Flag Officer

A flag officer is a naval officer of sufficient rank that is permitted to fly a flag to represent where they exercise command. Typically, usage of the term "flag officer" refers to the senior officers in a nation's navy, specifically those who hold the rank of commodore, admiral, or higher.

General usage

The generic title of flag officer is used in several modern navies to denote those who hold the rank of rear admiral (or its equivalent) and above, also called "flag ranks"; in some navies, this also includes the rank of commodore. Flag officer corresponds to the generic terms general officer (used by land and some air forces to describe all grades of generals) and air officer (used by other air forces to describe all grades of air marshals and air commodores). The term flag officer is only commonly used for naval officers. However, the term can apply to general officers in the US Army, US Air Force and US Marine Corps, as those officers are permitted to fly their own flags as well.

A flag officer generally has an officer, called a flag lieutenant or a flag adjutant, attached to him as a personal adjutant (like an aide-de-camp) regardless of any staff under his command. In the Royal Navy, this officer is often known as "Flags".


In the Canadian Forces, a flag officer (French: Officier général, "general officer") is the naval equivalent of a General Officer of the army or air force, and comprises the ranks of Commodore, Rear-Admiral, Vice-Admiral, and Admiral. A flag officer's rank is denoted by a wide strip of gold braid on the cuff of the service dress tunic; one to four gold maple leafs over crossed sword and baton, all beneath a royal crown, on slip-ons or epaulets; and two rows of gold oak leaves on the peak of the service cap.

United Kingdom

In the Royal Navy there is a distinction between "flag officer" and "officer of flag rank". All rear admirals and above are officers of flag rank, but only those officers of flag rank who are authorised to fly a flag are called "flag officers", and have different flags for different ranks of Admiral. Thus, of the 39 officers of flag rank in the Royal Navy in 2006, very few are "flag officers" with entitlement to fly a flag. For example, Commander-in-Chief Fleet flies an admiral's flag whether ashore or afloat and is, therefore, a "flag officer"; his chief of staff (support), a rear admiral, is not entitled to fly a flag and is, therefore, only an "officer of flag rank".

In United Kingdom usage, equivalent ranks in the British Army and Royal Marines are called general officers, and those in the Royal Air Force are called air officers

United States

In the 19th century, flag officer was also an actual rank of the United States Navy and, during the American Civil War, the Confederate Navy. The rank of flag officer was bestowed on senior Navy captains who were assigned to lead a squadron of vessels in addition to command of their own ship. The 19th century rank of flag officer was considered strictly temporary and became obsolete upon the creation and widespread usage of the equivalent naval rank of commodore.

"Flag officer" currently refers to officers O-7 (rear admiral lower half) and above. In the United States, all flag officers must be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate; each subsequent promotion requires renomination and reapproval.

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