out the door.

13. “Splash”

Field Artillery Fires New Modular Artillery Charge System on Taji

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp

The firing line tells an observer “splash” five seconds before a round is expected to hit the target. When the observer sees the detonation from the round, they reply with “splash out” to let the artillery unit know the round hit and exploded. The FO will then give the firing line adjustments needed to hit the target or confirm that the target was hit.