Admiral (United States)

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Flag of a United States Navy admiral.svg
Flag of an admiral of the Unrestricted Line, United States Navy.
US-O10 insignia.svg
The service khaki collar insignia of a U.S. Navy admiral.
US Navy O10 insignia.svg
The shoulder stars, shoulder boards, and sleeve stripes of a U.S. Navy admiral of the "line".
CountryFlag of the United States.svg  United States of America
Service branch
Rank Four-star
NATO rank OF-9
Non-NATO rank O-10
FormationJuly 25, 1866
Next higher rank Fleet admiral
Next lower rank Vice admiral
Equivalent ranks General (Uniformed services of the United States)

Admiral (abbreviated as ADM) is a four-star commissioned naval flag officer rank in the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, with the pay grade of O-10. Admiral ranks above vice admiral and below fleet admiral in the Navy; the Coast Guard and the Public Health Service do not have an established grade above admiral. Admiral is equivalent to the rank of general in the other uniformed services. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps has never had an officer hold the grade of admiral. However, 37 U.S.C.   § 201 of the U.S. Code established the grade for the NOAA Corps, in case a position is created that merits the four-star grade.

A flag officer is a commissioned officer in a nation's armed forces senior enough to be entitled to fly a flag to mark the position from which the officer exercises command.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of US Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. It has the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 336,978 personnel on active duty and 101,583 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 290 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of June 2019, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army.

United States Coast Guard Coastal defense, search & rescue, and law enforcement branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is the coastal defense, search & rescue, and maritime law enforcement branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the country's seven uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the U.S. military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency mission as part of its mission set. It operates under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during peacetime, and can be transferred to the U.S. Department of the Navy by the U.S. President at any time, or by the U.S. Congress during times of war. This has happened twice: in 1917, during World War I, and in 1941, during World War II.


Since the five-star grade of fleet admiral has not been used since 1946, the grade of admiral is effectively the highest appointment an officer can achieve in the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.


Formally, the term “Admiral” is always used when referring to a four-star admiral. However, a number of different terms may be used to refer to them informally, since lower-ranking admirals may also be referred to as simply “Admiral”. These may include “Full Admiral”, “Four-star Admiral” (or simply four-star), or “O-10” (in reference to pay grade).


The United States Navy did not have any admirals until 1862, because many people felt the title too reminiscent of royalty—such as the British Royal Navy—to be used in the country's navy. [1] Others saw the need for ranks above captain, among them John Paul Jones, who pointed out that the Navy had to have officers who "ranked" with army generals. [1] He also felt there must be ranks above captain to avoid disputes among senior captains. [1] The various secretaries of the navy repeatedly recommended to Congress that admiral ranks be created because the other navies of the world used them and American senior officers were "often subjected to serious difficulties and embarrassments in the interchange of civilities with those of other nations." [1] Congress finally authorized nine rear admirals on July 16, 1862, although that was probably more for the needs of the rapidly expanding navy during the American Civil War than any international considerations. [1] Two years later, Congress authorized the appointment of a vice admiral from among the nine rear admirals: David Farragut. [1] Another bill allowed the President of the United States to appoint Farragut to admiral on July 25, 1866, and David Dixon Porter to vice admiral. [1] When Farragut died in 1870, Porter became admiral and Stephen C. Rowan was promoted to vice admiral. [1] Even after they died, Congress did not allow the promotion of any of the rear admirals to succeed them, so there were no more admirals or vice admirals by promotion until 1915 when Congress authorized an admiral and a vice admiral each for the Atlantic, Pacific and Asiatic Fleets. [1]

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Historical sovereign state from 1801 to 1921

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a sovereign state established by the Acts of Union 1800, which merged the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

John Paul Jones American naval officer

John Paul Jones was the United States' first well-known naval commander in the American Revolutionary War. He made many friends and enemies—who accused him of piracy—among America's political elites, and his actions in British waters during the Revolution earned him an international reputation which persists to this day. As such, he is sometimes referred to as the "Father of the American Navy".

There was one admiral in the interim, however. In 1899, Congress recognized George Dewey's accomplishments during the Spanish–American War by authorizing the President to appoint him Admiral of the Navy. [1] He held that rank until he died in 1917. Nobody has since held that title. In 1944, Congress approved the five-star grade of fleet admiral. [1] The first to hold it were William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, and Chester W. Nimitz. [1] The Senate confirmed their appointments December 15, 1944. [1] Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey got his fifth star in December 1945. None have been appointed since.

George Dewey US Navy admiral

George Dewey was Admiral of the Navy, the only person in United States history to have attained the rank. He is best known for his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish–American War, with the loss of only a single crewman on the American side.

Spanish–American War Conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States

The Spanish–American War was an armed conflict between Spain and the United States in 1898. Hostilities began in the aftermath of the internal explosion of USS Maine in Havana Harbor in Cuba, leading to U.S. intervention in the Cuban War of Independence. The war led to emergence of U.S. predominance in the Caribbean region, and resulted in U.S. acquisition of Spain's Pacific possessions. That led to U.S. involvement in the Philippine Revolution and ultimately in the Philippine–American War.

Admiral of the Navy (United States) rank in the United States Navy

The Admiral of the Navy is the highest possible rank in the United States Navy. The rank is equated to that of a six-star admiral and is currently one of the two highest possible military ranks in the United States Armed Forces. The rank is an admiralissimo-type position which is senior to the rank of fleet admiral.

The sleeve stripes now used by admirals and vice admirals in the United States date from March 11, 1869, when General Order Number 90 specified that for their "undress" uniforms admirals would wear a two-inch stripe with three half-inch stripes above it and vice admirals the two-inch stripe with two half-inch stripes above it. [1] The rear admiral got his two-inch stripe and one half-inch stripe in 1866. [1]

The sleeve stripes had been more elaborate. When the rear admiral rank started in 1862 the sleeve arrangement was three stripes of three-quarter-inch lace alternating with three stripes of quarter-inch lace. [1] It was some ten inches from top to bottom. [1] The vice admiral, of course, had even more stripes and when Farragut became admiral in 1866, he had so many stripes they reached from his cuffs almost to his elbow. [1] On their dress uniforms the admirals wore bands of gold embroidery of live oak leaves and acorns. [1]

The admirals of the 1860s wore the same number of stars on their shoulders as admirals of corresponding grades do today. [1] In 1899, the navy's one admiral (Dewey) and 18 rear admirals put on the new shoulder marks, as did the other officers when wearing their white uniforms, but kept their stars instead of repeating the sleeve cuff stripes. [1]

During the 20th century, the ranks of the modern U.S. admiralty were firmly established. An oddity that did exist was that the navy did not have a one-star rank except briefly during World War II when Congress established a temporary war rank of commodore. The one-star rank was later established permanently in 1986.

Statutory limits

U.S. law limits the number of four-star admirals that may be on active duty at any time. The total number of active-duty flag officers is capped at 160 for the Navy. [2] For the Army, Navy, and Air Force, no more than about 25% of the service's active-duty general or flag officers may have more than two stars, [3] and statute sets the total number of four-star officers allowed in each service. [3] This is set at 6 four-star Navy admirals. [3]

Some of these slots are reserved by statute. For the Navy, the chief of naval operations, vice chief of naval operations; for the Coast Guard the commandant of the coast guard [4] and vice commandant of the coast guard are admirals; for the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the Assistant Secretary for Health [5] is an admiral if he or she holds an appointment to the regular corps.

There are several exceptions to these limits allowing more than allotted within the statute. A Navy admiral serving as Chairman or Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not count against the Navy's flag-officer cap. A Navy admiral serving in one of several joint positions does not count against his or her service's four-star limit; these positions include the commander of a unified combatant command, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and the deputy commander of U.S. European Command but only if the commander of that command is also the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. [6] Officers serving in certain intelligence positions are not counted against either limit, including the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. [7] The President may also add admirals to the Navy if they are offset by removing an equivalent number of four-stars from other services. [3] Finally, all statutory limits may be waived at the President's discretion during time of war or national emergency. [8]

Appointment and tour length

Four-star grades go hand-in-hand with the positions of office they are linked to, so these ranks are temporary. Officers may only achieve four-star grade if they are appointed to positions that require the officer to hold such a rank. [9] Their rank expires with the expiration of their term of office, which is usually set by statute. [9] Admirals are nominated for appointment by the President from any eligible officers holding the rank of rear admiral (lower half) or above, who also meets the requirements for the position, under the advice and/or suggestion of their respective department secretary, service secretary, and if applicable the joint chiefs. [9] For some specific positions, statute allows the President to waive those requirements for a nominee whom he deems would serve national interests. [10] The nominee must be confirmed via majority vote by the Senate before the appointee can take office and thus assume the rank. [9] The standard tour length for most four-star positions is three years, bundled as a two-year term plus a one-year extension, with the following exceptions:

Extensions of the standard tour length can be approved, within statutory limits, by their respective service secretaries, the secretary of defense, the President, and/or Congress but these are rare, as they block other officers from being promoted. Some statutory limits under the U.S. Code can be waived in times of national emergency or war. Admiral ranks may also be given by act of Congress but this is extremely rare.[ citation needed ]


Other than voluntary retirement, statute sets a number of mandates for retirement. Four-star officers must retire after 40 years of service unless reappointed to grade to serve longer. [11] Otherwise all flag officers must retire the month after their 64th birthday. [12] However, the Secretary of Defense can defer a four-star officer's retirement until the officer's 66th birthday [12] and the President can defer it until the officer's 68th birthday. [12]

Flag officers typically retire well in advance of the statutory age and service limits, so as not to impede the upward career mobility of their juniors.[ citation needed ] Since there are a limited number of four-star slots available to each service, typically one officer must leave office before another can be promoted. [13] Maintaining a four-star rank is a game of musical chairs; once an officer vacates a position bearing that rank, he or she has no more than 60 days to be appointed or reappointed to a position of equal importance before he or she must involuntarily retire. [9] Historically, officers leaving four-star positions were allowed to revert to their permanent two-star ranks to mark time in lesser jobs until statutory retirement, but now such officers are expected to retire immediately to avoid obstructing the promotion flow.

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2007-10-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) - Naval traditions: Names of ranks
  2. 10 USC 526. Authorized strength: general and flag officers on active duty.
  3. 1 2 3 4 10 USC 525. Distribution of commissioned officers on active duty in general officer and flag officer grades.
  4. 14 USC 44. Commandant; appointment.
  5. 42 USC 207. Grades, ranks, and titles of commissioned corps.
  6. 10 USC 604. Senior joint-officer positions: recommendations to the Secretary of Defense.
  7. 10 USC 528. Officers serving in certain intelligence positions: military status; exclusion from distribution and strength limitations; pay and allowances.
  8. 10 USC 527. Authority to suspend sections 523, 525, and 526.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 10 USC 601. Positions of importance and responsibility: generals and lieutenant generals; admirals and vice admirals.
  10. 10 164. Commanders of combatant commands: assignment; powers and duties
  11. 10 USC 636. Retirement for years of service: regular officers in grades above brigadier general and rear admiral (lower half).
  12. 1 2 3 10 USC 1253 Age 64: regular commissioned officers in general and flag officer grades; exception
  13. DoD News Briefing on Thursday, June 6, 1996. Retirement of Admiral Leighton W. Smith Jr.