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A military organization or unit is a way of structuring the armed forces of a state as a need to offer military capability required by the national defence policy. In some countries paramilitary forces are included in a nation's armed forces. Armed forces that are not a part of the military or paramilitary organizations, such as insurgent forces, often mimic military organizations, or use ad hoc structures.

Military organization is hierarchical. The use of formalized Military rank#Roman ranks|ranks in a hierarchical structure came into widespread use with the Roman Army. In modern times, executive control, management and administration of military organizations is typically undertaken by the government through a Ministry (government department)|government department within the structure of public administration, often known as a Department of Defense, Department of War, or Ministry of Defence. These in turn manage Armed Services that themselves command combat, combat support and service support formations and units.

Executive control, management and administration of military organizations[]

The usually civilian or partly civilian executive control over the national military organization is exercised in democracy|democracies by an elected political leader as a member of government's Cabinet (government)|Cabinet, usually known as a Minister of Defence. (In presidential systems, such as the United States, the president is the commander-in-chief, and a the cabinet-level defense minister is second in command.) Subordinated to that position will be Secretaries for specific major operational divisions of the armed forces as a whole, such as those that provide general support services to the Armed Services, including their dependents. Third in the chain of command will be the heads of specific departmental agencies responsible for provision and management of specific skill and knowledge based service such as Strategy advice, Military capability|Capability Development assessment, or Defence Science provision of research, design and development of technologies. Within each departmental agency will be found administrative branches responsible for further agency business|business specialization work. For example the Strategy agency may have one branch producing advice on operational concepts while another may provide advice on operational methods, and a third branch would provide the synthesis of these in the application of joint operations by Armed Services.

Armed services[]

Militaries are generally grouped as Armed Services also called branches. Some nations also organize their marines and special forces as independent armed services. A nation's coast guard may also be an independent branch of its military, although in many nations the coast guard is a Law enforcement agency|law enforcement or civil agency. The French military structure, which is copied in other nations, includes the three traditional services and a fourth service which is the Gendarmerie, an internal security service, in contrast to the United States whose armed forces are Posse Comitatus Act|prohibited from enforcing the law.

It is worthwhile to make mention of the term Joint warfare|joint. In western militaries, a joint warfare|joint force is defined as a unit or formation comprising representation of combat power from two or more branches of the military.

Commands, formations, and units[]

It is common, at least in the European and North American militaries, to refer to the building blocks of a military as commands, formations and units.

In a military context, a Command (military formation)|command is a collection of units and formations under the control of a single officer. Although during the Second World War a Command was also a name given to a battle group in the U.S. Army, in general it is an administrative and executive strategic headquarters which is responsible to the national government or the national military headquarters. It is not uncommon for a nation's services to each consist of their own command (such as Land Force Command, Air Command, and Maritime Command in the Canadian Forces), but this does not preclude the existence of commands which are not service-based.

A formation is a composite military organization that includes a mixture of integrated and operationally attached sub-units, and is usually combat-capable. A formation is defined by the US Department of Defense as 'two or more aircraft, ships, or units proceeding together under a commander.'[1] The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes a formation as an 'arrangement or disposition of troops.' Formations include brigades, Division (military)|divisions, Wing (air force unit)|wings, etc.

A typical unit is a homogeneous military organization, either combat, combat support or non-combat in capability, that includes service personnel predominantly from a single Arm of Service, or a Branch of Service, and its administrative and command functions are integrated (self-contained). Anything smaller than a unit is considered a "sub-unit" or "minor unit".

Different armed forces, and even different branches of service of the armed forces may use the same name to denote different types of organizations. An example is the "squadron". In most navies a squadron is a formation of several ships; in most air forces it is a unit; in the U.S. Army it is a battalion-sized cavalry unit; and in Commonwealth armies a squadron is a company-sized sub-unit.


Main article: Flight

A Flight in the United States Air Force operational component of a flying or ground squadron, not a whole unit. Flights in the USAF are generally authorized between 20 and 100 members, are normally led by a company-grade officer

In AFJROTC a flight is designated as a military formation contesting of least 2 to 4 elements. In JROTC the class period you have JROTC is your flight.

The setup of a typical AFJROTC flight in marching formation

Table of organization and equipment[]

A table of organization and equipment (TOE or TO&E) is a document published by the U.S. Department of Defense which prescribes the organization, manning, and equippage of units from divisional size and down, but also including the headquarters of Corps and Armies.

It also provides information on the mission and capabilities of a unit as well as the unit's current status. A general TOE is applicable to a type of unit (for instance, infantry) rather than a specific unit (the 3rd Infantry Division). In this way, all units of the same branch (such as Infantry) follow the same structural guidelines.

Hierarchy of modern armies[]

This gives an overview of some of the terms used to describe army hierarchy in armed forces across the world. Whilst it is recognized that there are differences between armies of different nations, many are modeled on the British Army|British or United States Armed Forces|American models, or both. However, many military units and formations go back in history for a long time, and were devised by various military thinkers throughout European history. For example, Corps were first introduced in France in the 18th century, but have become integrated into the organization of most armies around the world. Readers interested in the detailed specifics of a national army (including the British and American) should consult the relevant entry for that country.

APP-6A Symbol Name Strength Constituent units Commander or leader
XXXXXX region, Theater (warfare)|theater, or Front (military)|front 1,000,000+ 4+ army groups general, army general, or field marshal
XXXXX army group 250,000+ 2+ armies general, army general, or field marshal
XXXX army 60,000–100,000+ 2–4 corps general, army general, or colonel general
XXX corps 30,000–80,000 2+ divisions lieutenant general
XX division 10,000–20,000 2–4 brigades or regiments major general
X brigade 2000–5000 2+ regiments, 3–6 battalions or Commonwealth regiments brigadier general, brigadier or colonel
III regiment or group 2000–3000 2+ battalions or U.S. Cavalry squadrons colonel
II infantry battalion, U.S. Cavalry squadron, or Commonwealth armoured regiment 300–1000 2–6 companies, batteries, U.S. Cavalry troops, or Commonwealth squadrons lieutenant colonel
I company, artillery battery, U.S. Cavalry troop, or Commonwealth armour or combat engineering squadron 70–250 2–8 platoons or Commonwealth troops chief warrant officer and captain (land and air)|captain or major
••• platoon or Commonwealth troop 25–60 2+ squads, sections, or vehicles warrant officer and first or second lieutenant
•• section or patrol 8–12 2+ fireteams corporal to staff sergeant
squad or crew 8–16 2+ fireteams or 1+ cell corporal to staff sergeant
Ø fireteam 4–5 n/a lance corporal to sergeant
Ø fire and manoeuvre team 2 n/a private first class

Rungs may be skipped in this ladder: for example, typically NATO forces skip from battalion to brigade. Likewise, only large military powers may have organizations at the top levels.

Army, army group, region, and theater (military)|theatre are all large formations that vary significantly between armed forces in size and hierarchy position. Division (military)|Divisions were the traditional level at which support elements (field artillery, hospital, logistics and maintenance, etc.) were added to the unit structure. For example, regiments and battalions did not have such support assets. Since World War II, brigades are having such support units added, and since the 1980s, regiments have been receiving support elements. A regiment with such support elements is called a regimental combat team in US military parlance, or a Battlegroup (army)|battle group in the UK and other forces.

Different armies and countries may also use traditional names, creating considerable confusion: for example, a British or Canadian armored regiment (battalion) is divided into squadrons (companies) and troops (platoons), whereas an American cavalry squadron (battalion) is divided into troops (companies) and platoons.

The Red Army used the same basic organizational structure. However, in the beginning of World War II many units were greatly underpowered and their size was actually one level below on the ladder than usually used elsewhere, for example, a division in the early-WWII Red Army would have been about the size of most nations' regiments or brigades.[1] [2] At the top of the ladder, what other nations would call an army group, the Red Army called a Front (Soviet Army)|front.

The Wehrmacht Army Groups (Armeegruppen) during the Second World War, particularly on the Eastern Front (World War II)|Eastern Front, such as Army Group Centre significantly exceeded the above numbers, and were more cognate with the Soviet Strategic Directions.

Hierarchy of modern navies[]

Naval organization at the flotilla level and higher is less-commonly abided by, as ships operate in smaller or larger groups in various situations that may change at a moment's notice. However there is some common terminology used throughout navies to communicate the general concept of how many vessels might be in a unit.

Navies are generally organized into groups for a specific purpose, usually strategic, and these organizational groupings appear and disappear frequently based on the conditions and demands placed upon a navy. This contrasts with army organization where units remain static, with the same men and equipment, over long periods of time.

Unit Name Vessel types No. of Vessels Officer in command
Navy or Admiralty All vessels in a navy 2+ Fleets Fleet Admiral or Admiral of the Fleet or Grand Admiral
Fleet All vessels in an ocean or general region 2+ Battle Fleets or Task Forces Admiral
Battle Fleet or Task Force A large number of vessels of all types 2+ Task Groups Vice Admiral
Task Group A collection of complementary vessels 2+ Task Units or Squadrons Rear Admiral (upper half) or Rear Admiral
Squadron (naval) or Task Unit Usually capital ships A small number of vessels Commodore, or Flotilla Admiral
Flotilla or Task Unit Usually not capital ships A small number of vessels, usually of the same or similar types Commodore, or Flotilla Admiral
Task Element A single vessel n/a Captain or Commander

Auxiliary ships are usually commanded by officers below the rank of captain. These vessels include corvettes, gunboats, Minesweeper (ship)|minesweepers, patrol boats, military riverboat|riverine craft, Ship's tender|tenders and torpedo boats. Some destroyers, particularly smaller destroyers such as frigates (formerly known as destroyer escorts) are commanded by officers below the rank of captain as well. Usually, the smaller the vessel, the lower the rank of the ship's commander. For example, patrol boats are often commanded by Ensign (rank)|ensigns, while frigates are rarely commanded by an officer below the rank of commander.

Historical navies were far more rigid in structure. Ships were collected in divisions, which in turn were collected in numbered squadrons, which comprised a numbered fleet. Permission for a vessel to leave one unit and join another would have to be approved on paper.

The modern U.S. Navy is primarily based on a number of standard groupings of vessels, including the Carrier Strike Group and the Expeditionary Strike Group.

Additionally, Naval organization continues aboard a single ship. The complement forms three or four departments, each of which is has a number of divisions.

Hierarchy of air forces[]

The organizational structures of air forces vary between nations: some air forces (such as the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force) are divided into commands, groups and squadrons; others (such as the Soviet Air Force) have an Army-style organizational structure.

Symbol (for Army structure comparison) Unit Name (United States Air Force|USAF/Royal Air Force|RAF) No. of personnel No. of aircraft No. of subordinate units (USAF/RAF) Officer in command (USAF/RAF)
XXXXXX + Air Force Entire air force Entire air force Major Commands/Command (military formation)|Commands General/Air Chief Marshal
XXXXX Major Command/[no RAF equivalent] Varies Varies By Region or Duty (subordinate units varies) General/Air Chief Marshal
XX Command By Region (subordinate units varies) Varies 2+ Wing/Groups Major General/Air Vice Marshal
X Wing/Group (air force unit)|Group or RAF station|Station 1,000-5000 48-100 2+ Groups/Wings Brigadier-General/Air Commodore/Group Captain
III Group/Wing (air force unit)|Wing 300-1,000 17-48 3-10 Squadrons/3-4 Squadrons Wing Commander
II Squadron 100-300 7-16 Flights Lieutenant Colonel/Major/Squadron Leader
••• Flight 20-100 4-6 Sections plus maintenance and support crew Captain/Flight Lieutenant
•• Section 2-4 2-3 n/a Junior Officer

See also[]