An AN/TPQ-53 Firefinder radar, staged for the 130th Field Artillery Brigade's pre-mobilization training at the Regional Training Center in Salina, Kansas.

An AN/TPQ-53 Firefinder radar, staged for the 130th Field Artillery Brigade's pre-mobilization training at the Regional Training Center in Salina, Kansas. Capt. Patrick Montandon / U.S. Army

Explainer: Pentagon's 'AN' equipment designations

If terms like AN/SSQ-53B(V) have you boggled, Forecast International offers a decoder key.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s nomenclature equipment identification system is formally known as the Joint Electronics Type Designation System (JETDS). But it's more commonly called the “AN” designation system, harking back to the days when AN stood for “Army/Navy.”

The first three letters following the “AN/” usually indicate:

  • The platform on which the equipment is installed
  • What type of equipment it is
  • The function, purpose, or application of the equipment

The (V) sometimes placed after a designation means that there are multiple configurations or models of that particular system, such as the AN/SSQ-53B(V) and AN/SSQ-53F(V). The various configurations would usually be listed as A, B, C, and so forth. An (X) usually indicates that the system is in initial development. A number in parenthesis following the designation, such as AN/SSQ-53F(1), indicates the number of variants of that particular configuration for that specific series or family of equipment.

(Note: Forecast International’s Military Electronic Systems products generally do not use the AN/ prefix in equipment designations because it confuses alphabetical listings, and because some of our products are sold electronically, where prefixes could complicate text searches.)

First Letter: Installation/Platform/Environment

A = Piloted Aircraft
B = Underwater Mobile/Submarine
C = Cryptographic
D = Pilotless Aircraft/Carrier
F = Fixed Ground
G = General Ground Use
K = Amphibious
M = Mobile (Ground)
P = Portable
S = Water
T = Transportable (Ground)
U = General Utility (Multiple)
V = Vehicular (Ground)
W = Water Surface and Underwater Combined
Z = Piloted-Pilotless Airborne Vehicles Combined

Second Letter: Type of Equipment

A = Invisible Light, Heat Radiation
B = Communications Security
C = Carrier – Electronic Wave/Signal
D = Radiac
E = Laser
F = Fiber Optics
G = Telegraph/Teletype
I = Interphone and Public Access
J = Electromechanical or Inertial Wire Covered
K = Telemetering
L = Countermeasures
M = Meteorological
N = Sound in Air
P = Radar
Q = Sonar/Underwater Sound
R = Radio
S = Special or Combination
T = Telephone (Wire)
V = Visual/Visible Light
W = Armament (peculiar to armament not otherwise covered)
X = Facsimile to Television
Y = Data Processing or Computer
Z = Communications

Third Letter: Purpose/Function/Application

A = Auxiliary Assembly
B = Bombing
C = Communications Receiving/Transmitting
D = Direction Finder/Reconnaissance/Surveillance
E = Ejection and/or Release
G = Fire Control or Search Light Directing
H = Recording/Reproducing
K = Computing
M = Maintenance/Test Assemblies
N = Navigational Aids
Q = Special or Combination
R – Receiving/Passive Detecting
S = Detecting/Range and Bearing Search
T = Transmitting
W = Automatic Flight or Remote Control
X = Identification and Recognition
Y = Surveillance (Search, Detect, and Multiple Target Tracking) and Control (Fire and Air Control)
X = Secure

Let's break down a few typical designations. The AN/SSQ-53F is a sonobuoy:

AN = Army/Navy (a U.S. system)
S = Water
S = Special Type
Q = Special/Combination
53 = The model’s design number
F = The specific configuration of the model’s design number

Or take the AN/ARC-210(V), an airborne, multimode, UHF/VHF transceiver:

AN = Army/Navy (a U.S. system)
A = Piloted Aircraft
R = Radio
C = Communications
210 = The model’s design number
(V) = Several variants/configurations available

And the AN/TPQ-36(V)—also called Firefinder—is a transportable, ground, counter-mortar tactical radar used to locate enemy weapons:

AN = Army/Navy (a U.S. system)
T = Transportable Ground
P = Radar
Q = Special/Combination
36 = The model’s design number
(V) = Several variants/configurations available

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