The soldiers are always going on about x-rays, but I have no idea what they're talking about. What is an x-ray?

A lot of times, they'll mention x-rays when I kill an alien, but I think I've heard them say it otherwise. I get the feeling that it might just mean "alien". Why would they call it that?

4 Answers 4


It's common in military parlance to give a short, unambiguous designation to your enemies. Typically the NATO Phonetic Alphabet is used for this type of designation. In situations where your squad may draw from many nationalities, dialects, or ethnicities with different pronunciations of common words, this reduces the chances that a message will be misinterpreted.

For instance, "tango" is used by the military in many situations in place of "enemy target." Likewise, squads may be given names based on the first letters of the alphabet, such as Alpha/Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot.

The "X" in X-COM stands for "Extraterrestrial" so it follows that when you're engaging the enemy, you're fighting "X"es, or "X-Ray" in the phonetic alphabet.

  • 7
    This is actually why American soldiers used "Charlie" to refer to Viet Cong and other enemy troops in the Vietnam War (VC -> Victor Charlie -> Charlie).
    – Tacroy
    Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 15:43
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    left 4 dead2 likewise has soldiers referring to whiskey deltas for walking dead Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 16:14
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    Halo, similarly, has dialogue use "Echo-Tangos" a lot when talking about ExtraTerrestrials. Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 17:39
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    As Andy McBride points out in a separate answer, X-Ray is military jargon for "unknown target".
    – Lstor
    Commented Jan 27, 2013 at 22:52
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    Oscar Mike Golf Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Bravo Bravo Quebec
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 16:40

X does not really stand for extraterrestrial, but merely x for unknown. Terrestrial terrorists/targets who are unknown are referred to as "X-rays", but the info is basically sound.

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    This is more of a comment on a previous post, and a subjective one. Please make sure your answers have not already been stated, and that they answer the question Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 18:05
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    Low rep, He can't post it as a comment.
    – Michel
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 18:14

x-ray represents the letter "x" in the phonetic alphabet. x stands for xenomorph. xenomorph= alien


So Tango is the pheonetic for T - T will be short for target. This come from years of training before 9/11 when SF operators etc were working with targets on ranges more than they were pouring sand out of their boots. It has spread from there to normal temrinology.

X-ray, being X, is I AM PRETTY SURE refers to Other persons of interest, this could be civilians, unidnetified tango's or unknowns. In most situations that you see on telly, an Xray is the hostage, but this is to ignore the complications that we really encounter in real life where you have Tango's pretending to hide amongst hostages (like the 1980? Iranian Embassy Seige).

I am also PRETTY SURE that you will never refer to friendly forces (FF) as Xrays. The reason is simple, suppose your ten man swat team are attaking a builiding and you and Bob are supposed to go through the living room windows and then clear the kitchen. Lets say Bob get hits and you scream Xray down on the net, nobody knows who you are, who is hit, friendly or stranger or where you are. Combat nets are busy things. But if you scream bob is hit, then everyone knows you are still up and in the fght (cos you are with him and broadcasting) and tha bob is wounded/down in either the livin room or kitchen. This allows HQ/control to dispatch medical aid to the right place, other teams to support you etc.

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