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Overview of Navy Units

Land lubbers accustomed to the admirable clarity of the organization of the United States Air Force, or the slight quirkiness of the organization of the United States Army, will be quickly alarmed and bewildered by what claims to pass for the "organization" of the United States Navy. Indeed, those not of a naval persuasion may be surprised to learn that the Navy is "organized" at all, in that units intermediate between numbered fleets and individual ships so rarely figure in public accounts of naval activities. And the more that one learns of US Navy "organization" the less it is understood, given the bizarre diversity and inconsistency of unit designations. One source of this confusion is the distinction between tactical and administrative chains of command, while additional obscurity derives from individual commanders wearing multiple hats in various chains of command.

The Naval Services comprise the US Navy and the Marine Corps, two independent military services within the Department of the Navy. The organization of the US Navy is vast, complex, and diverse. The organization of the Navy is unique. The organization stems from two centuries of experience in naval warfare matters. Each of the military services has a different military mission and an organizational structure to accomplish that mission. While the principles of management and administration dictate certain common parameters among the services, the service philosophies, personnel, equipment, scope of operations and other special considerations necessitate broad variances from service to service.

For purposes of maximizing economy and efficiency, the Navy organization has a traditional pyramidal structure that is consistent with established principles of organizational design. The management of money, personnel, and material in the Navy is no different from that of most large corporations.

It is a basic policy of the US Navy, in support of its mission, to maximize Navy readiness for combat at sea. From an organizational standpoint, the Navy command structure in the operating forces and in the supporting shore establishment should be identical in peacetime with that which is expected to be in-being in wartime. A mass transfer of resources and responsibilities from a peacetime organization to a wartime organization at the outbreak of war could prove to be disastrous. The organization of the Navy while selectively manned in peacetime, is the same organization that will support and conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea in support of national policies and national military strategies.

The early organization of the command structure of the Navy exhibited a bilinear system of management that was in-being from the inception of the Navy management hierarchy. Under that bilinear system, the fleet commanders in chief (and later, the Chief of Naval Operations) exercised military command of the operating forces of the Navy, while the Secretary of the Navy, through his civilian executive assistants and the chiefs of bureaus and offices, exercised the business direction of the Navy. In effect, a consumer-producer relationship existed with the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps representing the consumers, and the other element of the Navy Department representing the producers.

The Navy was hindered by its system of independent bureaus. Each bureau reported independently to the Secretary of the Navy, with no systematic method of orchestrating their activities. The Bureau of Construction and Repair managed the hull and essential features of the ship, while Steam Engineering was responsible for the power plant, and the Bureau of Ordnance designed the weapons. Any ship design required the concurrence of all three bureaus. Yet another bureau, Equipment and Recruiting, provided anchors, sails, cordage, and other equipment. The Bureau of Provisions and Clothing provided clothing and subsistence. The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery managed the medical care of the Navy. The Bureau of Navigation originally was intended to produce charts and navigation aids, but eventually dominated the other bureaus by its ability to control ship movements and officer assignments.

In theory, the Bureau of Yards and Docks had supremacy over the Navy's shore installations, yet in practice the bureau system divided authority within the yards. The Bureau of Yards and Docks assigned the yard commandant, but each of the other bureaus had responsibility and authority for their activities within the yard. Although the Bureau of Yards and Docks controlled most shore installations, some special function installations were controlled by other bureaus. For example, the Bureau of Ordnance had responsibility for the Proving Ground and for the Torpedo Station. The Bureau of Navigation was responsible for the Naval Academy, the Training Station, and the War College.

In the beginning, there was a single chain of command from the Secretary of the Navy to the operating forces. The inception of the unified command structure in 1949 necessitated a dual chain of command to the operating forces -- one chain for operational control, and a separate chain for administrative control. The administrative structure originates with the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The operational structure originates with the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Unified Commanders-in-Chief (CinCs). This structure relieves Fleet and task force commanders from the administrative and procurement burdens that would otherwise detract from their primary task - the command of combat forces.

A destroyer may administratively belong to a squadron (DESRON) that is part of a cruiser/destroyer group (CRUDESGRU), which, in turn, is part of the surface force (SURFLANT) that reports to the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT). Operationally the same destroyer may be deployed as part of a task element, unit, group, and force that is part of the Seventh Fleet answering to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT). Ships and other forces are associated with the administrative chain of command of either the Atlantic or Pacific Fleet. Ships and other forces are are not permanently assigned to operational units, but are temporarily attached, depending on their level of readiness and deployment area.

While it may appear to be duplicative, the existence of a parallel fleet command structure is actually an efficient and effective method of differentiating these two necessary functions. In general, these separate organizations are separate in name only, are dual hatted, and are manned by the same personnel, although exceptions do exist. The single point at which both operational and administrative chains of command intersect is at the level of each fleet commander-in-chief. The administrative organization is permanent in nature and supports, with forces and staff personnel, the task-oriented operational organization. Since the functions of the two separate organizations must be responsive to both CNO and the unified commander, the separate functions must be differentiated.

Administrative Organization

The administrative organization of the Navy and Marine Corps begins with the Secretary of Defense and extends through the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC). The latter are "double-hatted" as both the chiefs of their respective services and as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Secretary of the Navy, the CNO, and the Commandant are charged by the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act with the responsibility for supporting the CinCs. They are responsible for logistics, maintenance, personnel management, procurement of systems and supplies, and research and development. To accomplish these tasks, each has headquarters staff organizations.

The Navy's administrative chain of command flows from the President and the Secretary of Defense to the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations, and to the Commanders-in-Chief of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, and the Commander, Naval Reserve Force. The CinC Atlantic Fleet and CinC Pacific Fleet function in both the administrative and operational commands; in the latter role, as a naval component commander. These second-echelon commanders have responsibility for the readiness of their forces, which are operationally subordinate to the Unified Commands. Readiness includes maintenance and logistics as well as the assignment and training of their personnel. Each of the two Fleet Commanders-in-Chief has five subordinate "type" commanders who supervise specific categories of forces and activities: Naval Air Force, Naval Surface Force, Submarine Force, Training Command, and a Naval Construction Brigade. The Commander, Naval Reserve Force commands the Naval Reserve through two lower-echelon commands, the Naval Air Reserve and Naval Surface Reserve forces.

Type commanders primarily supervise personnel, training, logistics, maintenance, and other support to ships, aircraft, and units.

The Marine Forces structure - the Marine Forces, Atlantic (MARFORLANT) and Marine Forces, Pacific (MARFORPAC) - serves as a de facto administrative command structure.

Each operational Navy and Marine Corps unit and shore facility is led by a commanding officer or officer-in-charge who is ultimately responsible for its mission and proper administration.

Operational Organizations


The Navy's operating forces are subordinate to the Unified Commands. Most naval forces are assigned to the naval component commanders of four Unified Commands, as shown here:

Unified Command Naval Component Operating Fleet
USA Command Atlantic Fleet Second Fleet
European Command Naval Forces, Europe Sixth Fleet (Occasionally Second Fleet)
Pacific Command Pacific Fleet Third Fleet & Seventh Fleet
Central Command Naval Forces,
Central Command
Fifth Fleet, plus
Sixth or Seventh Fleet assets as required

The naval component commanders are full admirals (except COMUSNAVCENT, who is a vice admiral) with shore-based staffs. The numbered Fleet commanders are vice admirals, whose staffs can be embarked on a flagship or based ashore.

Command of the operating forces of the fleet at all echelons is exercised through the operational organization. The Department of the Navy, through its administrative organization, organizes, trains, and equips forces, which are then employed operationally in the unified command structure. The operational chain of command begins with the President and the Secretary of Defense as National Command Authorities and continues down through the individual commanding officers of ships, squadrons, and submarines.

Group and squadron commander staffs are considered afloat commands. Surface group commander staffs are normally embarked in one of the ships of their command. Group and squadron commander staffs are structured to monitor, develop, and support all three aspects of fleet readiness. These staffs must be sized to accomplish their operational responsibilities in the operational chain of command. In those instances where shipboard limitations preclude accommodation of an entire afloat staff, certain personnel can be left ashore or aboard other ships as dictated by the nature of the operation.

Submarine group and squadron commander staffs are considered afloat commands but are normally located ashore or embarked in an assigned tender. Submarine group and squadron commander staffs frequently embark for short periods of time in assigned submarines to support the three categories of fleet readiness. These staffs do not deploy with submarines due to the independent nature of subs.

Marine Corps

Marine Corps operating forces are provided from MARFORLANT and MARFORPAC. Each of the four Unified Commands is assigned a Marine Component for planning purposes and is provided task-organized Marine forces for execution of specific operational plans. The Marine Corps principal operating force in the eastern United States is II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF), located at bases in North and South Carolina; in the western United States, I MEF is based in California; in the western Pacific, III MEF, which was previously based in Okinawa and Japan, has been disbanded, and replaced by the I MEF (Forward) Command Element, which retains all of the functions previously found in III MEF. The MEFs provide a Marine Expeditionary Unit - Special Operations Capable [MEU(SOC)] for afloat forward deployment.

The Marine Corps is nominally organized into three ground divisions and three aircraft wings, with a large combat support force formed into three service support groups. The Marine Corps Reserve consists of an additional ground division, aircraft wing, and support group. These divisions and wings can be considered the administrative structure for Marine units deployed in Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs). The MAGTF is the basic building block of Marine Corps operating forces, and is an integrated, combined-arms force comprising command, ground combat, aviation combat, and service support elements. Regardless of size - from relatively small, special purpose MAGTFs to multi-division size Marine Expeditionary Forces - all MAGTFs are "expeditionary" forces, capable of carrying out specific missions. For example, MEFs, comprising 40,000 or more troops, are capable of amphibious assaults and sustained operations for up to 60 days without replenishment of ammunition, food, water, and other supplies.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:00:07 ZULU