NATO Joint Military Symbology

Symbol of the Polish 1st Legions Infantry Division in modern NATO symbology

NATO Joint Military Symbology is the NATO standard for military map marking symbols. Originally published in 1986 as Allied Procedural Publication 6 (APP-6), NATO Military Symbols for Land Based Systems the standard has evolved over the years and is currently in its fourth version (APP-6C). The symbols are designed to enhance NATO’s joint interoperability by providing a standard set of common symbols. APP-6 constituted a single system of joint military symbology for land, air, space and sea based formations and units, which can be displayed for either automated map display systems or for manual map marking. It covers all of the joint services and can be used by them.


The first basic military map symbols began to be used by western armies in the decades following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. During World War I, there was a degree of harmonisation between the British and French systems, including the adoption of the colour red for enemy forces and blue for allies; the British had previously used red for friendly troops because of the traditional red coats of British soldiers. However, the system now in use is broadly based on that devised by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1917. The infantry symbol of a saltire in a rectangle was said to symbolise the crossed belts of an infantryman, while the single diagonal line for cavalry was said to represent the sabre belt. With the formation of NATO in 1949, the US Army system was standardised and adapted, with different shapes for friendly (blue rectangle), hostile (red diamond) and unknown (yellow quatrefoil) forces.[1]

APP-6A was promulgated in December 1999. The NATO standardization agreement that covers APP-6A is STANAG 2019 (edition 4), promulgated in December 2000. APP-6A replaced APP-6 (last version, July 1986), which had been promulgated in November 1984 (edition 3 of STANAG 2019 covered APP-6), and was replaced in turn by Joint Symbology APP-6(B) (APP-6B) in 2008 (STANAG 2019 edition 5, June 2008) and NATO Joint Military Symbology APP-6(C) (APP-6C) in 2011 (STANAG 2019 edition 6, May 2011).

The U.S. is the current custodian of APP-6A, which is equivalent to MIL-STD-2525A.

Symbol sets

The APP-6A standard provides common operational symbology along with details on their display and plotting to ensure the compatibility, and to the greatest extent possible, the interoperability of NATO Land Component Command, Control, Communications, Computer, and Intelligence (C4I) systems, development, operations, and training. APP-6A addresses the efficient transmission of symbology information through the use of a standard methodology for symbol hierarchy, information taxonomy, and symbol identifiers.

APP-6A recognises five broad sets of symbols, each set using its own SIDC (Symbol identification coding) scheme:

Units, Equipment, and Installations consist of icons, generally framed, associated with a single point on the map. All sorts of graphical and textual modifiers may surround them, specifying categories, quantities, dates, direction of movement, etc.

Tactical graphics represent operational information that cannot be presented via icon-based symbols alone: unit boundaries, special area designations, and other unique markings related to battlespace geometry and necessary for battlefield planning and management. There are point, line and area symbols in this category.

Meteorological and oceanographic symbology is the only set not under the standard's control: rather, they are imported from the symbology established by the World Meteorological Organization.

The Signals Intelligence and Military Operations Other Than War symbology sets stand apart from Units, Equipment, and Installations although they obey the same conventions (i.e., they consist of framed symbols associated to points on the map). They do not appear in APP-6A proper, having been introduced by MIL-STD-2525B.

Symbol composition

Most of the symbols designate specific points, and consist of a frame (a geometric border), a fill, a constituent icon, and optional symbol modifiers. The latter are optional text fields or graphic indicators that provide additional information.

The frame provides a visual indication of the affiliation, battle dimension, and status of an operational object. The use of shape and colour is redundant, allowing the symbology to be used under less-than-ideal conditions such as a monochrome red display to preserve the operator's night vision. Nearly all symbols are highly stylised and can be drawn by persons almost entirely lacking in artistic skill; this allows one to draw a symbolic representation (a GRAPHREP, Graphical report) using tools as rudimentary as plain paper and pencil.

The frame serves as the base to which other symbol components and modifiers are added. In most cases a frame surrounds an icon. One major exception is equipment, which may be represented by icons alone (in which case the icons are coloured as the frame would be).

The fill is the area within a symbol. If the fill is assigned a colour, it provides an enhanced (redundant) presentation of information about the affiliation of the object. If colour is not used, the fill is transparent. A very few icons have fills of their own, which are not affected by affiliation.

The icons themselves, finally, can be understood as combinations of elementary glyphs that use simple composition rules, in a manner reminiscent of some ideographic writing systems such as Chinese. The standard, however, still attempts to provide an "exhaustive" listing of possible icons instead of laying out a dictionary of component glyphs. This causes operational problems when the need for an unforeseen symbol arises (particularly in MOOTW), a problem exacerbated by the administratively centralised maintenance of the symbology sets.

When rendering symbols with the fill on, APP-6A calls for the frame and icon to be black or white (as appropriate for the display). When rendering symbols with the fill off, APP-6A calls for a monochrome frame and icon (usually black or in accordance with the affiliation colour). NATO symbols can also be rendered with fill off using a frame coloured according to affiliation and a black icon,[2] though this is not defined in any APP-6 standard.


Affiliation refers to the relationship of the tracker to the operational object being represented. The basic affiliation categories are Unknown, Friend, Neutral, and Hostile. In the ground unit domain, a yellow quatrefoil frame is used to denote unknown affiliation, a blue rectangle frame to denote friendly affiliation, a green square frame to denote neutral affiliation, and a red diamond frame to denote hostile affiliation.[3]:11 In the other domains (air and space, sea surface and subsurface, etc.), the same color scheme is used.

Unknown Friend Neutral Hostile

The full set of affiliations is:

There are no "Assumed Neutral" and "Exercise Assumed Neutral" affiliations.

These colors are used in phrases such as "blue on blue" for friendly fire, Blue Force Tracking, red teaming, and Red Cells.

APP-6 Colour representation

The concept of affiliation does not appear in the original APP-6 as these were not introduced until APP-6A. Instead, the original APP-6 described a series of "colour representations" with the purpose of distinguishing friendly and enemy elements.

Battle dimension

Battle dimension defines the primary mission area for the operational object within the battlespace. An object can have a mission area above the Earth's surface (i.e., in the air or outer space), on it, or below it. If the mission area of an object is on the surface, it can be either on land or sea. The subsurface dimension concerns those objects whose mission area is below the sea surface (e.g., submarines and sea mines). Some cases require adjudication; for example, an Army or Marine helicopter unit is a manoeuvring unit (i.e., a unit whose ground support assets are included) and is thus represented in the land dimension. Likewise, a landing craft whose primary mission is ferrying personnel or equipment to and from shore is a maritime unit and is represented in the sea surface dimension. A landing craft whose primary mission is to fight on land, on the other hand, is a ground asset and is represented in the land dimension.

Closed frames are used to denote the land and sea surface dimensions, frames open at the bottom denote the air/space dimension, and frames open at the top denote the subsurface dimension.

Air and Space Ground Sea surface Subsurface

An unknown battle dimension is possible; for example, some electronic warfare signatures (e.g., radar systems) are common to several battle dimensions and would therefore be assigned an "Unknown" battle dimension until further discrimination becomes possible.

The full set of battle dimensions is:

The letter in parentheses is used by the Symbol identification coding (SIDC) scheme —strings of 15 characters used to transmit symbols.

The Space and Air battle dimensions share a single frame shape. In the Ground battle dimension, two different frames are used for the Friendly (and Assumed Friendly) affiliations in order to distinguish between units and equipment. The SOF (Special Operations Forces) are assigned their own battle dimension because they typically can operate across several domains (air, ground, sea surface and subsurface) in the course of a single mission; the frames are the same as for the Ground (unit) battle dimension.[4]:47–48 The Other battle dimension, finally, seems to be reserved for future use (there are no instances of its use as of 2525B Change 1).

Icon placement

APP-6A defined a standard octagon boundary within each map symbol frame. This octagon is not actually shown when symbols are drawn or rendered but, with a few defined exceptions, all icons inside the frame would also fit inside these octagons. APP-6C modified some symbol frames from previous editions of the standard. From top to bottom, here is the symbol boundary shown inside the APP-6C frames of space elements, air elements, land units, land equipment and surface sea elements, and sub-surface sea elements.

Unit icons

The icon is the innermost part of a symbol which, when displayed, provides an abstract pictorial or alphanumeric representation of an operational object. The icon portrays the role or mission performed by the object. APP-6A distinguishes between icons that must be framed or unframed and icons where framing is optional.[3]:39–43

Friendly unit symbol Hostile unit symbol Neutral unit symbol Unknown unit symbol Unit type

Air Defence (evocative of a protective dome)

Ammunition (stylised breech-loaded, rimmed cartridge or shell)


Armour (Stylized tank treads)

Field artillery (a cannonball)

Rotary-wing aviation (Blurred, spinning helicopter blades)

Fixed wing aviation (Air screw)

Bridging (topographical map symbol for a bridge)
Combat Service Support
Engineer (stylised bridge or other structure)
Electronic Warfare
Explosive Ordnance Disposal
Fuel (Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants ("POL")) (simplified funnel)
Hospital (personnel) (derivative of the medical symbol below superimposed with "H")
HQ unit i.e., the personnel; the HQ's physical position is represented by an empty rectangle with a line extending down from bottom left.
Infantry (evocative of the crossed bandoliers of Napoleonic infantry and the crossed rifles of the U.S. Army's infantry insignia)

Maintenance (stylised crescent wrench)

Medical (evocative of the Red Cross symbol)


Missile (simplified missile)

Mortar (Projectile with a vertical arrow symbolizing mortar's high arc trajectory)

Military Police (or "SP" for Shore Patrol)
Navy (An anchor)
CBRN Defence (simplified crossed retorts, the principal elements in the insignia of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps)
Ordnance (excludes maintenance units of the US Army Ordnance Corps; see maintenance, above)
Radar (stylised lightning flash and parabolic dish)
Psychological Operations (electronic schematic symbol for loudspeaker, evocative of propaganda)

Reconnaissance (or cavalry; inspired by the cavalry's sabre strap)
Signals (simplified lightning flash, evocative of radio signals [likewise used in the radar symbol above])

Special Forces

Special Operations Forces


Topographical (stylised sextant)

Transportation (simplified wheel)

Unmanned Air Vehicle (Flying wing silhouette)

Equipment icons

Equipment icons are "frame optional".

Equipment symbol (framed) (unframed) Equipment type
Bridge (e.g. AVLB)

Installation icons

Installation symbol Installation type
Bridge production

Modifier icons

All the previously mentioned symbols can be used independently as well as in combinations. There are also some symbols that cannot appear by themselves, but can only be used to modify other unit symbols:

Modifier symbol Meaning
Airborne (including Air Assault and Paratrooper forces)
Airmobile with organic lift

Common combinations

Some of the most common combinations are:

Modifier symbol Meaning
Mountain Infantry examples: Italy's Alpini, Germany's Gebirgsjäger, France's Chasseurs Alpins, Poland's Podhale Rifles, US 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
Parachute Infantry example: 82nd Airborne Division (United States), Division Schnelle Kräfte (Germany), United Kingdom's Parachute Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Australia), Brigada de Infantería Ligera Paracaidista BRIPAC (Spain)
Airmobile Infantry example: 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Jägerregiment 1
Mechanized Infantry example: US 3rd Infantry Division (equipment example: M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle),
Combined Arms (new symbol for the Maneuver Elements of the US Heavy Brigade Combat Teams) example: US 1st Armored Division
Mechanized Infantry equipped with Infantry Fighting Vehicles equipment examples: M2 Bradley, BMP-3, Bumerang, Dardo IFV
Amphibious Mechanized Infantry example: 1st Marine Regiment (United States) when Amphibious Assault Vehicle units are attached.
Mechanized Infantry (wheeled-"medium") equipment examples: 3rd Brigade (US 2nd Infantry Division), Stryker, Patria AMV, Mowag Piranha, BTR-80, (with machine gun turrets)
Mechanized Infantry (wheeled-"medium") equipped with wheeled Infantry Fighting Vehicles equipment examples: BTR-90, Kurganets-25, Freccia, VBTP-MR Guarani, (with autocannon turrets)
Tank Destroyer equipment examples: B1 Centauro, AMX 10 RC, M1128 Mobile Gun System
Wheeled Armoured Reconnaissance equipment examples: Fennek, VBL, BRDM-2, ASLAV
Armoured Engineers equipment examples: M60A1 AVLB, Bergepanzer BPz3. Also engineers mounted in IFVs such as Bradley or Warrior.
Self-propelled Anti-Aircraft Artillery equipment examples: FlaKPz Gepard, 9K22 Tunguska, Type 95 SPAAA
Armoured Artillery equipment examples: M109 howitzer, PzH 2000, 2S19 Msta, 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV, AS90
Mountain Artillery equipment example: OTO Melara Mod 56
Multiple Rocket Launcher equipment example: M270 MLRS
Wheeled Multiple Rocket Launcher equipment example: HIMARS, Pinaka, BM-27 Uragan, BM-30 Smerch, Astros II MLRS
Missile Air Defence equipment example: S-300, S-400, 9K37 Buk, MIM-104 Patriot, Roland
Attack Helicopter equipment examples: AH-64 Apache, AH-1 Cobra, Eurocopter Tiger, Mil Mi-28, Kamov Ka-50, Agusta A129 Mangusta
Medium Transport Helicopter equipment examples: CH-46 Sea Knight, UH-60 Blackhawk, Mi-17 Hip
Aerial refueling equipment examples: KC-135 Stratotanker, Il-78 Midas
an Airmobile Supply Transport Unit

Unit sizes

Above the unit symbol, a symbol representing the size of the unit can be displayed:[4]:57

Symbol Name Typical no. of personnel No. of subordinate units Typical rank of leader (Commonwealth and USA)
XXXXXX Region or Theatre (very rare in peacetime) 250,000–1,000,000+ Several army groups Commonwealth:Field Marshal
US:General of the Army
XXXXX Army Group (rare in peacetime) 120,000–500,000 Several armies Commonwealth:Field Marshal
US:General of the Army
XXXX Army 100,000 Nominally several corps, typically 5–10 Divisions General
XXX Corps/Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) 30,000–60,000 (USMC MEF 20,000–90,000) Several divisions (USMC MEF—at least one Marine Division, Marine Aircraft Wing, and Marine Logistics Group) Lieutenant General
XX Division 10,000–20,000 Nominally several Brigades/Regiments (USMC), typically ~10 Manoeuvre Battalions plus support units (USMC - three or four Marine Regiments plus several combat support battalions) Major General
X Brigade/Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) 2,000–5,000 U.S (USMC MEB 7,000–20,000), 4,000–20,000 Commonwealth Several U.S. Battalions (USMC MEB—at least one Marine Infantry Regiment (Reinforced), Composite Marine Aircraft Group, and Marine Logistics Regiment) or 2–5 Commonwealth tactical (field) Regiments. Largest permanent grouping for Commonwealth units Commonwealth: Brigadier
US: US Army BCT Colonel, USMC MEB Brigadier General
III Regiment/Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (Not used as tactical formation by Commonwealth armies) (Group in Commonwealth air force ground combat force) 500–2000 (USMC Marine Infantry Regiment 3200+ and MEU: 1500–3000, "standard" MEU 2200) 3–7 Battalions. (USMC MEU—a Marine Infantry Battalion (Reinforced), a Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (Composite), and a Marine Combat Logistics Battalion) Colonel (Group Captain in Commonwealth air force ground combat force)
II Battalion or equivalent, e.g. Commonwealth Regiment (certain countries/arms only) or U.S. Cavalry Squadron (Wing in Commonwealth air force ground combat force) 300–1,000 2–6 Companies, Batteries, U.S. Troops, or Commonwealth Squadrons, etc. Lieutenant colonel (Wing Commander in Commonwealth air force ground combat force)
I Company or equivalent, e.g., Artillery Battery, Commonwealth Armoured or Cavalry Squadron & U.S. Cavalry Troop (Squadron in Commonwealth air force ground combat force) 60–250 Several U.S. Platoons or Commonwealth Platoons/Troops Commonwealth: Major (Squadron Leader in Commonwealth air force ground combat force)
U.S. Captain
••• Platoon or equivalent, e.g. Commonwealth Troop (certain countries/arms only), Commonwealth air force ground combat elements Flight French Army Section 25–40 Several squads, sections, or vehicles Commonwealth: Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant
US: Second Lieutenant
•• Section (Commonwealth) or Squad (U.S.) [implies inherent light machine gun] 7–13 2–3 Fireteams Commonwealth: Corporal
US: Sergeant or Staff Sergeant
Crew or Patrol (implies absence of light machine gun) 5–10 1–2 Fireteams Commonwealth: Corporal or sergeant
US: Sergeant or Staff Sergeant
Ø Fireteam 3–5 n/a Commonwealth: Lance Corporal
US: Corporal or Sergeant
ø Fire and maneuver team U.S., Pair Commonwealth 2 n/a n/a

The typical commander ranks shown in the table are for illustration. Neither the actual rank designated for a particular unit's commander, nor the rank held by the incumbent commander alters the appropriate symbol. For example, units are periodically commanded by an officer junior to the authorised commander grade, yet a company under the command of a Lieutenant (U.S.) or Captain (Commonwealth) is still indicated with two vertical ticks. Likewise, some peculiar types of companies and detachments are authorised a Major, Lieutenant Colonel (personnel services companies) or Colonel (some types of judge advocate detachments); the company or detachment is nevertheless indicated with, respectively, one vertical tick or three dots.

While in Commonwealth armies, the regiment as a tactical formation does not normally exist, in some cases a regimental sized (i.e. larger than battalion and smaller than brigade) Task Force may exist where the operational requirement exists. These formations may be commanded by Colonels.

Note that, for brigades and higher, the number of Xs corresponds to the number of stars in the United States military's insignia for the typical general officer grade commanding that size unit. For example, a division is capped with XX and is usually commanded by a major general the American insignia for which is two stars.


The status of a symbol refers to whether a warfighting object exists at the location identified (i.e., status is "present") or will in the future reside at that location (i.e., status is "planned, anticipated, suspected," or "on order"). Regardless of affiliation, present status is indicated by a solid line and planned status by a dashed line. The frame is solid or dashed, unless the symbol icon is unframed, in which case the icon itself is drawn dashed. Planned status cannot be shown if the symbol is an unframed filled icon.

Symbol modifiers

APP-6A stops with field AB. MIL-STD-2525B and 2525B Change 1 add a number of other modifiers.

Positions of the various graphic modifiers around the symbol (itself field A). MIL-STD-2525B Change 1 fails to specify where to place fields AD, AE, and AF.

Graphic modifiers

Feints/dummies and installations


Feint/Dummy Installations

Mobility and auxiliary equipment


Tracked Half-tracked Towed Railway

Snowmobile Sled Pack animals Barge Amphibious  

  Short towed array (typ. sonar) Long towed array (typ. sonar)

Text modifiers

Other information

On the lower left of the unit symbol, the name of the unit can be displayed; on the lower right, the name of the unit it is part of can be displayed (if applicable).

For example,

APP-6 organization chart of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF):

Structure of the 1st MEF (click to enlarge)


APP-6A, Military Symbols for Land Based Systems was developed directly from MIL-STD-2525A, Common Warfighting Symbology. MIL-STD 2525A was the American standard for military symbols. The custodian of APP-6 is the United States. APP-6(A) remained unchanged as work on harmonizing it with ADatP-3, NATO Message Text Formatting System was carried out. In 1999, APP-6 was moved from the Army Service Board to the Joint Service Board. With this move, APP-6 was placed under the Information Exchange Requirements Harmonization/Message Text Format Working Group. The IERH/MTFWG then formed the Joint Symbology Panel to provide configuration management of APP-6 with the US custodian as the chairman. With the ratification and promulgation of APP-6(B) in 2008, the named was changed to NATO Military Symbology to better reflect the nature of the publication. In 2011, with the introduction of APP-6(C), the named was changed to NATO Joint Military Symbology. The US military required new symbols to support ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the pace of change between APP-6 and MIL-STD-2525 remained uneven until 2009. In 2009, a new chairman for DOD Symbology Standardization Management Committee was appointed, and the two configuration management organizations began to work together. The two organizations held joint meetings with full participation on both sides. The goal of both groups is to develop comprehensive joint military symbology that is common to both organizations to the greatest extent possible. APP-6(C) began the process of changing the format of the publications and introduced new symbol identification codes. MIL-STD-2525D has carried that one step further with more symbols and more symbol sets derived from recent NATO and US operations. MIL-STD-2525D will serve as the base document for APP-6(D) as the two documents move closer together.

See also


  1. Not Just Lines on a Map: A History of Military Mapping by Andrew Hershey Strategy & Tactics Magazine 274, May–June 2012, p. 23
  2. NATO Map Symbol Programmed Instruction Package, by the Canadian Forces School of Military Intelligence, Jan 2000, p. 6
  3. 1 2 Korkolis, M. (July 1986). "APP-6 Military Symbols For Land Based Symbols" (PDF).
  4. 1 2 3 4 Thibault; Valcartier (September 2005). "Commented APP-6A - Military symbols for land based systems" (PDF).
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