United States Navy
The United States Navy (USN) is the branch of the United
States armed forces responsible for conducting naval operations around the
globe. For almost the entire existence of the United States, the U.S. Navy has
protected American interests and supported American policies through the use of
sea power. 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 numbers nearly 500,000 men and
women on active or ready reserve duty and consists of 281 ships and over 4,000
The United States Navy can trace its origins to the
Continental Navy, which was established during the American Revolutionary War,
but was disbanded not long afterwards in the year 1790. The 1789 ratification of
the United States Constitution supported the existence of a standing navy by
giving Congress the right "to provide and maintain a navy." Following conflict
with Barbary Coast corsairs, Congress enacted this right in 1794 by ordering the
construction and manning of six frigates, thus establishing a permanent U.S.
navy. The U.S. Navy came into international prominence in the 20th century,
especially during World War II. The navy was a part of the conflict from the
very beginning of American involvement to the very end of the war, and proved to
be a vital element in the success of the Allies. It was also heavily involved in
the subsequent Cold War, in which the U.S. Navy participated in Vietnam War
operations and roamed the seas with carrier battle groups, minesweeping patrol
squadrons and submarines in support of allies.
The 21st century United States Navy maintains its presence
in the world as an instrument of American policy. Its ability to project force
anywhere on the globe is a key asset for U.S. leaders. Despite decreases in the
number of ships and personnel following the Cold War, the U.S. Navy remains the
worlds largest navy with a tonnage greater than 17 of the next largest world
navies combined. In addition, the decrease in size has been negated by the
Navy's focus on advanced technological capabilities and a high degree of
spending relative to other nations.
Flag of the U.S. Navy
In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, the
establishment of an official navy was heavily discussed 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 Royal Navy, then the world's
preeminent naval power, was a foolish undertaking. Furthermore, they stated that
a true break from Britain was not yet certain; the existence of a navy implied
independence and would work against any future attempts at reconciliation. Two
events would ultimately end the debate in favor of a navy. The first occurred on
October 5, 1775, when Congress received word that two unarmed British supply
ships were heading towards Quebec from England without escort. Plans were made
to intercept the ships, but the armed vessels to be used were owned by
individual colonies and not the Continental Congress. Of greater significance,
then, was an additional plan for the equipping of two ships that would be the
first to operate under the authority of Congress and whose mission would be to
attack British shipping far from the shore. The plan was not carried out until a
second key event on October 13, 1775. On this day, Congress received
correspondence from George Washington, who announced that he had established
three armed schooners under Continental authority to intercept any British
supply ships near Massachusetts. With three armed ships already under
Continental control, the decision to add two more was made easier for the
Continental Congress delegates and the plan was ratified. Thus, the Continental
Navy was officially established that day in Philadelphia. The legislation
also established a three-member Naval Committee to supervise the work. The
Continental Navy operated some 50 ships over the course of the war, primarily in
an anti-shipping and raiding role. American ships were not meant to do battle
with opposing British men-of-war and such engagements were avoided as much as
possible. After the war, as attention turned towards securing the western border
of the new United States, a standing navy was deemed less important and within a
span of two years, a cash-strapped Congress sold the surviving ships and
released the seamen and officers
The United States would be without a navy for over a decade
and the impetus to reestablish one came about not because of a threat from a
sovereign country, but from pirates. In response to attacks on American shipping
by corsairs from the Barbary Coast, Congress ordered the construction and
manning of six frigates on March 27, 1794. Three years later the first three
were welcomed into service: USS United States, USS Constellation and USS
Constitution. The U.S. Navy would perform admirably in the War of 1812, where it
defeated rival British frigates on more than one occasion and emerged victorious
in 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.
USS Constitution battles HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812.
Naval power had a significant role during the American
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 entire 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. After
the war, however, the U.S. Navy slipped into obsolescence. A modernization
program beginning in the 1880s brought the U.S. into the first rank of the
world's navies by the beginning of the 20th century.
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 in the Allies' successful "island hopping" campaign. Some famous
World War II battles in which the US Navy participated are the Battle of Midway,
the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. By war's end in
1945, the United States Navy had added hundreds of new ships, including 18
aircraft carriers and 8 battleships.
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 heavily participated in the Vietnam
War and, through the use of ballistic missile submarines, became an important
aspect of the United States' nuclear strategic deterrence policy. The collapse
of the Soviet Union in 1991 predictably led to budget cuts, but the U.S. Navy
stayed committed to establishing and maintaining technologic superiority.
The United States Navy in the 21st century continues to
progress as it supports the United States-led War on Terrorism. The focus has
shifted from a large-scale naval conflict with the Soviet Union to special
operations and strike missions in support of regional conflicts. The Navy
participated in Operation Enduring Freedom and the Iraq War largely in this
capacity. Development continues on new ships and weapons, including the CVN-21
aircraft carrier and the Littoral combat ship. Due to its size, weapons
technology, and ability to project force far from American shores, the current
U.S. Navy remains one of the most potent assets for the United States
The Navy is administered by the Department of the Navy, led
by the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV). The senior naval officer, the Chief of
Naval Operations (CNO), is the 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 the Navy is ready
for operation under the command of the Unified Combatant Commanders.
The names of commissioned ships of the U.S. Navy start with
USS, meaning '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 designate a 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, and 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
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 it
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 since been decommissioned.
The U.S. Navy began to research the use of aircraft at sea
in the 1910s and commissioned the very 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-18 Hornet and its newer cousin the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
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. As unmanned objects, missiles also 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 AGM-84 Harpoon. 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 also being developed as a component for 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 various types of
torpedoes and mines.
The primary offensive aircraft of the U.S. Navy are the
F/A-18C/D Hornet and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. They 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 dogfighting.
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 aircraft deployed weapons.
The U.S. Navy is capable of deploying nuclear weapons
through two means: 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 Navys 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
Navy SEALs undergo Vessel Boarding Search and Seizure
The major players in U.S. Navy special operations are Navy
SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCCs, pronounced swicks).
The SEALs take 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 elite warriors who are trained to conduct clandestine warfare in any
setting, most often in small-unit actions. What sets them apart from other
special warfare units in the United States military is their expertise in
maritime operations striking from and returning to the sea. Working in
conjunction with the SEALs are the SWCCs, who are the elite small ship and
watercraft operators 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.
Protection of naval assets and coastal and harbor defense
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 security and surveillance water
craft for interdiction and surveillance.
Commissioned officers belong to one of the following
Unrestricted line: Surface Warfare, Aviation Warfare,
Submarine Warfare, Special Warfare, Nuclear
Restricted line: Engineering Duty, Aerospace Engineering
Duty, Aerospace Maintenance Duty, Cryptologic, Naval Intelligence, Public
Affairs, Meteorology and Oceanography, Information Professional, Human Resource
Staff corps: Several staff corps are maintained which
augment the line community and whose personnel are assigned to both line and
staff commands. Members of the Staff Corps are specialists in fields that are
themselves professional careers and not exclusive to the military, for example
physicians and lawyers. Staff Corps officers wear distinct insignia on their
uniforms to indicate their specialty.
Navy Dental Corps
Navy Chaplain Corps
Navy Civil Engineer Corps (includes the Seabees)
Navy Judge Advocate General (also known as JAG)
Navy Medical Corps
Navy Medical Service Corps
Navy Nurse Corps
Navy Supply Corps
The term "line" officer means someone who may command a
warship or an aviation unit. It is a carryover from the 18th-century British
tactic of employing warships in a "line" to take advantage of cannons on each
side of the ship. The captains of such vessels commanded "ships of the line."
Today, all Navy line officers wear a star on the sleeves of uniforms near the
cuff braid that denotes rank. Staff officers wear different insignias. Note:
Marine Corps officers, also part of the Department of the Navy, are all
considered "line" officers because they are qualified as troop commanders in
addition to their specialties.
Commissioned officers originate from the United States
Naval Academy, Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC), Officer Candidate
School (OCS), direct commission, and other commissioning programs (such as
Seaman to Admiral-21 and Limited Duty Officer programs).
Enlisted members of the Navy have paygrades from E-1 to
E-9. Enlisted members with superior performance may be advanced in paygrade. Two
notably significant advancements are Seaman to Petty Officer Third Class (E-3 to
E-4) and Petty Officer First Class to Chief Petty Officer (E-6 to E-7).
Advancement to Chief Petty Officer is especially significant, marked by a
special initiation ceremony.
All new active-duty enlisted members receive basic training
("boot camp") at the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois. Those
who have a contract for a specific rating continue onto "A" schools for training
in the rating. Those who don't have a specific rating go into the fleet to learn
on the job and later strike for a rating. Some members may go to additonal
training in a "C" school either before a tour of duty, or after a tour of duty.
A "C" school assigns a member a Navy Enlisted Classification code, or NEC, which
shows that a sailor is able to perform a specific task requiring that NEC, such
as NEC 2780 - Network Security Vulnerablity Technician.
Enlisted members of paygrades E-4 and above are said to be
"rated" and have a rating: an occupational specialty. As of June 2005, there are
more than 50 ratings, including Boatswain's Mate, Quartermaster, Engineman,
Damage Controlman, Electronics Technician, Information Systems Technician, Air
Traffic Controller, Fire Control Technician, Gunner's Mate, Sonar Technician,
Construction Mechanic, Hospital Corpsman, Yeoman, Disbursing Clerk, Culinary
Specialist, Photographer's Mate, Musician, Master-at-Arms, Aviation Electronics
Technician, and Cryptologic Technician. Some ratings have subspecialties
acquired either through an initial "A" school for training (such as Cryptologic
Technician Technical and Cryptologic Technician Collection) or through a
separate "C" school (such as Aviation Electronics Technician Organizational and
Aviation Electronics Technician Intermediate.)
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.
Launched in 2003 as part of the Navy's Sea Power 21
transformation plan, Sea Warrior is intended to link the fleet's personnel
processes (recruiting, training, and assigning) with acquisition processes
(buying ships, aircraft, etc.) in a way that also improves each individual
sailor's ability to guide his or her own career in a satisfying direction. The
aim is to more efficiently muster the right number of sailors with the right
skills and seniority at each ship, squadron, and duty station.
Sea Warrior is led by the Chief of Naval Personnel, and the
commander of the Naval Education and Training Command.
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.
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.
First and Current U.S. Naval Jack
Former U.S. Naval Jack
Navy sailors are trained in the core values of Honor,
Courage and Commitment. Sailors cope with boredom on long cruises of six
months to a year, and cherish their time in their home ports, as well as liberty
at ports overseas.
The current naval jack of the United States is the First
Navy Jack, which was first 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 32323 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 main mast.
A distinct jargon has developed among sailors over the
course of the last four centuries. Naval jargon is spoken by American sailors as
a normal part of their daily speech.
There are three distinct components of Naval jargon:
Words that are unique to sailing and have no use in
standard English, such as yardarm, bow, and stern. Archaic English that remains
common in naval jargon, such as "aye" (the common English word for "Yes" until
the 16th century), "Fo'c'sle" (from Fore Castle), and Bo'sun (from "Boat Swain",
swain being Middle English for a young man or a servant).
Modern jargon, such as "Bird" to refer to missiles, or 1MC
Notable U.S. Navy people
John Paul Jones, America's first well-known navy hero.
Main article: List of United States Navy people
Many past and present United States historical figures have
served in the Navy. Notable officers include Commodore Matthew Perry, who fully
opened Tokugawa-era Japan to the West, and Chester Nimitz, Admiral of the
Pacific Fleet in World War II. A number of former Presidents were in the Navy as
well, including John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. 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
Official U.S. Navy Website
Department of the Navy Website
Navy Knowledge Online
Naval Open Source Intelligence (NOSI) a digital library of
world naval operational news, curated from open source intelligence, and
intended to serve as a source of continuing education on naval and military
U.S. Navy in WW II a web site devoted to the U.S. navy in
the Pacific theater during World War II
Globalsecurity.org Navy section
United States Naval Academy
Badges of the United States Navy
Military awards of the United States Department of the Navy
Eternal Father Strong to Save (the U.S. Navy hymn)
Seabees (U.S. Navy Construction Battalions)
Navy Hospital Corpsmen
List of active Navy ships, sorted by homeport
List of escort aircraft carriers of the United States Navy
List of units of the United States Navy
List of United States Navy ratings
Limited Duty Officer
Restricted Line Officer
Unrestricted Line Officer
NavSource Naval History - Photographic History Of The U.S.
Navy a source of thousands of photographs of U.S. Navy ships.
Maritimequest U.S. Battleship photo gallery
The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy In World War II
Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports regarding the
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