Military Units

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  • NAVY

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The Navy’s structure is not as straightforward as the other military services — it’s pretty complex. There are two chains of command: operational and administrative. These sometimes overlap, and depending on assignment, a sailor can be part of both.

The military is always evolving, so here’s a general and interactive look at the Navy’s structure as of Oct. 24, 2019.

OPERATIONAL


Secretary of Defense

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The defense secretary oversees the Defense Department and acts as the principal defense policy maker and advisor. The secretary can issue orders directly to the combatant commands, which comprise joint forces.

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Combatant Commands

The Defense Department has 11 combatant commands, each with a geographic or functional mission that provides command and control of military forces in peace and war.

Each combatant command has a particular mission, and each may be involved in various operations or exercises (operations are various phases of a war or military engagement; exercises are routine or non-routine training that test strategies and explore the effects of warfare without actual combat).

Combatant commanders issue Navy-related orders to naval subordinates or components.

Component Commands

There are nine Navy component commands, and their commanders carry out operations within the designated area of responsibility.

Component commanders have operational control over one or more of the numbered fleets.

Numbered Fleets

There are seven active numbered fleets in the Navy. Some numbered fleets, which were established during World War II, have since been deactivated or folded into other fleets.

Numbered fleets are led by

Vice Admirals

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* Number depends on assignment

Fleets are mostly too large for carrying out a specific operation, while individual ships, submarines, etc., are mostly too small for the task.

So to carry out an order, fleets are then divided

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Task Forces


Each task force is responsible to the fleet commander for certain functions related to the assigned units. This organizational scheme is scalable to meet many operational needs.

Task Groups


An individual carrier strike group (CSG) or amphibious ready group (ARG) within a given fleet constitutes a task group.

Task Units


Units operating together for a specific task, such as the air defense units within the carrier strike group, would receive a separate task unit designation.

Task Elements


Individual units within the task unit are assigned as task elements.

Here are examples of how these can be grouped for different tasks

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Major Deployable Units

This flexible, heavy strike group can operate in any threat environment. Capabilities support initial crisis response missions and may be undertaken in non-permissive environments where multiple threats exist including anti-ship missiles, ballistic missiles, mines and terrorist threats.

This is the routine rotational amphibious force package employed by the Navy-Marine Corps team and provides operational freedom and expanded warfare capabilities at sea and by land with embarked Marines. The ARG/MEU consists of a baseline three amphibious ships with naval support elements and an embarked MEU. Depending on requirements, it may deploy with surface combatants and a submarine. When the ARG/MEU is led by a flag or general officer, it is referred to as an xxpeditionary strike group (ESG).

This group can operate independently or in conjunction with other maritime forces to support crisis response or sustained missions. The group may be employed in limited non-permissive multiple-threat environment. Missile-equipped SSGs provide deterrence and immediate contingency response, conduct maritime security operations and are primarily independent, sea-based, mobile groups that will provide sea control and strike power to support joint and allied forces afloat and ashore.

The Military Sealift Command’s Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force provides all of the Navy’s combat logistics services to the fleet, including fuel, food, ordnance and nearly everything that Navy ships need for extended periods of time. The force also conducts towing, rescue and salvage operations and manages floating medical facilities. These ships are operated by civilian mariners.

From here, it breaks down to individual vessels.

Vessels

Navy ships, submarines and aircraft operate by departments, which can be broken into divisions. Sometimes smaller work centers are formed.

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For a sailor in an aviation unit:

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Aviation Unit
Squadron
Air Wing
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A sailor boards the ship for drills, exercises and deployments, but otherwise, home is a naval air station.

What does this mean for a sailor?

A sailor assigned to a destroyer will have two different chains of command.

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Operational

Things change when you deploy. You essentially leave your homeport's fleet and transfer into the fleet that corresponds with your ship's new area of responsibility. You then follow that operational chain of command, all the way up to the combatant commanders. If a mission comes up, your destroyer may be assigned to a task force, group, etc., to accomplish the task. Once it's complete, your ship will continue on its routine schedule.

Administrative

Your immediate supervisor would likely be the commander of a squadron, followed by the group commander and then the type commander. As you do your duties, you would also be assigned to the fleet that corresponds with your homeport. This will always remain the same as long as you're assigned to that ship.

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Still not sure you've got it all? Dive back in to take another look at Navy operations.

Or learn about Navy's shore-based admistrative side.

Administrative


Civilian Leader

Secretary of the Navy(SECNAV)

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Responsible for, and has the authority under Title 10 of the United States Code, to conduct all the affairs of the Department of the Navy, including: recruiting, organizing, supplying, equipping, training, mobilizing and demobilizing. The SECNAV also oversees the construction, outfitting and repair of naval ships, equipment and facilities.

SECNAV is also responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies and programs that are consistent with the national security policies and objectives established by the president and the secretary of defense.

Military Leader

Chief of Naval Operations(CNO)

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The CNO is the senior military officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The CNO is the principal naval advisor to the president and to the Navy secretary on the conduct of war, and is the principal advisor and naval executive to the secretary on the conduct of the Navy.

The CNO is a four-star admiral who is responsible to the Navy secretary for the command, utilization of resources, and efficiency of the operating forces of the Navy and of the Navy shore activities assigned by the secretary.

Several admirals, subordinate commanders and other staff in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations help oversee specific functions within the Navy.

Various Commands

Shore Commands

They are on-shore installations and facilities that support the fleets' operating forces (ships, subs, etc.) with repairs, fuel, ammunition, training and medical help, among other things.

System Commands

There are five system commands and they oversee the technical requirements of the Navy.

Type Commands

Units operating together for a specific task, perhaps the air defense units within a carrier strike group, would receive a separate task unit designation. The commanders of each of those coordinate to make sure resources and procedures are compatible so it’s easier for sailors to transfer from coast to coast or command to command. Type commands further break down to groups and ship squadrons or air wings.

What does this all mean for a sailor?

A sailor assigned to a destroyer will have two different chains of command.

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Operational

Things change when you deploy. You essentially leave your homeport's fleet and transfer into the fleet that corresponds with your ship's new area of responsibility. You then follow that operational chain of command, all the way up to the combatant commanders. If a mission comes up, your destroyer may be assigned to a task force, group, etc., to accomplish the task. Once it's complete, your ship will continue on its routine schedule.

Administrative

Your immediate supervisor would likely be the commander of a squadron, followed by the group commander and then the type commander. As you do your duties, you would also be assigned to the fleet that corresponds with your homeport. This will always remain the same as long as you're assigned to that ship.

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Still not sure you've got it all? Dive back in to take another look at Navy's administrative side.

Or you can check out Navy's sea-based operations structure.

Other Military Services

There are a few distinct exceptions in the structure of each military service.

Select a service to learn more.