The Navy



The United States Navy (also known as USN or the U.S. Navy) is a branch of the United States armed forces responsible for conducting naval operations. Its stated mission is "to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas." The U.S. Navy currently has nearly 500,000 personnel on active duty or in the Navy Reserve and operates 278 ships in active service and more than 4,000 aircraft.

The United States Navy traces its origins to the Continental Navy, which was established during the American Revolutionary War and was disbanded in 1790. The United States Constitution, though, formed the basis for a seaborne military force by giving Congress the power "to provide and maintain a navy." Depredations against American shipping by Barbary Coast corsairs spurred Congress to employ this power in 1794 by passing a naval act ordering the construction and manning of six frigates. The U.S. Navy came into international prominence in the 20th century, especially during World War II. Operating in both the European and Pacific theatres, it was a part of the conflict from the onset of American military involvement — the Attack on Pearl Harbor — to Japan's official surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri. The U.S. Navy had a role in the subsequent Cold War, in which it evolved into a nuclear deterrent and crisis response force while preparing for a possible global war with the Soviet Union.

The 21st century United States Navy maintains a sizeable presence in the world, deploying in such areas as East Asia, Southern Europe, and the Middle East. Its ability to project force onto the littoral regions of the world, engage in forward areas during peacetime, and rapidly respond to regional crises makes it an active player in American foreign and defence policy. Despite decreases in ships and personnel following the Cold War, the U.S. Navy has continued to spend more on technology development than any other and is the world’s largest navy with a tonnage greater than that of the next 17 largest combined.


Flag of the U.S. Navy

In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, the establishment of an official navy was an issue of debate among the members of the Continental Congress. Supporters argued that a navy would protect shipping, defend the coast, and make it easier to seek out support from foreign countries. Detractors countered that challenging the British Royal Navy, then the world's preeminent naval power, was a foolish undertaking.

While Congress deliberated, it received word that two unarmed British supply ships from England were heading towards Quebec without escort. A plan was drawn up to intercept the ships, but the armed vessels to be used were owned not by Congress, but by individual colonies. Of greater significance, then, was an additional plan to equip two ships that would operate under the direct authority of Congress to capture British supply transports. This was not carried out until October 13, 1775, when George Washington announced that he had taken command of three armed schooners under Continental authority to intercept any British supply ships near Massachusetts. With the revelation that vessels were already sailing under Continental control, the decision to add two more was made easier; the resolution was adopted and October 13 would later become known as the United States Navy's official birthday.

The Continental Navy achieved mixed results; it was successful in a few individual engagements and raided many British merchant ships, but it lost 24 shipsand at one point was reduced to two active vessels. As Congress turned its attention after the conflict towards securing the western border of the new United States, a standing navy was considered to be dispensable because of its high operating costs and its limited number of national roles. Within a span of two years, Congress sold the surviving ships and released the seamen and officers.

The United States would be without a navy for nearly a decade, a state of affairs that exposed its merchant ships to a series of attacks by Barbary pirates. In response to these depredations, Congress ordered the construction and manning of six frigates on March 27, 1794;  three years later the first three were welcomed into service: the USS United States, USS Constellation and USS Constitution.

USS Constitution battles HMSGuerriere in the War of 1812.

Following an undeclared Quasi-War with France, the U.S. Navy saw substantial action in the War of 1812, where it defeated rival British frigates on more than one occasion and emerged victorious in freshwater battles at Lake Champlain and Lake Erie. However, the U.S. Navy was not strong enough to prevent the British from blockading American ports and landing troops at will. After the war, the U.S. Navy again focused its attention on protecting American shipping assets, sending squadrons to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, South America, Africa, and the Pacific. The United States went to war in 1846 against Mexico and the Navy contributed by instituting a blockade, assisting the American takeover of California, and participating in the U.S. military's first large-scale amphibious operation at Vera Cruz. The United States Navy established itself as a player in American foreign policy through the actions of Commodore Matthew Perry in Japan, which resulted in the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

Naval power would play a significant role during the Civil War, where the Union had a distinct advantage over the Confederacy on the seas. A Union blockade on shipping handicapped the Southern effort throughout the conflict. The two American navies would help usher in a new era in world naval history by putting ironclad warships into combat for the first time. The Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862, which pitted USS Monitor against CSS Virginia, became the first engagement between two steam-powered ironclads. Soon after the war, however, the U.S. Navy slipped into obsolescence because of neglect.

A modernization program beginning in the 1880s brought the U.S. into the first rank of the world's navies by the end of the century. In 1907, several of the Navy's ships, dubbed the Great White Fleet, were showcased in a 14-month circumnavigation of the world. Ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt, it was a mission designed to demonstrate the Navy's capability to extend to the global theater.

The Navy saw little action during World War I, but grew into a formidable force in the years before World War II. Japan unsuccessfully attempted to allay this strategic threat with a late-1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Following American entry into the war, the U.S. Navy grew tremendously as the United States was faced with a two-front war on the seas. It achieved notable acclaim in the Pacific Theater in particular, where it was instrumental to the Allies' successful "island hopping" campaign. The U.S. Navy participated in many significant battles, including the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the Battle of Okinawa. By war's end in 1945, the United States Navy had added hundreds of new ships, including 18 aircraft carriers and 8 battleships.

USS Yorktown (CV-5) under attack at the Battle of Midway in World War II.

With the potential for armed conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the U.S. Navy continued to advance technologically by developing new weapons systems, ships, and aircraft. United States naval strategy changed to that of forward deployment in support of U.S. allies with an emphasis on carrier battle groups. The Navy was a major participant in the Vietnam War, blockaded Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and through the use of ballistic missile submarines, became an important aspect of the United States' nuclear strategic deterrence policy.

The United States Navy continues to be a major support to American interests in the 21st century. Since the end of the Cold War, it has shifted its focus from a large-scale war with the Soviet Union to special operations and strike missions in regional conflicts. The Navy participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, the Iraq War, and the ongoing War on Terrorism largely in this capacity. Development continues on new ships and weapons, including the CVN-21 aircraft carrier and the Littoral combat ship. Because of its size, weapons technology, and ability to project force far from American shores, the current U.S. Navy remains a potent asset for the United States Commander-in-Chief.


The Navy falls under the administration of the Department of the Navy, under civilian leadership of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV). The most senior naval officer is the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), who is a four-star admiral immediately under the Secretary of the Navy. At the same time, the Chief of Naval Operations is one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is the second-highest deliberatory body of the armed forces after the National Security Council, although it only plays an advisory role to the President and does not nominally form part of the chain of command. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations are responsible for organizing, recruiting, training, and equipping the Navy so that it is ready for operation under the command of the Unified Combatant Commanders.

Operating forces

There are nine components to the operating forces of the U.S. Navy: Atlantic Fleet, Pacific Fleet, Naval Forces Central Command, Naval Forces Europe, Naval Network Warfare Command, Navy Reserve, Naval Special Warfare Command, Operational Test and Evaluation Forces, and Military Sealift Command. 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 publicised, 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 Task Group 60.1. The United States Navy has five active numbered fleets, each led by a Vice Admiral. These five fleets are grouped under Fleet Forces Command (the former Atlantic Fleet), Pacific Fleet, Naval Forces Europe, all led by four-star full Admirals, and Naval Forces Central Command, whose commander is 'double-hatted' as Commander Fifth Fleet.

  • Fleet Forces Command
    • Type commands, including Submarine Forces Atlantic, Surface Forces Atlantic, and Naval Air Forces Atlantic
    • Second Fleet operates in the Atlantic Ocean from the North to South Pole, from the Eastern United States to Western Europe and Africa, and along both the eastern and western shores of Central and South America. Second Fleet is the sole numbered operational fleet within Fleet Forces Command, providing forces to Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM). It also doubles as NATO's Commander Striking Fleet Atlantic, making it the overseer of any multinational NATO naval force in the Atlantic. Second Fleet is based in Norfolk, Virginia and its flagship is USS Wasp (LHD-1).
  • U.S. Naval Forces Europe
    • Sixth Fleet is deployed in the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, under the administrative direction of Naval Forces Europe (NAVEUR), and the operational command of European Command. Sixth Fleet also provides the headquarters and core of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, a multinational force supporting NATO objectives in the Mediterranean. Sixth Fleet is based in Gaeta, Italy and its flagship is USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20).
  • Pacific Fleet
    • Type commands, including Submarine Forces Pacific, Surface Force Pacific, and Naval Air Forces Pacific
    • Third Fleet's jurisdiction is the Northern, Southern, and Eastern Pacific Ocean along with the West Coast of the United States. Normally, units assigned to Third Fleet undergo training cruises prior to deployment with either the Fifth Fleet or Seventh Fleet and are not intended for immediate use in battle. Only in the event of general war does Third Fleet participate in active combat operations. Forming part of the Pacific Fleet, Third Fleet is a part of Pacific Command (USPACOM) and is based in San Diego, California with USS Coronado (AGF-11) as its flagship.
    • Seventh Fleet, the largest forward-deployed U.S. fleet, operates in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, stretching to the Persian Gulf and including much of the east coast of Africa. It forms the fully combat ready part of the Pacific Fleet and provides naval units to the United States Pacific Command. At any given time, Seventh Fleet consists of 40-50 ships operating from bases in South Korea, Japan, and Guam. It is headquartered at Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan with USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) as its flagship.
  • Naval Forces Central Command
    • Naval Forces Central Command includes a number of Task Forces which are not part of the Fifth Fleet. These include Task Force 150, carrying out maritime surveillence activities in the Gulf of Oman and around the Horn of Africa, and Task Force 152, covering the southern Persian Gulf with the same role. Both Task Forces report to Commander NAVCENT in his role as Combined Maritime Forces Component Commander.
    • Fifth Fleet's area of responsibility is the Middle East, including the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Consisting of around 25 ships, including a carrier strike group and an expeditionary strike group, Fifth Fleet is effectively fused with Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), which is the naval component of the larger Central Command (USCENTCOM). Fifth Fleet is headquartered at Manama, Bahrain.

The First Fleet existed after the Second World War from 1947 at least, but it was redesignated Third Fleet in early 1973. Likewise, Fourth Fleet has not been in operation for some time and no other active fleet has been renamed as such.

Shore establishments

Shore establishment commands exist to support the mission of the afloat fleets through the use of facilities on land. Focusing on logistics and combat-readiness, they are essential for the full, smooth, and continuous operation of operating forces. The variety of commands reflect the complexity of the modern U.S. Navy and range from naval intelligence to personnel training to maintaining repair facilities. Two of the major logistics and repair commands are Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Air Systems Command. Other commands such as the Office of Naval Intelligence, the United States Naval Observatory, and the Navy War College are focused on intelligence and strategy. Training commands include the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center and the United States Naval Academy.

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. During times of war, all Naval Forces Commands augment to become task forces of a primary fleet. Some of the larger Naval Forces Commands in the Pacific Ocean include Commander Naval Forces Korea (CNFK), Commander Naval Forces Marianas (CNFM), and Commander Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ).

Military Sealift Command

Military Sealift Command (MSC) serves not only the United States Navy, but the entire Department of Defense as the ocean carrier of materiel during peacetime and war. It transports equipment, fuel, ammunition, and other goods essential to the smooth function of United States armed forces worldwide. Up to 95% of all supplies needed to sustain the U.S. military can be moved by Military Sealift Command. MSC operates approximately 120 ships with 100 more in reserve and is unique in that its ships are manned not by active duty Navy personnel, but by civil service or contract merchant mariners.

Four programs comprise Military Sealift Command: Sealift, Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force (NFAF), Special Mission, and Prepositioning. The Sealift program provides the bulk of the MSC’s supply-carrying operation and operates tankers for fuel transport and dry-cargo ships that transport equipment, vehicles, helicopters, ammunition, and supplies. The NFAF’s role is to directly replenish ships that are underway at sea, enabling them to deploy for long periods of time without having to come to port. NFAF also runs the Navy’s two hospital ships, which provide emergency health care to both military personnel and civilians. The Special Mission program operates vessels for unique military and federal government tasks. They perform such duties as oceanographic and hydrographic surveys, submarine support, and missile flight data collection and tracking. The Prepositioning program sustains the U.S. military’s forward presence strategy by deploying supply ships in key areas of the ocean before it is actually needed. In the event of a contingency, these ships would be available to support military operations on short notice and before full-scale supply lines are established.

Relationships with other service branches

United States Marine Corps

Historically, the United States Navy has enjoyed a unique relationship with the United States Marine Corps (USMC), partly because they both specialize in seaborne operations. At the very top 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 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 naval officer unless one happens to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 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 Navy officers undergo instruction by Marine NCO Drill Instructors, in addition to their normal Recruit Division Commander.

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 a Navy ship, they must obey the orders of its captain. Marine air squadrons operate alongside Navy air squadrons from aircraft carriers, though they frequently have distinct missions and rarely fly sorties together, except to directly support Marine ground troops. 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.

United States Coast Guard

Because the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the Navy from enforcing United States laws, the United States Coast Guard fulfills this role. 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. 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.


A "shooter" gives the signal to launch an F/A-18 Super Hornet from the USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

The United States Navy has nearly 500,000 personnel, approximately a quarter of whom are in ready reserve. Of those on active duty, more than eighty percent are enlisted sailors while commissioned officers make up around fifteen percent; the rest are midshipmen of the Naval Academy and NROTC Units at 159 Universities around the country including Penn State, Villanova, University of Notre Dame, UNC Chapel Hill, Cornell, Harvard, and UPenn.

Sailors prove they have mastered skills and deserve responsibilities by completing Personnel Qualification Standards (PQS) tasks and examinations. Among the most important is the "warfare qualification," which denotes a journeyman level of capability in Aviation Warfare, Special Warfare, Surface Warfare, or Submarine Warfare. Many qualifications are denoted on a sailor's uniform with U.S. Navy badges and insignia.

Commissioned officer

Commissioned officers in the Navy have pay grades ranging from O-1 to O-10, with O-10 being the highest; those with pay grades between O-1 and O-4 are designated junior officers, those between O-5 and O-6 are dubbed senior officers, and officers in the O-7 to O-10 range are called flag officers. In the event that officers demonstrate superior performance, they are given an increase in pay grade; the official Navy term for this occasion is to be promoted. Above the rank of Admiral is the rank of Fleet Admiral, which was given to a select few in World War II, but has not been held by any officer since and is reserved for wartime use. Even higher than Fleet Admiral was the special rank of Admiral of the Navy, which was awarded to only one person, George Dewey, in 1899. Efforts to resurrect the rank in the 20th century failed, making it very unlikely that it will be used again. Commissioned officers originate from the United States Naval Academy, Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC), Officer Candidate School (OCS), and a host of other commissioning programs such as the Seaman to Admiral-21 program and the Limited Duty Officer Selection Program.

Commissioned officers can generally be divided into line officers and staff corps; line officers can be further split into unrestricted and restricted communities. Unrestricted Line Officers are the most visible and well-known, due to their role as the warfighting command element in the U.S. Navy. They receive training in tactics, strategy, command and control, and actual combat and are considered unrestricted because they are authorized to command ships, aviation squadrons, and special operations units. Restricted Line Officers, on the other hand, concentrate on non-combat related fields, which include engineering, maintenance, meteorology and oceanography, and intelligence; they are not qualified to command combat units. Staff Corps officers are specialists in fields that are themselves professional careers and not exclusive to the military, for example medicine, law, and civil engineering. They exist to augment the line communities and are able to be assigned to both line and staff commands.

The term "line" is a carryover from the 18th century British tactic of employing warships in a straight line to take advantage of cannons on each side of the ship. These vessels were dubbed "ships of the line" and those who commanded them were likewise called "line officers." Today, all United States Navy line officers denote their status with a star located above their rank devices on the shoulder boards and sleeves of their uniforms. Officers of the Staff Corps replace the star with different insignias to indicate their field of specialty.

Chief Warrant Officer

Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) pay grades range from CWO2 to the highest rank of CWO5. United States Navy CWOs are commissioned officers whose role is to provide leadership and skills for the most difficult and demanding operations in a particular technical specialty. They occupy a niche that is not as well served by the line officer community, which tends to have a broader focus. CWOs come from the senior non-commissioned officer ranks of the enlisted and receive their commission after completing the appropriately named Chief Warrant Officer Program. They typically become CWOs in specialties that are most related to their previous enlisted rating. Like Staff Corps officers, CWOs wear special insignia above the rank devices on their shoulder boards and sleeves to indicate their field of expertise.


Enlisted members of the Navy have pay grades from E-1 to E-9, with E-9 being the highest. All enlisted sailors with pay grades of E-4 and higher are considered non-commissioned officers (NCOs) while those at E-7 and higher are further named chief petty officers. Unlike commissioned officers, who are given authority by the government, NCOs are promoted through the ranks of the enlisted. Those who demonstrate superior performance are given an increase in pay grade; the official Navy term is to be advanced. Two notable advancements are from Seaman to Petty Officer Third Class (E-3 to E-4) and from Petty Officer First Class to Chief Petty Officer (E-6 to E-7). Advancement to Chief Petty Officer is especially significant and is marked by a special initiation ceremony.

Enlisted members of pay grades E-4 and above are said to be "rated," meaning that they possess a rating, or occupational specialty. Members of grades E-1 to E-3 can also be rated, but do not necessarily have to be. There are more than 50 ratings covering a broad range of skills and subspecialties; examples include Engineman, Photographer's Mate, Gunner's Mate, Information Systems Technician, Culinary Specialist, and Missile Technician. Ratings are earned through "A" schools, which are attended before deployment and after undergoing initial basic training at Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois. Those who do not attend an "A" school go into the fleet to learn on the job and later strike for a rating. Some members may undergo additional training in a "C" school either before or after a tour of duty; upon completion, they are assigned a four-digit Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) code, which identifies a skill that is outside of their standard rating. An example is NEC 2780, which shows that the sailor is qualified as a Network Security Vulnerability Technician.

Rating badges and stripes are normally scarlet red or navy blue, depending on the color of the uniform. Those who demonstrate 12 or more years of good conduct, meaning they have not been subjected to non-judicial punishment or court martial, are authorized to wear with gold rating badges and service stripes on the dress blue uniform and on their coveralls. Once qualified, they must maintain their good conduct status or risk having the right removed.

Uniforms and appearance

A Vice Admiral returns salute from enlisted sailors in a ceremony.

The uniforms of the United States Navy are designed to combine professionalism and naval heritage with versatility, safety, and comfort. The Navy currently incorporates many different styles that are specific for a variety of uses and occasions. In most cases, distinctions are made to distinguish officers and enlisted men in their uniformed appearance. U.S. Navy uniforms can generally be divided into three categories: dress uniforms, service uniforms, and working uniforms.

  • Dress uniforms are worn during military-related formal occasions, such as ceremonies and other official functions. Many types of dress uniforms are used in the Navy with the full range of formal requirements represented. Service dress is the least formal dress uniform, full dress is one step higher in formality, and mess dress is the most formal dress available.

A Bermuda Regiment NCO with a US Navy (medical) corpsmen, attached to the Bermuda Regiment from USNAS Bermuda, on training at USMC Camp Lejeune, 1994. The Corpswoman wears a military combat uniform.

  • Service uniforms are designed for daily wear and are most often worn in office or classroom-type settings, as well as other occasions in which physical activity is at a minimum. The most visible distinction between officers and enlisted personnel are the color of the service uniform. Only officers and chief petty officers are authorized to wear service khaki; all other personnel must wear winter blue or summer white.
  • Working uniforms prioritize comfort and safety first and thus are the least attractive of the Navy uniforms. They are intended for use in underway ships and in occasions that involve dirty, physical labor. Many working uniforms are variations of the service uniforms except with less formal requirements. This category includes Navy coveralls, which are authorized to be worn by members of all ranks.

Recently, the Navy completed a project named "Task Force Uniform" to streamline Navy uniforms. Among the changes are that enlisted personnel from Seaman Recruit to Petty Officer First Class (E1-E6) will have one year-round service uniform instead of Winter Blues and Summer Whites. All personnel from Seaman Recruit to Admiral will also have new working uniforms dubbed Navy Working Uniform (NWU) to replace the wash khakis, coveralls, dungarees, and aviation working greens currently in use. The uniform is a digital patterned camouflage in predominantly haze gray and blue hues.

Grooming for both male and female sailors is regulated to a high degree, with exact standards in regards to hair, facial hair, use of cosmetics, and jewelry. New male recruits are given the military crew cut and are prohibited from having hair longer than four inches while in the service. Men are required to be clean shaven at all times, although mustaches are allowed. Women do not have a hair length regulation, however hair cannot fall past the bottom edge of the uniform collar and the style of hair is strictly controlled. Multicolored hair, body piercing, and tattoos on the head are banned for both sexes.

Major naval installations

The size, complexity, and international presence of the United States Navy require a large number of naval installations to support its operations. While the majority of bases are located on the West and East coasts of the United States, the Navy maintains a significant number of naval facilities farther inland and abroad, either in U.S.-controlled territories or in foreign countries under a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

  • Hampton Roads, Virginia — The world’s largest naval base, Hampton Roads consists of a significant number of Navy installations spread over 36,000 acres (146 km²) of land in southeastern Virginia. These include Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Naval Air Station Oceana, and Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. Hampton Roads is also the homeport of the Atlantic Fleet and the location of Northrop Grumman Newport News, a privately owned company that builds the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
  • San Diego, California — The second largest U.S. Navy base, San Diego hosts a large complex of facilities, including Naval Station San Diego and Naval Air Station North Island. The Naval Special Warfare Center, the main training center for SEALs, is also located here.
  • Jacksonville, Florida — The third-largest naval base in the country, it contains Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport, among others. Jacksonville has had a long tradition in naval aviation and trained the first jet carrier air groups.
  • Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — Located on the south end of the island of Oahu, Pearl Harbor is the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet and a large number of its subordinate commands.
  • Puget Sound, Washington — The collection of naval installations in the Puget Sound area include Naval Station Everett, Naval Base Kitsap, and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Completed in 1994, Naval Station Everett is one of the newer Navy bases in operation and the Navy states that it is its most modern facility.
  • Yokosuka, Japan — Yokosuka was a major United States base of operations during the Korean War. Since then it has become the homeport for the U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet and is the largest overseas U.S. naval installation.
  • Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — Leased by the United States in 1903, Guantanamo Bay is the oldest overseas U.S. military installation. It is currently the location of Camp Delta, a detention facility for members of Al Qaeda, The Taliban, and other detainees captured during the War on Terrorism.
  • Pensacola, Florida — This base in northwestern Florida is the primary site for training Navy and Marine aviators. Because of its long history in advancing Navy flight, it has been dubbed “the Cradle of Navy Aviation.”


The names of commissioned ships of the U.S. Navy start with "USS", designating 'United States Ship'. Non-commissioned, civilian-manned vessels of the U.S. Navy have names that begin with "USNS", standing for 'United States Naval Ship'. Additionally, each ship is given a letter-based hull classification symbol (for example CVN and DDG) to indicate the vessel's type and a hull number. The names of ships are officially selected by the Secretary of the Navy and are usually those of U.S. states, cities, towns, important people, famous battles, fish, or ideals. All ships in the U.S. Navy inventory are placed in the Naval Vessel Register, which tracks data such as the current status of a ship, the date of its commissioning, and the date of its decommissioning. Vessels that are removed from the register prior to disposal are said to be stricken from the register.

The U.S. Navy pioneered the use of nuclear reactors aboard naval vessels. Today, nuclear energy powers most U.S. aircraft carriers and submarines. In the case of a Nimitz-class carrier, two naval reactors give the ship almost unlimited range and provide enough electrical energy to power a city of 100,000 people. The U.S. Navy previously operated nuclear-powered cruisers and destroyers as well, but all have been decommissioned.

Aircraft carriers

Although originally a British concept, Aircraft carriers are regarded as the most important and most powerful warships in the United States Navy. Their ability to put most nations within striking distance of U.S. air power makes carriers the cornerstones of the United States’ forward deployment and deterrence strategy. Multiple carriers are deployed around the world at any given time to provide military presence, respond quickly to crises, and participate in joint exercises with allied forces; this has led the Navy to refer to their Nimitz-class carriers as "4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory." Former President Bill Clinton summed up the importance of the aircraft carrier by stating that "when word of crisis breaks out in Washington, it's no accident the first question that comes to everyone's lips is; where is the nearest carrier?" The power and operational flexibility of a carrier naturally lie in the aircraft of its carrier air wing. Made up of both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, a carrier air wing is able to perform over 150 strike missions, hitting over 700 targets a day, protect friendly forces, conduct electronic warfare, assist in special operations, and carry out search and rescue missions. In addition to their airborne capabilities, carriers are important as command platforms for large battle groups or multinational task forces. Compared to the United States Navy, most foreign navies operate smaller carriers that typically displace between 15,000 to 30,000 tons and carry a complement of helicopters and/or derivatives of the British Harrier aircraft.

A carrier is typically deployed along with a host of additional vessels, forming a carrier strike group. The supporting ships, which usually include three or four Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers, a frigate, and two attack submarines, are tasked with protecting the carrier from air, missile, sea, and undersea threats as well as providing additional strike capabilities themselves. Ready logistics support for the group is provided by a combined ammunition, oiler, and supply ship. Aircraft carriers beginning with USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), but with the exception of USS Nimitz (CVN-68), are named for living or deceased politicians important to the Navy or United States history. Previous aircraft carriers were generally named for battles and past famous fighting ships of the Navy.

  • Kitty Hawk class (1 in commission, 2 decommissioned)
  • Enterprise class (1 in commission)
  • John F. Kennedy class (1 in commission)
  • Nimitz class (9 in commission, 1 under construction)

Amphibious warfare vessels

Amphibious assault ships are the centerpieces of U.S. amphibious warfare and fulfill the same power projection role as aircraft carriers except that their striking force is comprised of land forces instead of aircraft. They deliver, command, coordinate, and fully support all elements of a 2000-strong Marine Expeditionary Unit in an amphibious assault using air and amphibious vehicles. Resembling small aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships are capable of V/STOL, STOVL, VTOL, tiltrotor, and rotary wing aircraft operations. They also contain a welldeck to support the use of Landing Craft Air Cushion and other amphibious assault watercraft. Recently, amphibious assault ships have begun to be deployed as the core of an expeditionary strike group, which usually consists of an additional amphibious transport dock and dock landing ship for amphibious warfare and an Aegis-equipped cruiser and destroyer, frigate, and attack submarine for group defense. Amphibious assault ships are typically named after World War II aircraft carriers, a name source carried over from the earliest assault ships which actually were converted WWII carriers.

  • Tarawa class (4 in commission, 1 decommissioned)
  • Wasp class (7 in commission, 1 under construction)

Amphibious transport docks are warships that embark, transport, and land Marines, supplies, and equipment in a supporting role during amphibious warfare missions. With a landing platform, amphibious transport docks also have the capability to serve as secondary aviation support for an expeditionary group. All amphibious transport docks can operate helicopters, LCACs, and other conventional amphibious vehicles while the newer San Antonio class of ships has been explicitly designed to operate all three elements of the Marines' "mobility triad": Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles (EFVs), the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, and the previously mentioned LCACs. Amphibious transport docks are named for cities, except for USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19), named for Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and two of the three ships named in memory of the September 11, 2001 attacks: USS New York (LPD-21), for the state of New York, and USS Somerset (LPD-25) for Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

  • Austin class (9 in commission, 2 decommissioned, 1 converted to an auxiliary command ship)
  • San Antonio class (1 in commission, 4 under construction, 4 more planned)

The dock landing ship is a medium amphibious transport that is designed specifically to support and operate Landing Craft Air Cushions, though it is able to operate other amphibious assault vehicles in the United States inventory as well. Dock landing ships are normally deployed as a component of an expeditionary strike group's amphibious assault contingent, operating as a secondary launch platform for LCACs. All dock landing ships are named after locations in the United States.

  • Whidbey Island class (8 in commission)
  • Harpers Ferry class (4 in commission)

Surface vessels

Cruisers are large surface combat vessels that conduct anti-air/anti-missile warfare, surface warfare, undersea warfare, and strike operations independently or as members of a larger task force. Modern guided missile cruisers were developed out of a need to counter the anti-ship missile threat facing the United States Navy. This led to the development of the AN/SPY-1 phased array radar and the Standard Missile 2 with the Aegis combat system coordinating the two. Ticonderoga-class cruisers became the first to equip Aegis and were put to use primarily as anti-air and anti-missile defense in a battle force protection role. Later developments of vertical launch systems and the Tomahawk missile gave cruisers additional long-range land and sea strike capability, making them capable of both offensive and defensive battle operations. All cruisers since CG-47 have been named for famous battles with USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51) as the only exception. Previously, cruisers were either named for cities (until CG-12), former important navy figures (CG-15 to CG-35), or states (CG-36 to CG-42).

  • Ticonderoga class (22 in commission, 5 decommissioned)

Destroyers are multi-mission medium surface ships capable of sustained performance in anti-air, anti-submarine, anti-ship, and offensive strike operations. Like cruisers, the guided missile destroyers of the Navy are primarily focused on surface strikes using Tomahawk missiles and fleet defense through Aegis and the Standard missile. Destroyers additionally specialize in anti-submarine warfare and are equipped with VLA rockets and LAMPS Mk III Sea Hawk helicopters to deal with underwater threats. When deployed with a carrier strike group or expeditionary strike group, destroyers and their fellow Aegis-equipped cruisers are primarily tasked with defending the fleet while providing secondary strike capabilities. Destroyers have been named for important navy personnel and heroes since the USS Bainbridge (DD-1).

  • Arleigh Burke class (50 in commission, 6 under construction, 7 more planned)

Modern U.S. frigates mainly perform undersea warfare for carrier strike groups and amphibious expeditionary groups and provide armed escort for supply convoys and merchant shipping. They are designed to protect friendly ships against hostile submarines in low to medium threat environments using torpedoes and LAMPS helicopters. Frigates are also able to launch Standard missiles to supply limited protection against anti-ship missiles. Independently, frigates are able to conduct counterdrug missions and other maritime interception operations. The U.S. Navy expects to retire its current class of frigates by 2020. As in the case of destroyers, frigates are named after naval heroes.

  • Oliver Hazard Perry class (30 in commission, 20 decommissioned)

All U.S. battleships have been decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. Designed to engage other capital ships in open sea warfare, battleships were the Navy's largest and most important vessels until the mid-20th century. The rise of aircraft carriers in World War II led to the declining importance of battleships and the Navy relegated them to the roles of fire support and escort. Following a long period of inactivity, the Iowa class battleships were recommissioned in the 1980s to augment the Navy's size and were upgraded with Tomahawk cruise missile capability. They were decommissioned for the final time in the early 1990s due in part to their high maintenance costs and the Cold War's end. All battleships except USS Kearsarge (BB-5) were named for states.


The primary missions of submarines in the U.S. Navy are peacetime engagement, surveillance and intelligence, special operations, precision strikes, battle group operations, and denial of the seas. The U.S. Navy operates two types: ballistic submarines and attack submarines. Ballistic submarines have only one mission: to carry and launch the nuclear Trident missile. Attack submarines have several tactical missions, including sinking ships and subs, launching cruise missiles, gathering intelligence, and assisting in special operations. Sea attack submarines are typically named for cities while land attack submarines (Virginia- and converted Ohio-class boats) are typically named for states. Earlier attack submarines were named for "denizens of the deep", while earlier ballistic missile submarines were named for "famous Americans" (although many of them were actually foreigners).

  • Ohio class (18 in commission) — ballistic missile submarines with four to be converted into guided missile submarines
  • Los Angeles class (49 in commission, 13 decommissioned) — attack submarines
  • Seawolf class (3 in commission) — attack submarines
  • Virginia class (2 in commission, 2 under construction, 7 more planned) — attack submarines

Historically significant vessels

The U.S. Navy has operated a number of vessels important to both United States and world naval history. USS Constitution, nicknamed "Old Ironsides", is the only surviving vessel of the original six frigates authorized by Congress when they re-established the United States Navy in 1794. It served with distinction in the War of 1812 and is currently docked in Charlestown, Massachusetts, as the oldest commissioned warship afloat. USS Monitor and CSS Virginia are together known for participating in the first engagement between two steam-powered ironclads, known as the Battle of Hampton Roads. USS Monitor was the first ironclad built by the U.S. Navy and its design introduced the rotating gun turret to naval warfare. The first submarine built by the U.S. Navy was USS Alligator, which sank in 1863 while being towed during a storm and never saw combat. The H.L. Hunley, although technically never a part of the U.S. Navy, was the first submarine to sink a ship in a combat engagement by hitting the USS Housatonic with a spar-mounted torpedo in 1864; however, the H.L. Hunley itself was lost during the operation. It was built by Confederate inventor Horace L. Hunley, who lost his life while operating the ship during a trial run. USS Nautilus (SSN-571), commissioned in 1954, was the first nuclear-powered warship in the world. It demonstrated its capabilities by traveling 62,562 miles, more than half of which was submerged, in two years before having to refuel while breaking the record for longest submerged voyage. USS Long Beach (CGN-9) was the first nuclear-powered surface warship in the world and signaled a new era of United States naval weaponry by being the first large ship in the Navy to have guided missiles as its main battery. Vulcan class repair ship Commissioned: June 14, 1941 Decommissioned: September 30, 1991. In 1978 she was the first US warship in which women were deployed.


Aircraft are an essential component of the U.S. Navy's fighting capacity. Carrier-based aircraft are able to strike air, sea, and land targets far from a carrier strike group while protecting friendly forces from enemy aircraft, ships, and submarines. In peacetime, aircraft's ability to project the threat of sustained attack from a mobile platform on the seas gives United States leaders significant diplomatic and crisis-management options. Aircraft additionally provide logistics support to maintain the Navy’s readiness and, through helicopters, supply platforms with which to conduct search and rescue, special operations, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare (ASuW).

The U.S. Navy began to research the use of aircraft at sea in the 1910s and commissioned its first aircraft carrier, USS Langley, in 1922. United States naval aviation fully came of age in World War II, when it became clear following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the Battle of Midway that aircraft carriers and the planes that they carried had replaced the battleship as the greatest weapon on the seas. Navy aircraft also played a significant role in conflicts during the following Cold War years, with the F-4 Phantom II and the F-14 Tomcat becoming military icons of the era. The Navy's current primary fighter and attack airplanes are the multi-mission F/A-18C/D Hornet and its newer cousin, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The F-35 Lightning II is presently under development and is scheduled to replace the C and D versions of the Hornet in 2012.

Weapons systems

Current U.S. Navy shipboard weapons systems are almost entirely focused on missiles, both as a weapon and as a threat. In an offensive role, missiles are intended to strike targets at long distances with accuracy and precision. Because they are unmanned weapons, missiles allow for attacks on heavily defended targets without risk to human pilots. Land and sea strikes are the domain of the BGM-109 Tomahawk, which was first deployed in the 1980s and is continually being updated to increase its capabilities. While the Tomahawk can be used in an anti-ship capacity, the Navy's dedicated missile for this role is the Harpoon missile. To defend against enemy missile attack, the Navy operates a number of systems that are all coordinated by the Aegis combat system. Medium-long range defense is provided by the Standard Missile 2, which has been deployed since the 1980s. The Standard missile doubles as the primary shipboard anti-aircraft weapon and is undergoing development for use in theater ballistic missile defense. Short range defense against missiles is provided by the Phalanx CIWS and the more recently developed RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. In addition to missiles, the Navy also employs Mark 46 and Mark 50 torpedoes and various types of mines. The ships defense also relies upon the use of advanced detection systems including IFF(Idendification Friend or Foe) Antennas and SSR (Secondary Surveillance Radar) Systems

Naval fixed-wing aircraft employ much of the same weapons as the United States Air Force for both air-to-air and air-to-surface combat. Air engagements are handled by the heat-seeking Sidewinder and the radar guided AMRAAM missiles along with the M61 Vulcan for close range dog fighting. For surface strikes, Navy aircraft utilize a combination of missiles, smart bombs, and dumb bombs. On the list of available missiles are the Maverick, SLAM-ER, and JSOW. Smart bombs include the GPS-guided JDAM and the laser-guided Paveway series. Unguided munitions such as dumb bombs and cluster bombs round out the rest of the weapons deployed by fixed-wing aircraft.

Rotary aircraft weapons revolve around anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and light to medium surface engagements. To combat submarines, helicopters use Mark 46 and Mark 50 torpedoes. Against small watercraft, they utilize Hellfire and Penguin air to surface missiles. Helicopters also employ various types of mounted anti-personnel machine guns, including the M60D, M240, GAU-16, and GAU-17.

Nuclear weapons in the U.S. Navy arsenal are deployed through ballistic missile submarines and aircraft. The Ohio-class submarine carries the latest iteration of the Trident missile, a three stage, underwater launched, nuclear ICBM with MIRV capability; the current Trident II (D5) version is expected to be in service past 2020. The Navy’s other nuclear weapon is the aircraft-deployed B61 nuclear bomb. The B61 is a thermonuclear device that can be dropped by strike aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet at high speed from a large range of altitudes. They can be released through free-fall or parachute and can be set to detonate in the air or on the ground.

Special warfare

The major players in U.S. Navy special operations are Navy SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCCs, pronounced “swicks”). The SEALs derive their name from the environments in and from which they can operate: SEa, Air, and Land. As befitting their title, the SEALs are a flexible group of naval Special Forces trained to conduct clandestine warfare in any setting, most often in small-unit actions. They specialize in maritime operations; striking from and returning to the sea. Working in conjunction with the SEALs are the SWCCs, who are trained in small ship and watercraft operations in the Navy. Organized into Special Boat Teams, SWCCs specialize in the insertion and extraction of SEALs in hostile territory, coastal patrol and surveillance, and the boarding and searching of vessels.

Navy special operations fall under the jurisdiction of Naval Special Warfare Command, the Navy branch of United States Special Operations Command. Within Naval Special Warfare Command are six operational entities: four Special Warfare Groups, the Special Warfare Development Group, and the Special Warfare Center.

  • Naval Special Warfare Group ONE and Group TWO each consist of four teams of Navy SEALs and a few Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Units. NSW units are charged with overall command and control and planning of special operations within their geographic jurisdiction.
  • Group THREE is made up of SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Teams and one Special Boat Team that is shared with Group FOUR. SEALs who are assigned to SDV teams specialize in the use of Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (known as "SEAL Delivery Vehicles" in American service) and Advanced SEAL Delivery Systems (ASDSs). These watercraft are submersibles that are designed to insert SEAL operators underwater, from long distances offshore.
  • Group FOUR is comprised of all of the Navy's Special Boat Teams.
  • The Navy Special Warfare Development Group, also known as Dev Group or DEVGRU, is the United States military's premier Maritime Counter-Terrorism unit. While the Navy confirms the existence of the unit, it merely states that the role of Dev Group is to test, evaluate, and develop technology and maritime, ground and airborne tactics for Navy Special Warfare. No official mention of Counter-Terrorism concerning DEVGRU is made. Though much of the information regarding this unit is classified, it is estimated that the group consists of approximately 200 active operators.
  • The Naval Special Warfare Center, located in Coronado, California, is the main training center for Navy special operations personnel. It is here that SEAL recruits undergo the initial six-month-long Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course. Following three weeks of additional parachute training with the Army, recruits return to Coronado for the 19-week SEAL Qualification Training (SQT), after which they are officially named a SEAL.

Although not under the jurisdiction of NSW Command, Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Units often work closely with special operations teams. Trained to be combat-ready and highly mobile, EOD units are entrusted with nullifying hazardous ordnance in a number of different maritime environments. They are also able to conduct underwater anti-mine operations using marine mammals.

Coastal warfare

Coastal and harbor defense and protection of naval assets are placed under the jurisdiction of two Naval Coastal Warfare Groups: one for the Pacific Fleet and one for the Atlantic Fleet. Within these groups are Mobile Security Squadrons and Naval Coastal Warfare Squadrons. MSSs deploy Mobile Security Detachments that protect high value naval targets from terrorist attacks in ports and harbors where U.S. shore infrastructure is limited or does not exist. Naval Coastal Warfare Squadrons provide surveillance and security in harbors, coasts, and inshore areas. They are comprised of Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Units (MIUWUs) and Inshore Boat Units (IBUs). MIUWUs are charged with security, observation, and communications support for commanders operating in an inshore/coast environment, including anchorages and harbors. In the same operating environment, IBUs manage water craft for security, interdiction and surveillance.

Naval culture

The current naval jack of the United States is the First Navy Jack, which was used during the American Revolutionary War. On May 31, 2002, Secretary of the Navy Gordon England directed all U.S. naval ships to fly the First Navy Jack for the duration of the War on Terrorism. Many ships chose to shift colors later that year on the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The previous naval jack was a blue field with 50 white stars, identical to the canton of the ensign (the Flag of the United States) both in appearance and size. A jack of similar design was used in 1794, though with 13 stars arranged in a 3–2–3–2–3 pattern. When a ship is moored or anchored, the jack is flown from the bow of the ship while the ensign is flown from the stern. When underway, the ensign is raised on the mainmast. The First Naval Jack, however, has always been flown on the oldest ship in the American fleet.

Over the course of the United States Navy's 200-year existence, a distinct jargon has evolved among American sailors and has become a normal part of their everyday speech. Modern U.S. Navy slang draws from a number of varied sources. It includes traditional sailing terms, archaic English words, and a plethora of acronyms, joke phrases, crude expressions, and abbreviations that have been created within the past hundred years.

Notable sailors

Many past and present United States historical figures have served in the Navy. Notable officers include Oliver Hazard Perry, Jeremy Michael Boorda, Gerald F. DeConto, Commodore Matthew Perry, who fully opened Tokugawa-era Japan to the West, and Chester Nimitz, Admiral of the Pacific Fleet in World War II, Rodger W. Simpson World War II Hero. A number of former Presidents were in the Navy as well, including John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. Jeremy Michael Boorda was 25th Chief of Naval Operations. Some members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, for example John McCain and John Kerry, have also seen Navy service. Other notable former members of the U.S. Navy include astronauts, entertainers, authors, and professional athletes.



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