In the United States Navy, officers have various ranks, called rates in the USN. Equivalency between services is by pay grade.

US Navy Rank categories

In the U.S. Navy, pay grades for officers are:

  • W-2 to W-5 for Chief Warrant Officers. Chief Warrant Officers (CWO2-CWO5) are Commissioned Officers; only Warrant Officer (W-1) is not a commissioned officer and that pay grade is not currently in use
  • O-1 to O-10 for Unrestricted Line, Restricted Line, or Staff Corps Officers:
    • O-1 through O-4 are junior officers - Ensign, Lieutenant (junior grade), Lieutenant, and Lieutenant Commander
    • O-5 and O-6 are senior officers - Commander and Captain
    • O-7 through O-10 are flag officers - Rear Admiral (lower half) (one star), Rear Admiral (two star), Vice Admiral (three star), and
      Admiral (four star).
    • An additional flag officer is the rank of Fleet Admiral (five star). It is a wartime rank only and since 1945, there have been no additional Fleet Admirals appointed in the U.S. Navy. However, the rank of Fleet Admiral still remains listed on official rank insignia precedence charts and, if needed, this rank could be reestablished at the discretion of Congress and the President. All five-star officers are, technically, unable to retire from active duty. The last living Fleet Admiral in the U.S. Navy, FADM Chester W. Nimitz, died in 1966.

US Navy Rank and promotion system

In the event that officers demonstrate superior performance and prove themselves capable of performing at the next higher pay grade, they are given an increase in pay grade. The official Navy term for this process is a promotion. Above the rank of Admiral is the rank of Fleet Admiral. The rank was held by four officers during World War II and not been held by any officer since. It is reserved for wartime use. The rank of Admiral of the Navy was an earlier equivalent to Fleet Admiral. It was awarded to only one person in the history of the U.S. Navy, that being, George Dewey in 1899. Efforts to resurrect the rank in the 20th century (as an O-12 grade outranking Fleet Admirals) failed, making it very unlikely that it will ever be used again.

Commissioned officers originate from the United States Naval Academy, Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC), Officer Candidate School (OCS), and a host of other commissioning programs such as the Seaman to Admiral-21 program and the Limited Duty Officer/Chief Warrant Officer (LDO/CWO) Selection Program. There are also a small number of Direct Commissioned Officers (DCO), primarily staff corps officers in the medical, dental, nurse, chaplain and judge advocate general career fields.

Commissioned officers can generally be divided into line officers and staff corps:

  • Line officers (or officers of the line) derive their name from the 18th-century British tactic of employing warships in a line of battle to take advantage of cannon on each side of the ship. These vessels were dubbed ships of the line and those who commanded them were likewise called "line officers." Today, all United States Navy unrestricted line and restricted line officers denote their status with a star located above their rank devices on the shoulder boards and sleeves of their white, blue and aviation winter working green uniforms, metal rank insignia on both collarpoints of khaki shirts/blouses, and cloth equivalents on both collarpoints of utility uniforms. Officers of the Staff Corps replace the star (or the left collarpoint on applicable shirts/blouses) with different insignias to indicate their field of specialty. Line officers can be categorized into unrestricted and restricted communities.
    • Unrestricted Line Officers are the most visible and well-known, due to their role as the Navy's war-fighting command element. They receive training in tactics, strategy, command and control, and actual combat and are considered unrestricted because they are authorized to command ships, aviation squadrons, and special operations units at sea or combat aviation squadrons or special operations units deployed ashore.
    • Restricted Line Officers concentrate on non-combat related fields, which include marine engineering, aeronautical engineering, ship and aircraft maintenance, meteorology and oceanography, and naval intelligence. They are not qualified to command combat units, but can command organizations in their respective specialized career fields. In certain shipboard environments, many unrestricted line officers fill what might be considered restricted line duties, such as the officers in a ship's engineering department. Because they maintain their general shipboard duties, instead of completely specializing in one career area, they maintain their unrestricted line command career path.
  • Staff corps officers are specialists in fields that are themselves professional careers and not exclusive to the military, for example health care, law, civil engineering and religion. There are eight staff corps: Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Nurse Corps, Medical Service Corps, Chaplain Corps, Navy Supply Corps, Judge Advocate General's Corps, and Civil Engineer Corps. They exist to augment the line communities and are able to be assigned to both line and staff commands. (The exception to this is the case of Civil Engineering Corps officers, who serve as the officers for Seabee units. This requires them to serve in a command capacity for ground combatants when the Seabees are deployed to combat areas.)

See also Commodore (United States) - today a title for selected Captains (O-6), and formerly a rank (O-7).

US Navy Ranks: Commissioned Officer

Commissioned Officer Rank Structure of the United States Navy
Fleet Admiral Admiral Vice Admiral Rear Admiral Rear Admiral
(lower half)
Special O-10 O-9 O-8 O-7
US Navy O11 insignia.svg US Navy O10 insignia.svg US Navy O9 insignia.svg US Navy O8 insignia.svg US Navy O7 insignia.svg
Captain Commander Lieutenant Commander Lieutenant Lieutenant
(junior grade)
O-6 O-5 O-4 O-3 O-2 O-1
US Navy O6 insignia.svg US Navy O5 insignia.svg US Navy O4 insignia.svg US Navy O3 insignia.svg US Navy O2 insignia.svg US Navy O1 insignia.svg

US Navy Rank: Commissioned Warrant Officer Ranks

Commissioned Warrant Officer Rank Structure of the United States Navy

Pay grade W-5 W-4 W-3 W-2
Insignia WO5 USN CWO5.jpg WO4 USN CWO4.jpg WO3 USN CWO3.jpg WO2 USN CWO2.jpg
Title Chief Warrant Officer Five Chief Warrant Officer Four Chief Warrant Officer Three Chief Warrant Officer Two
Abbreviation CWO-5 CWO-4 CWO-3 CWO-2

Enlisted sailors

Enlisted members of the Navy have pay grades from E-1 to E-9, with E-9 being the highest. All enlisted sailors with paygrades of E-4 and higher are considered Petty Officers while those at E-7 and higher are further named Chief Petty Officers. Those who demonstrate superior performance are given an increase in paygrade; the official Navy term is to be advanced. Two notable advancements are from Seaman to Petty Officer Third Class (E-3 to E-4) and from Petty Officer First Class to Chief Petty Officer (E-6 to E-7). Advancement to Chief Petty Officer is especially significant and is marked by a special induction ceremony.

Enlisted members are said to be "rated," meaning that they possess a rating, or occupational specialty. Members of grades E-1 to E-3 can become "strikers," meaning they have rating designations like Petty Officer (example: a BM3 is a Petty Officer Third Class rated as a Boatswain's Mate; BMSN is a Seaman designated as a Boatswain's Mate striker), but the striker is doing on the job training to become a rated petty officer rather than attending a school to become rated. There are more than 50 ratings covering a broad range of skills and subspecialties. However most sailors in today's navy with grades E-1 through E-6 obtain their rating through its respective "A" school. An "A" school is a rating specific school where sailors are trained as experts in their field. Upon completion of their training they are considered "Rated," regardless of their pay-grade.

For example, SA SMITH, MARY, would be considered a Seaman Apprentice. Prior to her rank of SA a rating would be placed. Therefore, her entire title would be ITSA SMITH, MARY. IT indicating that she is an Information Systems Technician. As for ENFN THOMPSON, JOHN. EN specifying that he is an Engineman and FN as Fireman.

Non-Commissioned Officer and Enlisted Rate Structure of the United States Navy
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Fleet/Force Master Chief Petty Officer Command Master Chief Petty Officer Master Chief Petty Officer Senior Chief Petty Officer Chief Petty Officer
E-9 E-8 E-7
MCPON collar.png
MCPO collar.png
MCPO collar.png
MCPO collar.png
SCPO collar.png
CPO collar.png
CPO GC.png
Petty Officer First Class Petty Officer Second Class Petty Officer Third Class Seaman Seaman Apprentice Seaman Recruit
E-6 E-5 E-4 E-3 E-2 E-1
PO1 collar.png
PO1 NOGC.png
PO2 collar.png
PO2 NOGC.png
PO3 collar.png
PO3 NOGC.png
USN - Seaman.png
E3 SM USN.png
USN - Seaman Apprentice.png
E2 SM USN.png
No insign

US Navy Rank: Officer Corps

Navy Officers serve either as a line officer (with a star above the stripes on the sleeve or shoulderboards), or in one of the staff corps:

Staff Corps Medical Corps Dental Corps Nurse Corps Medical Service Corps Judge Advocate General's Corps Musician
Insignia USN Med-corp.gif USN Dental.gif USN Nurse.gif USN Msc.gif USN Jag-corp.gif Rating Badge MU.jpg
Designator1 210X 220X 290X 230X 250X ?
Staff Corps Chaplain Corps
(Christian Faith)
Chaplain Corps
(Jewish Faith)
Chaplain Corps
(Muslim Faith)
Chaplain Corps
(Buddhist Faith)
Supply Corps Civil Engineer Corps
Insignia USN Chapchr.gif USN Chap-jew.gif USN Chap-mus.gif BuddhistChaplainBC.gif United States Navy Supply Corps insignia.gif USN Ce-corp.gif
Designator1 410X 410X 410X 410X 310X 510X

1An officer designator describes their general community or profession. The final (fourth) digit (X) denotes whether the officer has a Regular (0), Reserve (5), or Full Time Support (7) commission.

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