Structure of the United States Navy

The structure of the United States Navy consists of four main bodies: the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, the operating forces (described below), and the Shore Establishment.

Office of the Chief of Naval Operations

Organization of the CNO's Office

The Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OpNav) includes the Chief of Naval Operations, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the Deputy Chiefs of Naval Operations, the Assistant Chiefs of Naval Operations, the Chief of Legislative Affairs, the Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, and other members of the Navy or Marines or civilians in the Department of the Navy assigned or detailed to the Office.[1][2]

As of June 2008, there was a DCNO Manpower and Personnel/Chief of Naval Personnel (N1), the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance (N2/N6), (established October 2009),[3] DCNO Plans, Policy, and Operations (N3/N5), Fleet Readiness and Logistics (N4), DCNO Warfare Requirements and Programmes (N6/N7), and DCNO Resources, Requirements and Assessments (N8). In addition there was a Director of T&E and Operational Requirements, Surgeon General of the Navy, Chief of Naval Reserves, Chief of Oceanography, and Chief of Chaplains of the Navy.

Operating forces

Numbered fleets of the United States Navy. In 2011, the Second Fleet was disestablished and merged into United States Fleet Forces Command[4]

The operating forces consists of eight components: United States Fleet Forces Command, United States Pacific Fleet, United States Naval Forces Central Command, United States Naval Forces Southern Command, United States Naval Forces Europe, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, United States Navy Reserve, United States Naval Special Warfare Command, and Operational Test and Evaluation Force (OPTEVFOR).[5]

Fleets in the United States Navy take on the role of force provider; they do not carry out military operations independently, rather they train and maintain naval units that will subsequently be provided to the naval forces component of each Unified Combatant Command. While not widely publicized, groups of ships departing U.S. waters for operational missions gain a Task force type designation, almost always with the Second or Third Fleets. On entry into another numbered fleet's area of responsibility, they are redesignated as a task group from that fleet. For example, a carrier task group departing the Eastern Seaboard for the Mediterranean might start out as Task Group 20.1; on entry into the Mediterranean, it might become ('inchop')[6] Task Group 60.1.

The United States Navy currently has six active numbered fleets. These six numbered fleets are grouped into operating forces:

United States Navy Historical Numbered Fleets (2015)

US Navy Historical Numbered Fleets (2015)
Numbered Fleet Status Geographic Command Notes
1st Fleet Inactive U.S. Pacific Fleet Inactive. The United States First Fleet existed after World War II from 1947 at least, but it was redesignated Third Fleet in early 1973.[7]
2nd Fleet Inactive U.S. Atlantic Fleet Inactive. The 2nd Fleet was disestablished in 2011. The 2nd Fleet was formerly part of the United States Fleet Forces Command in the Atlantic.[8]
3rd Fleet Active U.S. Pacific Fleet Active. The United States First Fleet existed after World War II from 1947 at least, but it was redesignated Third Fleet in early 1973.[7]
4th Fleet Active Naval Forces Southern Command Active
5th Fleet Active Naval Forces Central Command Active
6th Fleet Active Naval Forces Europe Active
7th Fleet Active U.S. Pacific Fleet Active
8th Fleet Inactive U.S. Atlantic Fleet Inactive. The United States Eighth Fleet was a fleet of the United States Navy established 15 March 1943 from Northwest African Force. It operated in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II with a main mission of amphibious warfare, and then was active in 1946-47 as the heavy striking arm of the United States Atlantic Fleet.[9]
9th Fleet n/a U.S. Pacific Fleet Task Forces in the 90s series have been used since World War II. In 1945, under Admiral Nimitz, CINCPOA, as Commander Ninth Fleet, Task Forces 90-92 formed the North Pacific Force, and the higher numbers were used for Strategic Air Force, POA, and local defences (Marshals-Gilberts Force, Hawaiian Sea Frontier, etc.).[10] Naval Forces Far East used 90-series task forces in Korea.
10th Fleet Active Fleet Cyber Command Active. Other fleets, such as the 10th and 12th, were active during World War II. 10th Fleet was later transformed into Fleet Cyber Command.[11]
11th Fleet n/a Never Existed Never Existed
12th Fleet Inactive Naval Forces Europe Inactive. The 12th Fleet was active in European waters during World War II.[12]

After World War II, the 16th Fleet and the 19th Fleet were the Atlantic and Pacific Reserve fleets for a period.[13]

Command listing

Members of Inshore Boat Unit 24 patrol near Kuwait Naval Base.

The Navy maintains several "Naval Forces Commands" which operate naval shore facilities and serve as liaison units to local ground forces of the Air Force and Army. Such commands are answerable to a Fleet Commander as the shore protector component of the afloat command. In times of war, Commander Naval Forces Korea becomes a Task Force (Task Force 78) of the United States Seventh Fleet. Other Naval Force Commands may similarly augment to become number fleet task forces.

Historical organization

The organization of the Navy has changed incrementally over time. During World War II administrative organization for many ship types included divisions, for example Battleship Divisions (abbreviated BatDivs), Cruiser Divisions, Destroyer Divisions, or Escort Divisions (CortDivs), usually composed of two ships, often members of the same class. These made up squadrons (e.g. Battle Squadron, Cruiser Squadron, Escort Squadron (CortRon) etc.) of several divisions. Yet the exigencies of World War II forced the creation of the task force system where ships no longer fought solely as part of same-type divisions or squadrons. This was gradually reflected in administrative arrangements; by the 1970s, formations such as Cruiser-Destroyer Groups (CruDesGrus) came into existence.

There was a time in history in which the Navy was disbanded 1790-1798. The only warships protecting the country were Revenue Cutters, the predecessor to the USCG. This is why USCG ships are referred to as Cutters.[16]

The Shore Establishment

The following shore-based bureaus, commands and components are directly subordinate to the Chief of Naval Operations:"[17]

Relationships with other service branches

United States Marine Corps

A Marine F/A-18 from VMFA-451 prepares to launch from the USS Coral Sea (CV-43)

In 1834, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) came under the Department of the Navy.[18] Historically, the United States Navy has enjoyed a unique relationship with the Marines, partly because they both specialize in seaborne operations. At the highest level of civilian organization, the USMC is part of the Department of the Navy and reports to the Secretary of the Navy. However, it is considered to be a distinct, separate service branch and not a subset of the Navy; the highest ranking Marine officer, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, does not report to a Navy officer. Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients are awarded the Navy variant, and Marines are eligible to receive the Navy Cross. The United States Naval Academy trains Marine Corps commissioned officers while prospective Navy officers undergo instruction by Marine NCO Drill Instructors at OCS. Naval Aviation includes Navy and Marine aviators, flight officers, and aircrew.

The relationship extends to the operational theater as well. As amphibious assault specialists, Marines often deploy on, and attack from, Navy vessels; while being transported on Navy ships, they must obey the orders of the captain of the vessel. Marine aviation tailhook squadrons train and operate alongside Navy squadrons, flying similar missions and often flying sorties together. Other types of Marine air squadrons operate from amphibious assault ships in support of Marine amphibious operations. Navy and Marine squadrons use the same NATOPS aviation manuals and procedures. The USMC does not train chaplains, hospital corpsmen or medical doctors; thus officers and enlisted sailors from the Navy fulfill these roles. They generally wear Marine uniforms that are emblazoned with Navy insignia and markings to distinguish themselves from Marines. Corpsmen and chaplains enjoy a great sense of camaraderie with the Marines due in part because they work closely with them and often are embedded with Marine units. They operate under the command of the Marine Corps under the auspices of the Fleet Marine Force, often called the "green side".[19]

Because of the lack of full-scale amphibious operations in recent conflicts, there has been pressure to cut the "gator navy" below the two-regiment requirement of the Marines.[20] This is a reduction from the programmatic goal of 2.5 Marine Expeditionary Brigades and actual structure of 2.07 MEB equivalents in 1999.[21]

The relationship between the US Navy and US Marine Corps is also one of mutual respect, and that respect is manifested in various policies and procedural regulations. For example, per US Marine and Navy drill manuals, in a formation consisting of both Marine and Navy units, per MCO P5060.20, Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual, Paragraph 15001. "ARRANGEMENT OF UNITS IN FORMATION 1. In ceremonies involving the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy units, the Marine unit shall be on the right of line or head of the column. The senior line officer, regardless of service, functions as the commander of troops." This is a symbol of the special status and honor granted to US Marines, and is a unique aspect of the Navy-Marine relationship.

United States Coast Guard

Although the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents federal military personnel from acting in a law enforcement capacity, applies only to the Army and Air Force, Department of Defense rules effectively require the Navy and Marine Corps to act as if Posse Comitatus did apply, preventing them from enforcing Federal law. The United States Coast Guard fulfills this law enforcement role in naval operations. It provides Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) to Navy vessels, where they perform arrests and other law enforcement duties during Navy boarding and interdiction missions. In times of war, or when directed by the President, the Coast Guard operates as a service in the Navy and is subject to the orders of the Secretary of the Navy until it is transferred back to the Department of Homeland Security.[22] At other times, Coast Guard Port Security Units are sent overseas to guard the security of ports and other assets. The Coast Guard also jointly staffs the Navy's Naval Coastal Warfare Groups and Squadrons (the latter of which were known as Harbor Defense Commands until late-2004), which oversee defense efforts in foreign littoral combat and inshore areas. Additionally, Coast Guard and Navy vessels sometimes operate together in search and rescue operations.


  1. "10 USC 5031. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved September 24, 2007.
  2. "Chief of Legislative Affairs for the Secretary of the Navy". United States Navy. Retrieved May 24, 2008.
  3. "Establishment of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information DOMINANCE (N2/N6)". NAVADMIN 316/09. October 29, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2011.
  4. Garamone, Jim (6 January 2011). "Joint Chiefs Fully Agree With Gates' Efficiencies". Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense. American Forces Press Service. Retrieved 6 January 2011.
  5. "Navy Organization - The Operating Forces". Official Website of the United States Navy. Washington, DC. 23 June 2004. Retrieved 6 August 2006.
  6. Maloney, Sean Michael (1991). To Secure the Command of the Sea: NATO Command Organization and Planning for the Cold War at Sea, 1945-1954 (Thesis). University of New Brunswick. p. iii. This term is a compound of CHOP, which is short for Change of Operational Control. A CHOP line is a line at which operational control of forces transfers from one command to another.
  7. 1 2 "United States Navy Third Fleet (Official Website)". Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  8. Reilly, Corinne, "Navy's Second Fleet Sails Off Into History Books", Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 1 October 2011.
  9. Thomas A. Bryson, 'Tars, Turks, and Tankers: The Role of the United States Navy in the Middle East,' Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuchen, NJ, and London, 1980.
  11. Navy Stands Up Fleet Cyber Command, Reestablishes U.S. 10th Fleet, NNS100129-24
  12. Peter M. Swartz, Captain, USN (Retired), Colloqium on Contemporary History, September 2003. Retrieved June 2008.
  13. MBI, Warship Boneyards, p.79, via Google Books.
  14. "Military Sealift Command". Official U.S. Navy Website. Retrieved 24 July 2006.
  15. "Naval Special Warfare Command". Official U.S. Navy Website. Retrieved 1 February 2008.
  16. "Numbered Fleets". Military Analysis Network. Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 8 April 2006. The United States Coast Guard is sometimes believed to act as the First Fleet in wartime; however, the United States has never officially used this reference and it is informal at best.
  17. 1 2 "Navy Organization - The Shore Establishment". Official Website of the United States Navy. Washington, DC. 28 November 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  18. "Marine Corps Manual - General Administration and Management - Organization of the Marine Corps" (PDF). Official U.S. Marine Corps Website. Washington, DC: Department of the Navy. 1980. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  19. Peterson, Bryan A. (2 March 2007). "Recon Marines seek green-side corpsmen". Letherneck. Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  20. Ewing, Philip (13 June 2009). "Gator fleet a likely target for QDR, cuts". Navy Times.
  21. "Amphibious Ship Building". Global Security. 7 July 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  22. "14 USC 3 - Department in which the Coast Guard operates". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
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