What Does ‘Mikes’ Mean as a Military Term?

Have you ever heard the term mikes used in a military context? Did you ever wonder what it means?

You know, concerning the US military there is so much vernacular, jargon, slang, and acronyms being thrown about I swear they’re talking another language, even though it sounds like English.

United States flag on military coat
United States flag on military coat

But, that’s the nature of the work they do. So, what does mikes mean as a military term?

Mikes typically refers to minutes, as ‘mike’ is part of the military phonetic alphabet, standing in for the letter M. Five mikes would mean 5 minutes, in this case.

Interesting, and though it seems silly to us civilians to say “mikes” when you could just say “minutes,” when you’re communicating via radio over crowded airwaves seconds count.

Trimming off a syllable or two here and there where you can is just part and parcel of being more efficient.

Keep reading and I’ll tell you more about the term and how it came to be.

‘Mike’ is Part of the Military Phonetic Alphabet

So how did mikes come to be known as shorthand for minutes? If you know the military phonetic alphabet, it’s easy enough to see how.

The military phonetic alphabet is a system of communication designed for radio usage where individual letters can be referred to by their code word.

It seems counterintuitive, but this makes it much more reliable when radio communications could be interrupted by signal problems or by noise on either end of the line.

For instance, the code word for the letter A is “alpha,” the code word for the letter B is “bravo.” The letter C is represented by “charlie,” D is represented by “delta.” And so on and so forth until we get to the letter M, represented by “mike.”

So because the words “minute” and “minutes” starts with an M, it is only sensible that you could shorten it, contextually, to “mike” or “mikes,” plural.

It can be confusing if you don’t understand this part! Like, who is this guy Mike, and why does everyone keep referring to him!?

‘Mikes’ Means Minutes or Minute, but Can Mean Other Things

But, because “mike” is not a unique term in and of itself, because it’s part of the phonetic alphabet as described above, mike or mikes can also refer to other expressions or concepts.

One of the most common usages of mike is when referring to the metric bore size of various weapons and their ammunition.

One that pretty much every veteran of the War on Terror has heard is in reference to the 40mm grenade launcher, either the version mounted beneath the barrel of a rifle or the stand-alone, fully automatic type used as a support weapon.

Both are commonly referred to as “40 mike-mike.” Millimeters, mikes, same thing.

Context is Everything

The trick to all of this is understanding context, and if you don’t understand the context, you probably won’t understand the usage of mike or mikes.

If someone is referring to a timetable, “mikes” is referring to minutes. For instance, if someone told you to “wait one mike” it basically means wait a moment.

If they told you they would be there in 45 or four-five mikes, that means they would be arriving in about 45 minutes.

On the other hand, if someone told you to “man the 40 mike-mike,” they are telling you to take control of the 40mm grenade launcher.

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