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USN n : the navy of the United States of America; maintains and trains and equips combat-ready naval forces [syn: United States Navy, US Navy]

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Extensive Definition

The United States Navy (USN) is the branch of the United States armed forces responsible for conducting naval operations and is one of seven uniformed services. The U.S. Navy currently has over 335,000 personnel on active duty and 128,000 in the Navy Reserve. It operates 280 ships in active service and more than 3,700 aircraft.
The United States Navy traces its origins to the Continental Navy, which was established during the American Revolutionary War and was disbanded shortly thereafter. The United States Constitution provided the legal 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 by passing the Naval Act of 1794 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. 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. In the subsequent Cold War, the U.S. Navy 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 sizable 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 defense policy. The United States Navy is the largest in the world with a tonnage greater than that of the next 17 largest combined, and has a budget of $127.3 billion for the 2007 fiscal year. The US Navy also possesses the world's largest carrier fleet, with 11 carriers in service and 2 under construction.
The Navy is administratively managed by the Department of the Navy, which is headed by the civilian Secretary of the Navy. The Department of the Navy is, itself, a division of the Department of Defense, which is headed by the Secretary of Defense. The highest ranking Naval officer is the Chief of Naval Operations.



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. 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 vessels, but it lost 24 shipsand at one point was reduced to two in active service. 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. By war's end in 1945, the United States Navy had added hundreds of new ships, including 18 aircraft carriers and 8 battleships, and had over 70% of the world's total numbers and total tonnage of naval vessels of 1,000 tons or greater.
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 conducted various combat operations in the Persian Gulf against Iran in 1987 and 1988, most notably Operation Praying Mantis. The Navy was extensively involved in Operation Urgent Fury, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, the Bosnia and Kosovo campaigns, Operation Desert Fox, and Operation Southern Watch.

21st century

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 President of the United States).
In 2007, the U.S. Navy joined with the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard to adopt a new maritime strategy called A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower that raises the notion of prevention of war to the same philosophical level as the conduct of war. The strategy was presented by the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Commandant of the Coast Guard at the International Seapower Symposium in Newport, R.I. on October 17, 2007. The strategy recognized the economic links of the global system and how any disruption due to regional crises – manmade or natural – can adversely impact the U.S. economy and quality of life. This new strategy charts a course for the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps to work collectively with each other and international partners to prevent these crises from occurring or reacting quickly should one occur to avoid negative impacts to the United States.


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), a four-star admiral who is immediately under and reports to 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 United States 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 publicized, groups of ships departing U.S. waters for operational missions gain a Task force type designation, almost always with the Second or Third Fleets. On entry into another numbered fleet's area of responsibility, they are redesignated as a task group from that fleet. For example, a carrier task group departing the Eastern Seaboard for the Mediterranean might start out as Task Group 20.1; on entry into the Mediterranean, it might become Task Group 60.1.
The United States Navy has five active numbered fleets — Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh — that are each led by a three-star Vice Admiral. These five fleets are further grouped under Fleet Forces Command (the former Atlantic Fleet), Pacific Fleet, Naval Forces Europe, and Naval Forces Central Command, whose commander also doubles as Commander Fifth Fleet; these four commands are led by four-star full Admirals. The First Fleet existed after the Second World War from 1947 at least, but it was redesignated Third Fleet in early 1973. In early 2008, the United States Navy reactivated the Fourth Fleet to control operations in the area controlled by Southern Command, which consists of U.S. assets in and around Central and South America.

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.

Naval Special Warfare Command

U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command was commissioned April 16, 1987, at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego, California. As the Naval component to the United States Special Operations Command headquartered in Tampa, Florida. Naval Special Warfare Command provides vision, leadership, doctrinal guidance, resources and oversight to ensure component maritime special operations forces are ready to meet the operational requirements of combatant commanders. The NSW has 5,400 total active-duty personnel, including 2,450 SEALs and 600 Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen. NSW also calls upon a 1,200-person reserve of approximately 325 SEALs, 125 SWCC and 775 support personnel.

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, separate service branch and not a subset of the Navy; the highest ranking Marine officer, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, does not report to a Navy officer. Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients are awarded the Navy variant and Marines are eligible to receive the Navy Cross. The United States Naval Academy trains Marine Corps commissioned officers while 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 strike-fighter air squadrons operate alongside Navy strike-fighter air squadrons from aircraft carriers, though they frequently have distinct missions and rarely fly sorties together; except to directly support Marine ground troops. Other types of Marine air squadrons operate from amphibious assault ships in support of Marine amphibious operations. The USMC does not train chaplains, Religious Programs Specialists and 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, Religious Program Specialists, and chaplains enjoy a great sense of camaraderie with the Marines due in part because they work closely with them and often are embedded with Marine units. They operate under the command of the Marine Corps under the auspices of the Fleet Marine Force, often called "green side" corpsman.
The Navy and Marine Corps also share many aspects of naval culture, to include naval terminology (slang and jargon), as well as many traditions.

United States Coast Guard

Although the Posse Comitatus Act applies only to the Army and Air Force, Department of Defense rules effectively require the Navy and Marine Corps to act as if Posse Comitatus did apply, preventing them from enforcing the law. The United States Coast Guard fulfills this role in naval operations. It provides Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) to Navy vessels, where they perform arrests and other law enforcement duties during Navy boarding and interdiction missions. In times of war, or when directed by the President, the Coast Guard operates as a service in the Navy and is subject to the orders of the Secretary of the Navy until it is transferred back to the Department of Homeland Security. 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.


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 United States Naval Academy (who are on active duty) and NROTC units at over 180 universities around the country. The honor was also significant because at that time, the United States Navy had no living admirals. 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, the Limited Duty Officer Selection Program, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
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 warfighting command element and are authorized to lead ships, aviation squadrons, and special operations units. Restricted Line Officers, on the other hand, concentrate on non-combat related fields, such as engineering and maintenance; 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.
Up until Fiscal Year 2005, all officers entering the U.S. Navy are awarded a Reserve commission (they are commissioned as Ensign, United States Navy Reserve). Legislation was signed that all Reserve Officers on Active Duty, designated by a "5" in the last digit of the designator, would be converted over to a regular Navy commission by close of Fiscal Year 2006.

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 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 sailors

Enlisted members of the Navy have pay grades from E-1 to E-9, with E-9 being the highest. All enlisted sailors with paygrades of E-4 and higher are considered Petty Officers 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 paygrade; 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 be "strikers," meaning they have the same rating designation as a Petty Officer in their field (example: a BM3 is a Petty Officer Third Class rated as a Boatswain's Mate; BMSN is a Seaman designated as a Boatswain's Mate striker), but do not necessarily have to be. Whether a designated striker or not, personnel in the pay grades of E-3 and below are all considered "Non-Rates." There are more than 50 ratings covering a broad range of skills and subspecialties.

Uniforms and appearance

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 most utilitarian 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 (102 mm) 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.


The size, complexity, and international presence of the United States Navy require a large number of navy 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 facilities farther inland and abroad, either in U.S.-controlled territories or in foreign countries under a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Eastern United States

The largest concentration of installations is in Hampton Roads, Virginia, where the Navy occupies over 36,000 acres (146 km²) of land, making it the largest naval base in the world. It is 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. The state of Florida is the location of three major bases, Naval Station Mayport, the Navy's third largest, near Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, a Master Air Anti-submarine Warfare base, and Naval Air Station Pensacola, the primary training base for Navy and Marine pilots, naval flight officers and aircrew personnel. The main U.S. Navy submarine bases are located in Groton, Connecticut and Kings Bay, Georgia. There are also two other naval bases in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Brunswick, Maine.

Western United States and Hawaii

The Navy's second-largest complex is located in San Diego in Southern California. An important port for the Pacific Fleet, it contains the Naval Special Warfare Center, the main training center for SEALs. The other major collection of naval bases on the west coast is in Puget Sound, Washington. Among them, Naval Station Everett is one of the newer bases in operation and the Navy states that it is its most modern facility. The naval presence in Hawaii is centered on Pearl Harbor, which hosts the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet and many of its subordinate commands.

United States territories

Guam, an island strategically located in the Western Pacific Ocean, maintains a sizable Navy presence. The westernmost U.S. territory, it contains a Naval Air Station and a natural deep water harbor capable of harboring even aircraft carriers in emergencies. Puerto Rico in the Caribbean formerly housed a navy facility, but it was shut down in 2004 shortly after the controversial closure of the live ordnance training area on nearby Vieques Island.

Foreign countries

The largest overseas base is in Yokosuka, Japan, which serves as the homeport for the Navy's largest forward-deployed fleet and is a significant base of operations in the Western Pacific. European operations revolve around facilities in Italy and Greece with Naples, Italy as the homeport for the Sixth Fleet. In the Middle East, naval facilities are located almost exclusively in countries bordering the Persian Gulf, with Manama, Bahrain serving as the headquarters of Fifth Fleet. Guantánamo Bay in Cuba is the oldest overseas facility and has become known in recent years as the location of a detention camp for suspected al-Qaeda operatives.


The names of commissioned ships of the U.S. Navy start with "USS", designating 'United States Ship'. Non-commissioned, civilian-manned vessels of the Navy have names that begin with "USNS", standing for 'United States Naval Ship'. The names of ships are officially selected by the Secretary of the Navy, often to honor important people or places. Additionally, each ship is given a letter-based hull classification symbol (for example CVN or DDG) to indicate the vessel's type and a hull number. All ships in the 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 Navy also maintains a reserve fleet of inactive vessels that are maintained for reactivation in times of need.
The 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

Due to their ability to put most nations within striking distance of U.S. air power, aircraft carriers are 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 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. Carrier air wings also protect friendly forces, conduct electronic warfare, assist in special operations, and carry out search and rescue missions. The carriers themselves, in addition to enabling airborne operations, serve as command platforms for large battle groups or multinational task forces.
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 have been named for 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.

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 comprises land forces instead of aircraft. They deliver, command, coordinate, and fully support all elements of a 2200-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 (LCAC) 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.
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 (2 in commission, 3 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 (LCACs), 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.

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 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). 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 .
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. Some 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.
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 were named for states.


The primary missions of submarines in the U.S. Navy are peacetime engagement, surveillance and intelligence, special operations, precision strikes, battlegroup 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 converted into guided missile submarines.
  • Los Angeles class (45 in commission, 17 decommissioned) — attack submarines
  • Seawolf class (3 in commission) — attack submarines
  • Virginia class (4 in commission, 5 under construction or ordered, at least 9 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 , which sank in 1863 while being towed during a storm and never saw combat. The submarine , commissioned in 1954, was the first nuclear-powered warship in the world. It demonstrated its capabilities by traveling , more than half of which was submerged, in two years before having to refuel while breaking the record for longest submerged voyage. 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.


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 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. For anti-ship strikes, the Navy's dedicated missile 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 employs Mark 46 and Mark 50 torpedoes and various types of mines.
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 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 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/A, and GAU-17/A.
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 the United States Navy SEALs and the 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. Their distinguishing specialty, however, is maritime operations—striking from and returning to the sea.The SEALs are a flexible group of naval Special Forces who are trained to conduct clandestine warfare, most often in small-unit actions.
SWCCs are trained in small ship and watercraft special operations and often work closely with their SEAL counterparts. Organized into Special Boat Teams, SWCCs have expertise in inserting and extracting SEALs in hostile territory, coastal patrol and surveillance, and boarding and searching vessels.

Naval special operations groups

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 seven operational entities: four Special Warfare Groups, the Special Warfare Development Group, the Operational Support 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 FOUR comprises all of the Navy's Special Boat Teams.
  • The U.S. Naval 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 Operational Support Group is the reserve element of NSWC, providing support to active units when necessary.
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.

Naval Expeditionary Combat Command

Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), established in January 2006, serves as the single functional command for the Navy's expeditionary forces and as central management for the readiness, resources, manning, training and equipping of those forces.
NECC consolidates, aligns and integrates diverse expeditionary capabilities and combat support elements to create consistent expeditionary practices, procedures, requirements and logistics in the battle space. NECC’s enterprise approach will yield improved efficiencies and effectiveness through economies of scale and common processes.
NECC is a command element and force provider for integrated maritime expeditionary missions. NECC is a core expeditionary force providing effective waterborne and ashore anti-terrorism, force protection, theater security cooperation and engagement, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief contingencies. Upon request, NECC supplements Coast Guard homeland security requirements while training and equipping forces to support mission requirements.
NECC capabilities include; Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Maritime Expeditionary Security, Riverine, Diving Operations, Naval Construction, Maritime Civil Affairs, Expeditionary Training, Expeditionary Logistics, Expeditionary Intelligence, Combat Camera, Expeditionary Combat Readiness, and Maritime Expeditionary Security.
The Maritime Expeditionary Security Force’s (MESF) (formerly known as Naval Coastal Warfare) primary mission is force protection conducted through fleet support with operations around the world. Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection missions include harbor and homeland defense, coastal surveillance, and special missions. Specialized units work together with MESF squadron staffs providing intelligence and communications. MESF units deploy worldwide to detect, deter, and defend an area, unit, or High Value Asset. Recent locations include the United States, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.
Two Maritime Expeditionary Security Groups in San Diego and Portsmouth, Va. provide centralized planning, control, training, coordination, equipping, and integration of coastal warfare assets trained to operate in high density, multi-threat environments. Units conduct force protection of strategic shipping and naval vessels operating in the inshore and coastal assets, anchorages and harbors, from bare beach to sophisticated port facilities.
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 provide force protection for high value naval targets 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 comprise 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, traditionally regarded as having been 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. Currently, USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) holds that honor.
Over the course of the United States Navy's 207-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 John Paul Jones, James Lawrence, whose last words "Don't give up the ship" are memorialized in Bancroft Hall at the US Naval Academy, Oliver Hazard Perry, 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, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. Both Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt were the Assistant Secretary of the Navy prior to their Presidencies. 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 such as David Robinson and Roger Staubach.


External links

USN in Arabic: بحرية أمريكية
USN in Azerbaijani: ABŞ hərbi donanması
USN in Bulgarian: Военноморски сили на Съединените американски щати
USN in Czech: Námořnictvo Spojených států
USN in Danish: United States Navy
USN in German: United States Navy
USN in Spanish: Armada de los Estados Unidos
USN in Persian: نیروی دریایی آمریکا
USN in French: United States Navy
USN in Galician: Armada dos Estados Unidos
USN in Korean: 미국 해군
USN in Croatian: Ratna mornarica SAD-a
USN in Indonesian: Angkatan Laut Amerika Serikat
USN in Italian: United States Navy
USN in Hebrew: הצי האמריקני
USN in Hungarian: Az Amerikai Egyesült Államok Haditengerészete
USN in Dutch: United States Navy
USN in Japanese: アメリカ海軍
USN in Norwegian: United States Navy
USN in Polish: Marynarka Wojenna Stanów Zjednoczonych
USN in Portuguese: Marinha dos Estados Unidos da América
USN in Russian: Военно-морские силы США
USN in Simple English: United States Navy
USN in Slovak: United States Navy
USN in Slovenian: Vojna mornarica Združenih držav Amerike
USN in Finnish: Yhdysvaltain laivasto
USN in Swedish: USA:s flotta
USN in Vietnamese: Hải quân Hoa Kỳ
USN in Turkish: Amerikan Donanması
USN in Yiddish: אמעריקאנער פלאט
USN in Chinese: 美國海軍
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