There are ranks such as corporal,general,private,firman in no particular order. Military ranks are a system of hierarchical relationships in armed forces, police, intelligence agencies or other institutions organized along military lines. Military ranks and the military rank system define among others dominance, authority, as well as roles and responsibility in a military hierarchy. The military rank system incorporates the principles of exercising power and authority, and the military chain of command – the succession of commanders superior to subordinates through which command is exercised – constructs an important component for organized collective action.
Usually, uniforms denote the bearer's rank by particular insignia affixed to the uniforms. Ranking systems have been known for most of military history to be advantageous for military operations, in particular with regards to logistics, command, and coordination; as time went on and military operations became larger and more complex, military ranks increased and ranking systems themselves became more complex.
Within modern armed forces, the use of ranks is almost universal. Socialist states have sometimes abolished ranks (e.g., the Soviet Red Army 1918–1935, the Chinese People's Liberation Army 1965–1988, and the Albanian Army 1966–1991), but they had to re-establish them after encountering operational difficulties of command and control.
From 501 BC the Athenians annually elected ten individuals to the rank of strategos, one for each of the ten "tribes" that had been created with the founding of the democracy. Strategos literally means "army leader" and so it is usually translated as "general". Originally these generals worked together with the old polemarchos ("warlord") but over time the latter figure was absorbed into the generalship: each of the ten generals would rotate as polemarch for one day, and during this day his vote would serve as tie-breaker if necessary.
The ten generals were equal to one another. There was no hierarchy among them, however, a basic form of democracy was in effect: For example, at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, the generals determined the battle plan by majority vote. Particular assignments, however, might have been given to individual generals; inevitably there was a regular division of responsibilities.
The rank that was subordinate to a top general was a taxiarchos or taxiarhos, something akin to the modern brigadier. In Sparta, however, the title was polemarchos. Below this was the syntagmatarchis, which can be translated as "leader of a regiment" (syntagma) and was therefore like a modern colonel. Below him was the tagmatarches, a commanding officer of a tagma (near to the modern battalion). The rank was roughly equivalent to the legatus of a Roman legion. Next was the lokhagos, an officer who led an infantry unit called a lokhos that consisted of roughly a hundred men, much the same as in a modern company led by a captain.
A Greek cavalry (hippikon) regiment was called a hipparchia and was commanded by an epihipparch. The unit was split into two and led by two hipparchos or hipparch, but Spartan cavalry was led by a hipparmostes. A hippotoxotès was a mounted archer. A Greek cavalry company was led by a tetrarchès or tetrarch.
The rank and file of the military in most of the Greek city states was composed of ordinary citizens. Heavily armed foot soldiers were called hoplitès or hoplites and a hoplomachos was a drill or weapons instructor.
Once Athens became a naval power, the top generals of the land armies had authority over the naval fleets as well. Under them, each warship was commanded by a trièrarchos or trierarch, a word which originally meant "trireme officer" but persisted when other types of vessels came into use. Moreover, as in modern navies, the different tasks associated with running a ship were delegated to different subordinates. Specifically, the kybernètès was the helmsman, the keleustēs managed the rowing speed, and the trièraulès was the flute player who maintained the strike rate for the oarsmen. Following further specialization, the naval strategos was replaced by a nauarchos, a sea officer equating to an admiral.
With the rise of Macedonia under Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, the Greek military became professional, tactics became more sophisticated and additional levels of ranking developed. Foot soldiers were organized into heavy infantry phalanxes called phalangites. These were among the first troops ever to be drilled, and they fought packed in a close rectangular formation, typically eight men deep, with a leader at the head of each column (or file) and a secondary leader in the middle so that the back rows could move off to the sides if more frontage was needed.
A tetrarchia was a unit of four files and a tetrarchès or tetrarch was a commander of four files; a dilochia was a double file and a dilochitès was a double-file leader; a lochos was a single file and a lochagos was a file leader; a dimoiria was a half file and a dimoirites was a half-file leader. Another name for the half file was a hèmilochion with a hèmilochitès being a half-file leader.
Different types of units, however, were divided differently and therefore their leaders had different titles. For example, under a numbering system by tens, a dekas or dekania was a unit of ten led by a dekarchos, a hekatontarchia was a unit of hundred led by a hekatontarchos and a khiliostys or khiliarchia was a unit of a thousand led by a khiliarchos.
The cavalry, for which Alexander became most famous (in a military sense), grew more varied. There were heavy cavalry and wing cavalry (ilè) units, the latter commanded by an ilarchos.
The use of formalized ranks came into widespread use with the Roman legions after the reforms by Marius. Comparisons to modern ranks, however, can only be loose because the Roman army's command structure was very different from the organizational structure of its modern counterparts, which arose from the medieval mercenary companies, rather than from the writings of Fourth Century Roman writer Vegetius and Caesar's commentaries on his conquest of Gaul and the civil war.
Military command properly so-called was a political office in Rome. A commander needed to be equipped with imperium, a politico-religious concept. The king possessed it (the rex sacrorum was strictly forbidden to have it to avoid a return to the monarchy). In the Republic, commanding was confined to consuls or (seldom) to praetors, or in cases of necessity a dictator. Proconsuls, after the establishment of the office, would also be used. In Imperial times, each legion was commanded by the emperor, who was technically either consul or proconsul.
The commander could appoint a deputy, a so-called legate (legatus). The association of "legatus" with "legion" is folk etymology, as the meaning of legatus is "proxy" or "envoy". Legates were typically drawn from the Roman Senate for a three-year term. The political nature of high military command was even reflected here, in that legions were always subordinate to the governor, and only the second and further legions stationed in a province had their own legatus legionis. The real commanders and the legates together were, in modern terms, the general officers.
Immediately beneath the commander (or his legate) were six military tribunes (tribuni militum), five of whom were young men of equestrian rank and one of whom was a nobleman who was headed for the Senate. The latter is called laticlavian tribune (tribunus laticlavius) and was second in command. If in modern divisions the deputy commander is a brigadier general, the laticlavian tribune can perhaps be translated with this rank, though he commanded no formation of his own. The other tribunes are called tribuni angusticlavii and are equivalent to staff officers in both senses of the term: of ranks major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and with administrative duties. They did not command a formation of their own. The term military tribune is even sometimes translated into English as "colonel"—most notably by the late classicist Robert Graves in his "Claudius" novels and his translation of Suetonius' Twelve Caesars—to avoid confusion with the political "tribunes of the people"; in addition, they must not either be confused with the "military tribunes with consular authority", who in early Republican times could replace the consuls.
The third highest officer of a legion, above the angusticlavian tribunes, was the praefectus castrorum. He too would have colonel rank in modern armies, yet he differed much from the tribunes in that his office was not part of the rather administrative cursus, but normally filled by former centurions. (Modern armies have a similar distinction on a lower scale—i.e., between commissioned and non-commissioned officers.)
The fighting men in the legion were formed into ranks, rows of men who fought as a unit. Under Marius's new system, legions were divided into ten cohorts (cohortes) (roughly equivalent to battalion and immediately subject to the legion), each consisting of three manipula, each of them of two centuries (a rather small company in modern terms), each consisting of between 60 and 160 men. Each century was led by a centurion (centurio, traditionally translated as captain), who was assisted by a number of junior officers, such as an Optio. Centuries were further broken into ten contubernia of eight soldiers each. The manipula were commanded by one of their two centurions, the cohorts by one of their three manipulum's centurions; the most senior cohort-commanding centurions was called primus pilus. The ranks of centurions in the individual cohorts were, in descending order, pilus prior, pilus posterior, princeps prior, princeps posterior, hastatus prior, and hastatus posterior. Individual soldiers were referred to as soldiers (milites) or legionaries (legionarii).
Roman discipline was severe, with all ranks subject to corporal and capital punishment at the commander's discretion. For example, if a cohort broke in battle, the typical punishment was decimation, in which every tenth soldier, selected by lot, was killed. Decimation was not commonplace as lack of men would reduce combat effectiveness, which would eventually overcome the psychological "benefit" of keeping the troops in line.
There were no ranks in the modern sense of a hierarchy of titles, although the army was organized into a hierarchical command. The organization of the army was based on the decimal system, employed by Oghuz Khagan. The army was built upon a squad of ten (aravt) led by an appointed chief. Ten of these would then compose a company of a hundred (zuut), also led by an appointed chief. The next unit was a regiment of a thousand (myangat) led by an appointed noyan. The largest organic unit was a ten thousand man unit (tumen) also led by an appointed noyan.
The army of ancient Persia consisted of manageable military groupings under the individual commands. Starting at the bottom, a unit of 10 was called a dathabam and was led by a dathapatis. A unit of 100 men was a satabam led by a satapatis. A unit of 1,000 was a hazarabam and was commanded by a hazarapatis. A unit of 10,000 was a baivarabam and was commanded by a baivarapatis. The Greeks called such masses of troops a myrias or myriad. Among mounted troops, an asabam was a cavalry unit led by an asapatis.
Medieval militaries did not have a unified rank structure; while the feudal lords were in some ways equivalent to modern officers, they didn't have a strict hierarchy—a king was conceived of as first among equals, not a monarch as later or ancient societies understood the concept, and all nobles were theoretically equals (hence "peers"). A nobleman was obligated to bring a set number of troops when asked by his liege-lord, a king or merely a higher-ranked noble who had obtained his service by the gift of land. The troops' lord retained at least nominal control over them—many medieval military planning sessions involved negotiating each lord's role in the coming battle—and each lord was allowed to leave after a predetermined amount of time had passed.
The command structure of armies was generally loose and varied considerably. Typically, the king and high-ranking lords would call out for all lords to gather their troops for a campaign. They would appoint a renowned noble to organize the assembling forces, the marshal. The term Field Marshal came from the marshal then leading the army on the march, and being in charge of organizing camps and logistics. Tactics for an upcoming battle were often decided by councils of war among the nobles leading the largest forces. Outside of campaigns, the High Constable had authority over the local constables, and commanders of the garrisons of major castles. The High Constable might have authority in the army due to his role of head of the regular cavalry.
As the Middle Ages came to an end, the rank structure of medieval armies became more formalized. The top officers were known as commissioned officers because their rank came from a royal commission. Army commissions were usually reserved for those of high stature—the aristocracy of mainland Europe and the aristocracy and gentry of Great Britain.
The basic unit of the medieval army was the company, a band of soldiers assigned (or raised) by a vassal lord on behalf of his lord (in later times the king himself). The vassal lord in command of the company was a commissioned officer with the rank of captain. Captain was derived from the Late Latin word capitaneus (meaning "head man" or chief).
The commissioned officer assisting the captain with command of the company was the lieutenant. Lieutenant was derived from the French language; the lieu meaning "place" as in a position; and tenant meaning "holding" as in "holding a position"; thus a "lieutenant" is somebody who holds a position in the absence of his superior. When he was not assisting the captain, the lieutenant commanded a unit called a platoon, particularly a more specialized platoon. The word is derived from the 17th-century French peloton, meaning a small ball or small detachment of men, which came from pelote, a ball.
The commissioned officer carrying the (infantry) company's flag was the ensign. The word ensign was derived from the Latin word insignia. In cavalry companies the equivalent rank was cornet. In English usage, these ranks were merged into the single rank of second lieutenant in the 19th Century.
Not all officers received a commission from the king. Certain specialists were granted a warrant, certifying their expertise as craftsmen. These warrant officers assisted the commissioned officers but ranked above the non-commissioned officers. They received their authority from superior officers rather than the king. The first NCOs were the armed servants (men-at-arms) of the aristocracy, assigned to command, organize and train the militia units raised for battle. After years of commanding a squad, an NCO could be promoted to sergeant, the highest NCO rank. While a sergeant might have commanded a squad upon promotion, he usually became a staff officer. While commissioned staff officers assisted their commander with personnel, intelligence, operations and logistics, the sergeant was a jack of all trades, concerning himself with all aspects of administration to maintain the enlisted men serving under his commander. Over time, sergeants were differentiated into many ranks as various levels of sergeants were used by the commanders of various levels of units.
A corporal commanded a squad. Squad derived from the Italian word for a "square" or "block" of soldiers. In fact, corporal was derived from the Italian caporal de squadra (head of the squad). Corporals were assisted by lancepesades. Lancepesades were veteran soldiers; lancepesade was derived from the Italian "lancia spezzata" meaning broken spear—the broken spear being a metaphor for combat experience, where such an occurrence was likely. The first lancepesades were simply experienced privates; who either assisted their corporal or performed the duties of a corporal themselves. It was this second function that made armies increasingly regard their lancepesades as a grade of corporal rather than a grade of private. As a result, the rank of lance corporal was derived from combining lancepesade and corporal.
As the Middle Ages came to an end, kings increasingly relied on professional soldiers to fill the bottom ranks of their armies instead of militiamen. Each of these professionals began their careers as a private. The private was a man who signed a private contract with the company commander, offering his services in return for pay. The money was raised through taxation; those yeomen (smallholding peasants) who did not fulfill their annual 40-day militia service paid a tax that funded professional soldiers recruited from the yeomanry. This money was handed to the company commanders from the royal treasury, the company commanders using the money to recruit the troops.
As armies grew larger, composed of multiple companies, one captain was granted general (overall) authority over the field armies by the king. (National armies were the armies of the kings. Field armies were armies raised by the king to enter the battle field in preparation for major battles.) In French history, lieutenant du roi was a title born by the officer sent with military powers to represent the king in certain provinces. A lieutenant du roi was sometimes known as a lieutenant général to distinguish him from lieutenants subordinate to mere captains. The sergeant acting as staff officer to the captain general was known as the sergeant major general. This was eventually shortened to major general, while captain general was shortened to simply general. This is the reason a major outranks a lieutenant, but a lieutenant general outranks a major general.
In modern times new recruits attending basic training, also referred to as boot camp by some branches, are instructed in the hierarchical structure of military rank. Many new enlisted civilians find it difficult to understand the structure of General staff ranks as stated before, it becomes somewhat complicated to understand when applying basic rationale. In view of this, recruits are taught the statement "Be My Little General." This is so that it makes it easier to learn which General outranks which. The rationale behind the statement is as follow: "Be" Brigadier General (1 star), "My" Major General (2 star), "Little" Lieutenant General (3 star), "General" General (4 star).
As armies grew bigger, heraldry and unit identification remained primarily a matter of the regiment. Brigades headed by brigadier generals were the units invented as a tactical unit by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus II ("Gustav II Adolf," who was killed at the battle of Lützen 1632). It was introduced to overcome the normal army structure, consisting of regiments. The so-called "brigada" was a mixed unit, comprising infantry, cavalry and normally artillery too, designated for a special task. The size of such "brigada" was a reinforced company up to two regiments. The "brigada" was a 17th-century form of the modern "task force". In some armies "brigadier general" has been shortened to "brigadier".
Around the end of the 16th century, companies were grouped into regiments. The officers commissioned to lead these regiments were called colonels (column officers). They were first appointed in Spain by King Ferdinand II of Aragon where they were also known as coronellos (crown officers) since they were appointed by the Crown. Thus the English pronunciation of the word colonel.
The first colonels were captains granted command of their regiments by commission of the king. The lieutenants of the colonel were the lieutenant colonels. In the 17th century, the sergeant of the colonel was the sergeant major. These were field officers, third in command of their regiments (after their colonels and lieutenant colonels), with a role similar to the older, army-level sergeants major (although obviously on a smaller scale). The older position became known as sergeant major general to distinguish it. Over time, the sergeant was dropped from both titles since both ranks were used for commissioned officers. This gave rise to the modern ranks of major and major general.
The full title of sergeant major fell out of use until the latter part of the 18th century, when it began to be applied to the senior non-commissioned officer of an infantry battalion or cavalry regiment.
Modern military services recognize three broad categories of personnel. These are codified in the Geneva Conventions, which distinguish officers, non-commissioned officers, and enlisted men.
Apart from conscripted personnel one can distinguish:
Officers are further generally separated into four levels:
Officers who typically command units or formations that are expected to operate independently for extended periods of time (i.e., brigades and larger, or flotillas or squadrons of ships), are referred to variously as general officers (in armies, marines, and some air forces), flag officers (in navies and coast guards), or air officers (in some Commonwealth air forces).
General-officer ranks typically include (from the most senior) general, lieutenant general, major general, and brigadier general, although there are many variations like division general or (air-, ground-) force general.
Flag-officer ranks, named after the traditional practice of showing the presence of such an officer with a flag on a ship and often land, typically include (from the most senior) admiral, vice admiral and rear admiral. In some navies, such as Canada's, the rank of commodore is a flag rank.
In the United Kingdom and most other Commonwealth air forces, air-officer ranks usually include air chief marshal, air marshal, air vice-marshal and air commodore. For some air forces, however, such as those of Canada, United States and many other air forces, general officer rank titles are used. In the case of the United States Air Force, that service was once part of the U.S. Army and evolved as a separate service in 1947, carrying over its extant officer rank structure. Brazil and Argentina use a system of general officer ranks based on the term brigadier.
In some forces, there may be one or more superior ranks to the common examples, above, that are given distinguishing titles, such as Field Marshal (most armies of the world, notably excluding the United States) or General of the Army (mainly the United States because "Marshal" is used as a peace officer's designation), Fleet Admiral (U.S. Navy), Marshal of the Royal Air Force, or other national air force. These ranks have often been discontinued, such as in Germany and Canada, or limited to wartime or honorific promotion, such as in the United Kingdom and the United States.
In various countries, particularly the United States, these may be referred to as "star ranks" for the number of stars worn on some rank insignia: typically one-star for brigadier general or equivalent with the addition of a star for each subsequent rank. In the United States, five stars has been the highest rank regularly attainable (excluding the Marines and Coast Guard, which have traditionally served as branches of the Navy in times of war and thus under the command of a Fleet Admiral). There also exists the specialty ranks of General of the Armies of the United States and Admiral of the Navy which at their inception were considered senior four star officers but came to be considered six-star rank after the creation of five star officers. To date only one other officer has held a six star rank in their lifetime, John J. Pershing while George Washington was posthumously promoted to the post in 1976. Additionally, Admiral George Dewey was promoted to Admiral of the Navy but died well before statute made it senior to an Admiral of the Fleet upon the latter's inception.
Some titles are not genuine ranks, but either functions assumed by generals or honorific titles. For instance, in the French Army général de corps d'armée is a function assumed by some généraux de division, and maréchal de France, which is a distinction denoting the most superior military office, but one that has often neutered the practical command powers of those on whom it is conferred. In the United States Navy, a commodore currently is a senior captain commanding a squadron, air group, or air wing that is too small for a rear admiral to command, although that name has historically been used as a rank. The title (not rank) of commodore can also indicate an officer who is senior to a ship's captain (since only the ship's commanding officer is addressed as captain while underway). Marine captains are sometimes referred to as major to distinguish themselves while shipboard, although this reference is not employed in the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps.
Field officers, also called "field-grade officers" or "senior officers", are officers who typically command units that can be expected to operate independently for short periods of time (i.e., infantry battalions, cavalry or artillery regiments, warships, air squadrons). Field officers also commonly fill staff positions of superior commands.
The term "field(-grade) officer" is primarily used by armies and marines; air forces, navies and coast guards generally prefer the term "senior officer." The two terms are not necessarily synonymous because the former is frequently used to describe any officer who holds a command position from a platoon to a theater.
Typical army and marine field officer ranks include colonel /ˈkɜːrnəl/, lieutenant colonel, major and, in the British army, captains holding an adjutant's appointment. In many Commonwealth countries the field rank of brigadier is used, although it fills the position held by brigadier general in other countries.
Naval and coast guard senior officer ranks include captain and commander. In some countries, the more senior rank of commodore is also included. In others lieutenant-commanders, as equivalents to army and marine majors, are considered senior officers.
The ranks of junior officers are the three or four lowest ranks of officers. Units under their command are generally not expected to operate independently for any significant length of time. Company grade officers also fill staff roles in some units. In some militaries, however, a captain may act as the permanent commanding officer of an independent company-sized army unit, for example a signal or field engineer squadron, or a field artillery battery.
Typical army company officer ranks include captain and various grades of lieutenant. Typical naval and coast guard junior officer ranks include grades of lieutenant commander, lieutenant, lieutenant junior grade, sub-lieutenant and ensign. Commonwealth (excluding Canada) air force junior officer ranks usually include flight lieutenant, flying officer, and pilot officer.
"The [U.S.] commissioned officer corps is divided into 10 pay grades (O-1 through O-10). Officers in pay grades O-1 through O-3 are considered company grade officers. In the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, these pay grades correspond to the ranks of second lieutenant (O-1), first lieutenant (O-2), and captain (O-3), and in the Navy, ensign, lieutenant junior grade, and lieutenant. Officers in the next three pay grades (O-4 through O-6) are considered field grade officers. In the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, these pay grades correspond to the ranks of major (O-4), lieutenant colonel (O-5), and colonel (O-6), and in the Navy, lieutenant commander, commander, and captain. The highest four pay grades are reserved for general officers in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, and flag officers in the Navy. The ranks associated with each pay grade are as follows: in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, brigadier general (O-7), major general (O-8), lieutenant general (O-9), and general (O-10); in the Navy, rear admiral-lower half, rear admiral-upper half, vice admiral, and admiral."
In the US and several other western forces, officers in training are referred to as student officers, and carry the rank of cadet (army and air force) or midshipman (navy, and in some countries, marines). These officers may be serving at a military academy, or, as common in the United States, as members of a military training unit attached to a civilian college or university, such as an ROTC unit. This is due to a requirement that commissioned officers have at least a four-year collegiate undergraduate degree.
The British Army refers to its trainee officers as officer cadets, who rank as private soldiers at the start of their training, with no authority over other ranks (except when appointed to carry out a role as part of training). Officer cadets are addressed to as "Mister" or "Miss" until the completion of the early stages of their training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (at which point cadets "pass out" and formally gain their commissions), thereafter other ranks (non-officers) will address them as "Sir" or "Ma'am".
While cadet has always been a rank of limited authority and prestige (cadets and US Navy midshipmen have no authority over commissioned personnel, warrants, or officers, only subordinate cadets), midshipman has historically been a rank with limited leadership responsibility, particularly in the Royal Navy (where cadets are commissioned at the start of their training, unlike their Army counterparts). This tradition was continued by the US Navy after its original adoption of the rank, but now US Navy midshipmen are limited in the same manner as cadets in the other US services. Additionally, US Marine officers in training are also midshipmen, trained and educated alongside their naval counterparts, and wear distinctive insignia to indicate their branch of service.
In the US an alternative to spending four years as a cadet or midshipmen is for college graduates with a four-year degree to attend officer candidate school, an intensive twelve week training course designed to convert college graduates into military officers. Each service has at least one, and usually several, officer candidate school facilities. Students at these programs are called officer candidates.
Warrant officers (as receiving authority by virtue of a warrant) are a hybrid rank treated slightly differently in each country or service. Warrant officers may either be effectively senior non-commissioned officers or an entirely separate grade between commissioned and non-commissioned officers, usually held by specialist personnel.
In the United States, warrant officers are appointed by warrant then commissioned by the President of the United States at the rank of chief warrant officer. Warrant officers range from WO1-CW5. A warrant officer is not a chief warrant officer until they reach W2.
Enlisted personnel are personnel below commissioned rank and make up the vast majority of military personnel. They are known by different names in different countries, such as other ranks (ORs) in the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth countries, and non-commissioned members (NCMs) in Canada.
Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) are enlisted personnel, under the command of an officer, granted delegated authority to supervise other military members or assigned significant administrative responsibilities. They are responsible for the care and direct control of junior military members, often functioning in the smaller field units as executive officers.
Even the most senior NCO officially ranks beneath the most junior commissioned officer or warrant officer. However, most senior NCOs have more experience, possibly including combat, than junior officers. In many armies, because junior officers have a great amount of responsibility and authority but little operational experience, they are paired with senior NCO advisers. In some organizations, senior NCOs may have formal responsibility and informal respect beyond that of junior officers, but less than that of warrant officers. Many warrant officers come from the ranks of mid-career NCOs. In some countries warrant ranks replace senior enlisted ranks.
NCO ranks typically include a varying number of grades of sergeant and corporal (air force, army and marines), or chief petty officer and petty officer (navy and coast guard). In many navies the term 'rating' is used to designate specialty, while rank denotes pay grade.
In some countries warrant officers come under the non-commissioned officer branch (senior non-commissioned officiers).
Personnel with no command authority usually bear titles such as private, airman/aircraftman, or seaman (starting with seaman recruit in the United States Navy and Coast Guard). In the United States Marine Corps individuals of all ranks regardless of command status may be referred to as "Marine". In the United States Air Force individuals of all ranks regardless of command status may be referred to as "airman". Shortly after the Sailor's Creed was formally instituted, Secretary of the Navy John Dalton directed that the word "Sailor" should be capitalized when referring to any uniformed member of the Navy. In some countries and services, personnel in different branches have different titles. These may have a variety of grades, such as private first class, but these usually only reflect variations in pay, not increased authority. These may or may not technically be ranks, depending on the country or service. Each rank gives the individual an indication of how long and how well they have served in combat and training.
Appointment refers to the instrument by virtue of which the person exercises his or her authority. Officers are appointed by a royal commission in most monarchies or a presidential commission in many other countries. In the Commonwealth, warrant officers hold a royal or presidential warrant. In the United States, officers are appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. Most officers are approved en bloc by voice vote, but flag officers are usually required to appear before the Armed Services Committee and answer questions to the satisfaction of its members, prior to a vote on their commission.
NCOs are appointed by an instrument of appointment, a written document, often a certificate, usually from the service head. Entry into service is often referred to as enlistment throughout the English-speaking world, even in countries where soldiers do not technically enlist.
Sometimes personnel serve in an appointment which is higher than their actual rank. For instance, commodore used to be an appointment of captain in the Royal Navy and lance corporal used to be an appointment of private in the British Army.
There are a number of different forms of rank; from highest to lowest degree, they are:
To get a sense of the practical meaning of these ranks—and thus to be able to compare them across the different armed services, different nations, and the variations of titles and insignia—an understanding of the relative levels and sizes of each command is helpful. The ranking and command system used by U.S. Marine ground forces or U.S. Army infantry units can serve as a template for this purpose. It should be remembered that different countries will often use their own systems that do not match the presentation here.
Under this system, starting from the bottom and working up, a corporal leads a fireteam consisting of three other individuals. A sergeant leads a squad consisting of three fireteams. As a result, a full squad numbers 13 individuals. Squads usually have numbered designations (e.g., 1st Squad).
Generally, in most armies and marine units, a lieutenant or equivalent rank leads a platoon, which can consist of three or four squads. For example, in U.S. Marine infantry units, rifle platoons usually consist of three rifle squads of 13 men each, with a Navy corpsman, the platoon leader, and a platoon sergeant (i.e., a staff sergeant who serves as second-in-command). An infantry platoon can number from 42 to 55 individuals, depending on the service. Platoons are usually numbered (e.g., 1st Platoon) or named after their primary function (e.g., service platoon).
A captain or equivalent rank commands a company, usually consisting of four platoons (three line platoons and one heavy weapons platoon). His headquarters can include a first sergeant and as many as seven others. As such, a company can comprise from roughly 175 to 225 individuals. Equivalent units also commanded by captains are batteries (for field artillery units) and detachments. In English speaking countries, a company (or troop in the cavalry, and battery in the artillery) is usually designated by a letter (e.g., "A Company"). In non-English speaking countries, they are usually numbered. In most Commonwealth armies a company is commanded by a major, assisted by a captain.
A lieutenant colonel or equivalent rank commands a battalion or a squadron, often consisting of four companies, plus the various members of his headquarters. A battalion is around 500–1,500 men and usually consists of between two and six companies.
A colonel or equivalent commands a regiment or group, often consisting of four battalions (for an Infantry unit) or five to six air groups (for a wing). Battalions and regiments are usually numbered, either as a separate battalion or as part of a regimental structure (e.g., 1-501st Infantry in the US Army).
In these latter, abstractions cease to be helpful and it becomes necessary to turn to an actual unit. The 1st Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division of the I Marine Expeditionary Force consists of three infantry companies, one weapons company, and one headquarters and service company. Above that, the 1st Marine Regiment (also known as "First Marines") consists of four such battalions and one headquarters company. Marine Air Control Group 18 of 1st Marine Air Wing of the III Marine Expeditionary Force consists of four squadrons, one battery, and one detachment, a mix of different-sized units under a regimental equivalent-sized unit.
The next level has traditionally been a brigade, commanded by a brigadier general, and containing two or more regiments. But this structure is considered obsolete today. At the present time, in the U.S. Army, a brigade is roughly equal to or a little larger than a regiment, consisting of three to seven battalions. Strength typically ranges from 1,500 to 3,500 personnel. In the U.S. Marines, brigades are only formed for certain missions. In size and nature they are larger and more varied collections of battalions than is common for a regiment, fitting them for their traditional role as the smallest formation able to operate independently on a battlefield without external logistical tactical support. Brigades are usually numbered (e.g., 2nd Brigade).
The level above regiment and brigade is the division, commanded by a major general and consisting of from 10,000 to 20,000 persons. The 1st Marine Division, for example, is made up of four marine regiments (of the type described above), one assault amphibian battalion, one reconnaissance battalion, two light armored reconnaissance battalions, one combat engineer battalion, one tank battalion, and one headquarters battalion—totalling more than 19,000 marines. (Within the headquarters battalion are one headquarters company, one service company, one military police company, one communications company, and one truck company.) An equivalent elsewhere within the same marine expeditionary force (MEF) might be a MEF logistics group (MLG), which is not a regimental-sized unit (as the word "group" implies), but rather a large support unit consisting of several battalions of support personnel. Divisions are normally numbered, but can be named after a function or personage.
Considering such a variety of units, the command sizes for any given rank will vary widely. Not all units are as troop intensive as infantry forces need to be. Tank and artillery crews, for example, involve far fewer personnel. Numbers also differ for non-combat units such as quartermasters, cooks, and hospital staff. Beyond this, in any real situation, not all units will be at full strength and there will be various attachments and detachments of assorted specialists woven throughout the system.
The 1st Marine Division is part of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, which also includes the 3rd Marine Air Wing, 1st Marine Logistics Group, 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade (as required), three marine expeditionary units (featuring helicopter groups), and a battalion-sized marine air ground task force. In the U.S. Marine Corps there are three marine expeditionary forces.
In the U.S. Army, the level above division is called a corps instead of an expeditionary force. It is commanded by a lieutenant general. In many armies, a corps numbers around 60,000, usually divided into three divisions. Corps (and similar organizations) are normally designated with Roman numerals and their nationality when operating in a combined (international) force—e.g., V (US) Corps, VIII (ROK) Corps, II MEF, I Canadian Corps.
During World War II, due to the large scale of combat, multiple corps were combined into armies commanded in theory by a general (four stars), but often by a lieutenant general (three stars), and comprising as many as 240,000 troops. Armies are numbered by spelled-out numerals or functional titles, using their nationality in "combined" forces (e.g., Eighth US Army, Third ROK Army, British Army of the Rhine). These were in their turn formed into army groups, these being the largest field organization handled by a single commander in modern warfare. Army groups included between 400,000 and 1,500,000 troops. Army groups received Arabic numeral designations and national designations when combined.
These examples illustrate a standard that holds true all over the world and throughout military history, namely that higher rank generally implies command of larger units in a nested system of ranks and commands. The specific size of a command for any given rank will, however, depend on the task the unit performs, the nature of weapons used, and the strategies of warfare.
Within the units of a thousand men he [Chinggis Khan] appointed commanders over groups of a hundred, and within those over groups of ten. The main units he made part of larger contingents of ten thousand, appointing commanders to rule over them.
The Russian Federation inherited the ranks of the Soviet Union, although the insignia and uniform were altered slightly.
The Russian armed forces have two styles of ranks: army-style ranks and navy-style ranks. The army and air force use only army-style ranks.Brigadier
Brigadier is a military rank, the seniority of which depends on the country. In some countries, it is a senior rank above colonel, equivalent to a brigadier general, typically commanding a brigade of several thousand soldiers. In other countries, it is a non-commissioned rank (e.g. Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands and the Indonesian Police ranks).British Army officer rank insignia
Listed in the table below are the insignia—emblems of authority—of the British Army. Badges for field officers were first introduced in 1810 and the insignia was moved to the epaulettes in 1880. On ceremonial or parade uniforms these ranks continue to be worn on the epaulettes, either as cloth slides or as metal clips, although on the modern 'working dress' (daily uniform) they are usually worn as a cloth slide on the chest. Although these insignia apply across the British Army there is variation is the precise design and colours used and it can take some time to become familiar with them all.
Officers in the ranks of lieutenant and second lieutenant are often referred to as subalterns and these and captains are also referred to as company officers. Brigadiers, colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors are field officers. All above these are considered to be of general officer rank.
For a short period, the British Army used the rank of sub-lieutenant, before that was changed to second lieutenant.Captain
Captain is a title for the commander of a military unit, the commander of a ship, airplane, spacecraft, or other vessel, or the commander of a port, fire department or police department, election precinct, etc. Captain is a military rank in armies, navies, coast guards, etc., typically at the level of an officer commanding a company of infantry, a ship, or a battery of artillery, or similar distinct unit. The terms also may be used as an informal or honorary title for persons in similar commanding roles.
The term "captain" derives from katepánō (Greek: κατεπάνω, lit. "[the one] placed at the top", or "the topmost") which was used as title for a senior Byzantine military rank and office. The word was Latinized as capetanus/catepan, and its meaning seems to have merged with that of the late Latin "capitaneus" (which derives from the classical Latin word "caput", meaning head). This hybridized term gave rise to the English language term captain and its equivalents in other languages (Capitan, Capitaine, Capitano, Capitão, Kapitan, Kapitän, Kapitein, Kapteeni, Kapten, kapitány, Kapudan Pasha, Kobtan, etc.).Colonel
Colonel ( "kernel"; abbreviated Col., Col or COL) is a senior military officer rank below the brigadier and general officer ranks. However, in some small military forces, such as those of Monaco or the Vatican, colonel is the highest rank. It is also used in some police forces and paramilitary organizations.
Historically, in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a colonel was typically in charge of a regiment in an army. Modern usage varies greatly, and in some cases, the term is used as an honorific title that may have no direct relationship to military service.
The rank of colonel is typically above the rank of lieutenant colonel. The rank above colonel is typically called brigadier, brigade general or brigadier general.
Equivalent naval ranks may be called captain or ship-of-the-line captain. In the Commonwealth air force rank system, the equivalent rank is group captain.Colonel (United States)
In the United States Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, colonel () is the most senior field grade military officer rank, immediately above the rank of lieutenant colonel and immediately below the rank of brigadier general. It is equivalent to the naval rank of captain in the other uniformed services. The pay grade for colonel is O-6.
The insignia of the rank of colonel, as seen on the right, is worn on the officer's left side (a mirror-image version is worn on the right side, such that the eagle always faces forward to the wearer's front; the left-side version is also worn centered on fatigue caps, helmets, Army ACU & ECWCS breasts, inter alia). By law, a colonel must have 22 years of service and a minimum of three years of service as a lieutenant colonel before being promoted.Cornet (rank)
Cornet was originally the third and lowest grade of commissioned officer in a British cavalry troop, after captain and lieutenant.
It was abolished in the Cardwell Reforms of 1871 and replaced by sub-lieutenant. It is equivalent to a modern second lieutenant. The term today is restricted to internal regimental use when referring to a Second Lieutenant in the Blues and Royals and Queen's Royal Hussars.This rank was also used in other countries, e.g., in the Russian Empire, and the Prussian cavalry, before 1870.Corporal
Corporal is a military rank in use in some form by many militaries and by some police forces or other uniformed organizations. Within NATO, each member nation's corresponding military rank of corporal is combined under the NATO-standard rank scale code OR-3 or OR-4. However, there are often differences in how each nation (or service in each nation) employs corporals. Some militaries don't have corporals, but may instead have a Junior Sergeant.
In some militaries, the rank of corporal nominally corresponds to commanding a section or squad of soldiers. However, in the United States Army, the rank of corporal is considered a "lateral promotion" from E-4 Specialist and usually only occurs when the soldier has been selected by a promotion board to become an E-5 Sergeant and is serving in an E-5 billet such as a fireteam leader in a rifle squad. The lateral promotion is used to make the soldier a non-commissioned officer without changing the soldier's pay. As the Table of Organization & Equipment (TO&E) rank of a fire team leader is sergeant and that of squad leader is staff sergeant. In the United States Marine Corps, corporal is the Table of Organization (TO) rank for a rifle fire team leader, machine gun team leader, light mortar squad leader, and assault weapon squad leader, as well as gunner on most larger crew served weapons (i.e. medium mortars, heavy machine guns, and anti-tank missiles), armored vehicles (e.g. tanks, light armored vehicles, and armored assault vehicles), and the two assistant gunners on a howitzer (the gunner is a sergeant).
In most countries that derive their military structure from the British military system, corporal is a more senior rank than that of private. However, in several other countries, such as Canada, Italy and Norway, corporal is a junior rank, indicating a more experienced soldier than a private, and also on a higher pay scale, but having no particular command appointment corresponding to the rank, similar to specialist in the U.S. Army.Enlisted rank
An enlisted rank (also known as an enlisted grade or enlisted rate) is, in some armed services, any rank below that of a commissioned officer. The term can be inclusive of non-commissioned officers or warrant officers, except in United States military usage where warrant officers/chief warrant officers are a separate officer category ranking above enlisted grades and below commissioned officer grades. In most cases, enlisted service personnel perform jobs specific to their own occupational specialty, as opposed to the more generalized command responsibilities of commissioned officers. The term "enlistment" refers solely to a military commitment (whether officer or enlisted) whereas the terms "taken of strength" and "struck off strength" refer to a servicemember being carried on a given unit's roll.Ensign (rank)
Ensign (; Late Middle English, from Old French enseigne (12c.) "mark, symbol, signal; flag, standard, pennant", from Latin insignia (plural)) is a junior rank of a commissioned officer in the armed forces of some countries, normally in the infantry or navy. As the junior officer in an infantry regiment was traditionally the carrier of the ensign flag, the rank acquired the name. This rank has generally been replaced in army ranks by second lieutenant. Ensigns were generally the lowest ranking commissioned officer, except where the rank of subaltern existed. In contrast, the Arab rank of ensign, لواء, liwa', derives from the command of units with an ensign, not the carrier of such a unit's ensign, and is today the equivalent of a major general.
In Thomas Venn's 1672 Military and Maritime Discipline in Three Books, the duties of ensigns are to include not only carrying the colour but assisting the captain and lieutenant of a company and in their absence, have their authority."Ensign" is enseigne in French, and chorąży in Polish, each of which derives from a term for a flag. The Spanish alférez and Portuguese alferes is a junior officer rank below lieutenant associated with carrying the flag, and so is often translated as "ensign". Unlike the rank in other languages, its etymology has nothing to do with flags, but instead comes from the Arabic for "cavalier" or "knight". Fähnrich in German comes from an older German military title, Fahnenträger (flag bearer); however, it is an officer cadet rank, not a junior officer - the same applies to the Dutch vaandrig, which has a parallel etymology. In the German Landsknecht armies (c. 1480), the equivalent rank of a Cornet existed for those men who carried the troop standard (known as a "cornet"). It is still used in the artillery and cavalry units of the Netherlands (kornet).
The NATO rank code is OF-1 (junior).General officer
A General Officer is an officer of high rank in the army, and in some nations' air forces or marines.The term "general" is used in two ways: as the generic title for all grades of general officer and as a specific rank.
It originates in the 16th century, as a shortening of captain general, which rank was taken from Middle French capitaine général.
The adjective general had been affixed to officer designations since the late medieval period to indicate relative superiority or an extended jurisdiction.
Today, the title of "General" is known in some countries as a four-star rank. However different countries use different systems of stars or other insignia for senior ranks. It has a NATO code of OF-9 and is the highest rank currently in use in a number of armies, air forces and marine organizations.Generalleutnant
Generalleutnant, short GenLt, (English: lieutenant general) is the second highest general officer rank in the German Army (Heer) and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).Generalmajor
For the use of this Two-star rank in other countries, see Major general.
General Major, short GenMaj, (English: major general) is a general officer rank in many countries, and is identical to and translated as major general.
It is currently the third highest general officer rank in the German Army (Heer), German Air Force (Luftwaffe). This rank is also used in the Austrian Armed Forces, but is abbreviated as GenMjr.
Historically, German Army ranks for their Generals prior to 1945 were offset by one from western nomenclature. Thus, prior to 1945 the Generalmajor rank in the German Army was equivalent to the Brigadier General rank in the West, and so forth.Gunner (rank)
Gunner (Gnr) is a rank equivalent to private in the British Army Royal Artillery and the artillery corps of other Commonwealth armies. The next highest rank is usually lance-bombardier, although in the Royal Canadian Artillery it is bombardier. Historically, there was an inferior rank, matross.List of comparative military ranks
This article is a list of various states' armed forces ranking designations. Comparisons are made between the different systems used by nations to categorize the hierarchy of an armed force compared to another. Several of these lists mention NATO reference codes. These are the NATO rank reference codes, used for easy comparison among NATO countries. Links to comparison charts can be found below.Oberleutnant
Oberleutnant (OF-1a) is the highest lieutenant officer rank in the armed forces of Germany (Bundeswehr), Austrian Armed Forces, and Military of Switzerland.Oberst
Oberst (German pronunciation: [ˈʔoːbɐst]) is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti and the Icelandic rank ofursti. In the Netherlands the rank overste is used as a synonym for a lieutenant colonel.Oberstleutnant
Oberstleutnant (German pronunciation: [ˈʔoːbɐstlɔʏtnant]) is a German Army and German Air Force rank equal to lieutenant colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.
There are two paygrades associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant. Paygrade A14 is the standard level paygrade whereas A15 is assigned to senior Oberstleutnant personnel.
Oberstleutnant of the General Staff or Reserve have the words "im Generalstabsdienst" (i.G.), "der Reserve" (d.R.) after their rank—thus: "OTL i.G.", "OTL d.R."
Oberstleutnant who are definitely retired are described as "außer Dienst" (a.D.).
Contrary to (unofficial) practice in many English-speaking militaries, a German Oberstleutnant is never referred to as an Oberst, neither to shorten the address nor as a form of courtesy.
During World War II, the SS maintained an equivalent rank known as Obersturmbannführer.Private (rank)
A private is a soldier of the lowest military rank (equivalent to NATO Rank Grades OR-1 to OR-3 depending on the force served in).
In modern military writing, "private" is shortened to "Pte" in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth of Nations countries and to "Pvt." in the United States.
|Field marshal or
General of the Army
the air force
|Admiral||General||Air chief marshal|
|Vice admiral||Lieutenant general||Air marshal|
|Rear admiral||Major general||Air vice-marshal|
|Commander||Lieutenant colonel||Wing commander|
junior grade or
|Second lieutenant||Pilot officer|
|Officer cadet||Officer cadet||Flight cadet|
|Warrant officer or
chief petty officer
|Warrant officer or
|Leading seaman||Corporal or
|Field marshal or
General of the Army
the air force
|Admiral||General||Air chief marshal|
|Vice admiral||Lieutenant general||Air marshal|
|Rear admiral||Major general||Air vice-marshal|
|Commander||Lieutenant colonel||Wing commander|
junior grade or
|Second lieutenant||Pilot officer|
|Officer cadet||Officer cadet||Flight cadet|
|Warrant officer or
chief petty officer
|Warrant officer or
|Leading seaman||Corporal or
Military ranks and insignia by country
|Commonwealth of Nations|