There's also the NATO system for naming Warsaw Pact and other enemy military hardware. Typically a system is known both by its manufacturer (or for Soviet Union hardware, its design bureau), part number, and a NATO designation that tells you what it does in a backhanded sort of way. In intelligence literature, the NATO designation is usually in all capital letters.

For aircraft, the name has several important keys. The number of syllables tells you the propulsion type--one for propeller, two for jet--and the first letter tells you the main mission. If you're familiar with the names of the various design bureaux, you can usually name the maker, but that's only good for brownie points. Some airframes can have more than one name--the Il-76 is known as the CANDID, but in its air-refueling configuration, it's known as the MIDAS. With additional antennae, it's known as the MAINSTAY! The NATO designation lets you know what mission that particular bird was built for. Here are the roles and the letters associated with them. To keep it simple, they closely follow the 1962 tri-service system. In addition, NATO uses the following first-letter designations to refer to other airborne hardware:
  • A - Air to air missile; named AA-# {name}. E.g. AA-8 APHID.
  • S - Surface to surface missile - If these are strategic ballistic missiles, these are named with SS and a number, as well as X or N denoting eXperimental or Naval variants. Anti-tank rockets, which are also technically surface-to-surface, get the name AT-#. The AT-8 SONGSTER is anti-tank. The SS-21 SCARAB is an SRBM.
  • G - Surface to air missile, or SAM. Think "God-damn-that-was-close." These are named SA-#, as in SA-6 GAINFUL.
  • K - Air to surface missile (think "tanK Killer"). AS-#, as in AS-15 KENT.

Thanks to Kaleja and karmaflux for the editorial help.