Military organization

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Military organization or military organisation is the structuring of the armed forces of a state so as to offer military capability required by the national defense policy. In some countries paramilitary forces are included in a nation's armed forces, though not considered military. Armed forces that are not a part of 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 ranks in a hierarchical structure came into widespread use with the Roman Army. In modern times, executive control, management and administration of military organization is typically undertaken by the government through a government department within the structure of public administration, often known as a Ministry of Defense, Department of Defense, or Department of War. These in turn manage Armed Services that themselves command combat, combat support and combat service support formations and units.

Executive control, management and administration

The usually civilian or partly civilian executive control over the national military organization is exercised in democracies by an elected political leader as a member of the government's Cabinet, usually known as a Minister of Defense. (In presidential systems, such as the United States, the president is the commander-in-chief, and the cabinet-level defense minister is second in command.) Subordinated to that position are often 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 dependants.

Then there are the heads of specific departmental agencies responsible for the provision and management of specific skill- and knowledge-based service such as Strategy advice, Capability Development assessment, or Defense Science provision of research, and design and development of technologies. Within each departmental agency will be found administrative branches responsible for further agency business specialization work.

Armed services

A mixed aircraft and ship formation of military vehicles during an exercise with USN and JASDF vehicles.

In most countries the armed forces are divided into three or four Armed services (also: service, military service, or military branch): army, navy, and air force.

Many countries have a variation on the standard model of three or four basic Armed Services. Some nations also organize their marines, special forces or strategic missile forces as independent armed services. A nation's coast guard may also be an independent military branch of its military, although in many nations the coast guard is a law enforcement or civil agency. A number of countries have no navy, for geographical reasons. Some other variations include:

In larger armed forces the culture between the different Armed Services of the armed forces can be quite different.

Most smaller countries have a single organization that encompasses all armed forces employed by the country in question. Third-world armies tend to consist primarily of infantry, while first-world armies tend to have larger units manning expensive equipment and only a fraction of personnel in infantry units.

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

Internal security forces

Gendarmeries, including equivalents such as Internal Troops, Paramilitary Forces and similar, are an internal security service common in most of the world, but uncommon in Anglo-Saxon countries where civil police are employed to enforce the law, and there are tight restrictions on how the armed forces may be used to assist.[1]

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 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 US 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 Component, Air Component, Naval Component, and Medical Component in the Belgian Army), but this does not preclude the existence of commands which are not service-based.

A formation is defined by the US Department of Defense as "two or more aircraft, ships, or units proceeding together under a commander".[2] Formin in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia emphasised its combined-arms nature: "Formations are those military organisations which are formed from different speciality Arms and Services troop units to create a balanced, combined combat force. The formations only differ in their ability to achieve different scales of application of force to achieve different strategic, operational and tactical goals and mission objectives."[3] It is a composite military organization that includes a mixture of integrated and operationally attached sub-units, and is usually combat-capable. Example of formations include: divisions, brigades, battalions, wings, etc. Formation may also refer to tactical formation, the physical arrangement or disposition of troops and weapons.[4] Examples of formation in such usage include: pakfront, panzerkeil, testudo formation, 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 self-contained. Any unit subordinate to another unit is considered its sub-unit or minor unit. It is not uncommon for unit and formation to be used synonymously in the United States. In Commonwealth practice, formation is not used for smaller organizations like battalions which are instead called "units", and their constituent platoons or companies are referred to as sub-units. In the Commonwealth, formations are divisions, brigades, etc.

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.

Table of organization and equipment

A table of organization and equipment (TOE or TO&E) is a document published by the U.S. Army Force Management Support Agency that prescribes the organization, manning, and equipage 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.

Modern hierarchy

Military organization
Nigerien soldiers during Gulf War.jpg
Typical Units Typical numbers Typical Commander
fireteam 3-4 corporal
squad/section 8-12 sergeant
platoon 15–30 lieutenant
company 80–150 captain/
battalion 300–800 lieutenant colonel
regiment/brigade 2,000–4,000 colonel/
brigadier general
division 10,000–15,000 major general
corps 20,000–40,000 lieutenant general
field army 80,000+ general
army group o2+
field armies
field marshal
region/theater 4+ army groups Six-star rank

Army hierarchy

The following table 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 or 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, the modern Corps was first introduced in France about 1805 by Napoleon as a more flexible tactical grouping of two or more divisions during the Napoleonic Wars.

They have become part of the organization of most armies around the world.

APP-6A Symbol Name Nature Strength Constituent units Commander or leader
XXXXXX region, theater Command 1,000,000–10,000,000 4+ army groups general, army general, five-star general or field marshal
XXXXX army group, front Command 400,000–1,000,000 2+ armies general, army general, five-star general or field marshal
XXXX army Command 100,000–200,000 2–4 corps general, army general, four-star general or colonel general
XXX corps Formation 20,000–50,000 2+ divisions lieutenant general, corps general or three-star general
XX division, legion Formation 6,000–20,000 2–4 brigades or regiments major general, divisional general or two-star general
X brigade Formation 3,000–5,000 2+ regiments, 3–6 battalions or Commonwealth regiments brigadier, brigadier general, brigade general, or one-star general (sometimes colonel)
III regiment or group Formation 1,000–3,000 2+ battalions or U.S. Cavalry squadrons colonel
II infantry battalion, U.S. Cavalry squadron, Commonwealth armoured regiment or Argentine Army regiment/artillery group/battalion, cohort Unit 300–1,000 2–6 companies, batteries, U.S. Cavalry troops, or Commonwealth squadrons, Argentine squadrons/companies lieutenant colonel
I infantry company, artillery battery, U.S. Cavalry troop, Commonwealth armour or combat engineering squadron or Argentine cavalry squadron or engineering company Subunit 80–250 2–8 platoons or Commonwealth troops chief warrant officer, captain or major
••• platoon or Commonwealth troop Sub-subunit 26–55 2+ Section, or vehicles warrant officer, first or second lieutenant
•• section or patrol - 12–24 1–2+ squads or 3–6 fireteams staff sergeant
squad or crew - 8–12 2–3 fireteams or 1+ cell sergeant
Ø fireteam - 4 n/a lance corporal to sergeant
Ø fire and maneuver team - 2 n/a any/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 and 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.

Army, army group, region, and theatre are all large formations that vary significantly between armed forces in size and hierarchy position. While divisions were the traditional level at which support elements (field artillery, hospital, logistics and maintenance, etc.) were added to the unit structure, since World War II, many brigades now have such support units, and since the 1980s, regiments also have been receiving support elements. A regiment with such support elements is called a regimental combat team in US military parlance, or a battle group in the UK and other forces.

During World War II the Red Army used the same basic organizational structure. However, in the beginning many units were greatly underpowered and their size was actually one level below on the ladder that is 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.[5][6] At the top of the ladder, what other nations would call an army group, the Red Army called a front. By contrast, during the same period the German Wehrmacht Army Groups, particularly on the Eastern Front, such as Army Group Centre significantly exceeded the above numbers, and were more cognate with the Soviet Strategic Directions.

Naval hierarchy

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, Admiral of the Fleet, Grand Admiral or Admiral
Fleet All vessels in an ocean or general region 2+ Battle Fleets or Task Forces Admiral or Vice Admiral
Battle Fleet or Task Force A large number of vessels of all types 2+ Task Groups Vice Admiral
Task Group[7] A collection of complementary vessels 2+ Task Units or Squadrons Rear Admiral (upper half) or Rear Admiral
Squadron or Task Unit Usually capital ships A small number of vessels Rear Admiral (lower half), Commodore, or Flotilla Admiral
Flotilla or Task Unit Usually not capital ships A small number of vessels, usually of the same or similar types Rear Admiral (lower half), Commodore, or Flotilla Admiral
Task Element A single vessel One Captain or Commander

The five-star ranks of Admiral of the Fleet and Fleet Admiral have largely been out of regular use since the 1990s, with the exception of ceremonial or honorary appointments. Currently, all major navies are commanded by an admiral (four-star rank) or vice-admiral (three-star rank) depending on relative size. Smaller naval forces, such as the RNZN, or those navies that are effectively coastguards, are commanded by a rear-admiral (two-star rank), commodore (one-star rank) or even a captain.

Aircraft carriers are typically commanded by a captain. Submarines and destroyers are typically commanded by a captain or commander. Some destroyers, particularly smaller destroyers such as frigates (formerly known as destroyer escorts) are usually commanded by officers with the rank of commander. Corvettes, the smallest class of warship, are commanded by officers with the rank of commander or lieutenant-commander. Auxiliary ships, including gunboats, minesweepers, patrol boats, military riverine craft, tenders and torpedo boats are usually commanded by lieutenants, sub-lieutenants or warrant officers. Usually, the smaller the vessel, the lower the rank of the ship's commander. For example, patrol boats are often commanded by 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.[8]

Additionally, Naval organization continues aboard a single ship. The complement forms three or four departments (such as tactical and engineering), each of which has a number of divisions, followed by work centers.

Air force hierarchy

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. The modern Royal Canadian Air Force uses Air Division as the formation between wings and the entire air command. Like the RAF, Canadian wings consist of squadrons.

Symbol (for Army structure comparison) Unit Name (USAF/RAF/Other air forces) 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 All Major Commands / Commands GA / MRAF or Air Chf Mshl
XXXXX Major Command/Command or Tactical Air Force / Russian Air army[9] Varies Varies By Region or Duty (subordinate units varies) Gen/Air Chf Mshl or Air Mshl
XX Numbered Air Force/No RAF equivalent/Aviation Division /Air Division/Air Brigade By Region (subordinate units varies) Varies 2+ Wings/Groups Maj-Gen / N/A
X Wing/Group (inc. EAGs)/Russian aviation brigade 1,000–5,000 48–100 2+ Groups/Wings Brig-Gen/AVM or Air Cdre
III Group/Wing (inc. EAWs) or Station/Russian aviation regiment 300–1,000 17–48 3–4 Squadrons/3–10 Flights Col/Gp Capt or Wg Cdr
II Squadron 100–300 7–16 3–4 Flights Lt Col or Maj/Wg Cdr or Sqn Ldr
••• Flight 20–100 4–6 2 Sections plus maintenance and support crew Capt/Sqn Ldr or Flt Lt
•• Element or Section 5–20 n/a–2 n/a Junior Officer or Senior NCO
Detail 2–4 n/a n/a Junior NCO

Task force

A task force is a unit or formation created as a temporary grouping for a specific operational purpose. Aside from administrative hierarchical forms of organization that have evolved since the early 17th century in Europe, fighting forces have been grouped for specific operational purposes into mission-related organizations such as the German Kampfgruppe or the U.S. Combat Team (Army) and Task Force (Navy) during the Second World War, or the Soviet Operational manoeuvre group during the Cold War. In the British and Commonwealth armies the battlegroup became the usual grouping of companies during the Second World War and the Cold War.

Within NATO, a Joint Task Force (JTF) would be such a temporary grouping that includes elements from more than one armed service, a Combined Task Force (CTF) would be such a temporary grouping that includes elements from more than one nation, and a Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) would be such a temporary grouping that includes elements of more than one armed service and more than one nation.

See also


  1. In the United States it is a common misunderstanding that their armed forces are totally prohibited from doing so by the Posse Comitatus Act. This Act, which reserves to Congress the power to employ Federal military force to enforce law and order, refers specifically only to the US Army and US Air Force. The US Marines and Navy are separately regulated, and the Coast Guard has a clear law enforcement role in its peacetime status. The state-controlled Army National Guard (technically a branch of the US Army) is also excluded from the Posse Comitatus Act. The Insurrection Act specifically permits the President to use Federal military force to restore public order in extreme emergency situations: this Act was implemented during the "Rodney King Riots" in Los Angeles.
  2. United States Department of Defense, DOD Dictionary
  3. Fomin, N.N., Great Soviet Encyclopaedia (Russian: Большая Советская Энциклопедия), Moscow, 1978
  4. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
  5. "Доклад НКО август 1939. doklad-nko-8-39.shtml". Retrieved 2013-11-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Центральный государственный архив Советской армии (с июня 1992 г. Российский государственный военный архив). В двух томах. Том 2. Путеводитель. 1993 (in русский). Retrieved 2013-11-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Group. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
  8. US Navy. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
  9. Red Army VVS Organisation(rus)

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