Nato Flag Officer Assignments

A flag officer is a commissioned officer in a nation's armed forces senior enough to be entitled to fly a flag to mark the position from which the officer exercises command.

The term is used differently in different countries:

  • In many countries, a flag officer is a senior officer of the navy, specifically those who hold any of the admiral ranks; the term may or may not include the rank of commodore.
  • In some countries, such as Bangladesh, the United States, Pakistan and India, it may apply to all armed forces, not just the navy. This means generals can also be considered flag officers.
  • In most Arab armies, liwa (Arabic: لواء), which can be translated as flag officer, is a specific rank, equivalent to a major general. However, "ensign" is debatably a more exact translation of the word. In principle, a flag officer commands several units called "flags" (or "ensigns") (i.e. brigades).

General usage[edit]

The generic title of flag officer is used in several modern navies and coast guards 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).

A flag officer sometimes is a junior officer, called a flag lieutenant or flag adjutant, attached as a personal adjutant or aide-de-camp.


In the Canadian Forces, a flag officer (French: officier général, "general officer") is an admiral, vice-admiral, rear-admiral, or commodore, the naval equivalent of a general officer of the army or air force. It is a somewhat counterintuitive usage of the term, as only flag officers in command of commands or formations actually have their own flags (technically a commodore has only a broad pennant, not a flag), and army and air force generals in command of commands or formations also have their own flags, but are not called flag officers. Base commanders, usually full colonels, also have a pennant that flies from the mast or flagpole on the base, when resident, or on vehicles that carry them.[1]

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 leaves over a crossed sword and baton, all beneath a royal crown, on epaulettes and shoulder boards; and two rows of gold oak leaves on the peak of the service cap.[2] Since the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968, a flag officer's dress tunic had a single broad stripe on the sleeve and epaulettes. On May 5, 2010, however, the naval uniform dark dress tunic was adjusted—exterior epaulettes were removed, reverting to the sleeve ring and executive curl-rank insignia used by most navies; commodores' uniforms display a broad stripe, and each succeeding rank receives an additional sleeve ring. There are no epaulettes on the exterior of the tunic, but they are still worn on the uniform shirt underneath.[3]


In India, it is applied to brigadiers, major generals, lieutenant generals and generals in the Army (and their equivalents in the Navy and Air Force). The equivalents are commodore, rear admiral, vice admiral and admiral in the Navy and air commodore, air vice marshal, air marshal and air chief marshal in the Air Force.[clarification needed] Each of these category of flag officers is designated with a specific flag. India's honorary ranks (five star ranks) are field marshal in the Army, marshal of the Indian Air Force in the Air Force and admiral of the fleet in the Navy.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the Royal Navy, there is a distinction between the "flag officer" and "officer of flag" ranks. Formerly all officers promoted to flag rank were considered to be "flag officers"[4] and the term is still widely used to refer to any officer of flag rank. Present usage is that 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 formally called "flag officers", and have different flags for different ranks of admiral. Of the 39 officers of flag rank in the Royal Navy in 2006, very few were "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 a "flag officer"; the chief of staff (support), a rear admiral, is not entitled to fly a flag and is an "officer of flag rank" rather than a "flag officer". List of fleets and major commands of the Royal Navy lists most admirals who were "flag officers". A flag officer's junior officer is often known as "Flags".[citation needed]

Equivalent ranks in the British Army and Royal Marines are called general officer rather than flag officers, and those in the Royal Air Force (as well as the rank of air commodore) are called air officers, although all are entitled to fly flags of rank.

United States[edit]

See also: Admiral (United States) § History

Captain was the highest rank in the United States Navy from its beginning in 1775 until 1857, when Congress created the temporary rank of Flag Officer, which gave way to Commodore and Rear Admiral in 1862. 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.[5] During the American Civil War, the Confederate States Navy also used the term. 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; however, the term is still in use today, explicitly defined as an officer of the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard serving in or having the grade of admiral, vice admiral, rear admiral, or rear admiral (lower half), [6] equivalent to general officers of an army. In 1862 Congress authorized the use of the title "admiral."

In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, the term "flag officer" generally is applied to all general officers authorized to fly their own command flags—i.e., brigadier general, or pay grade O-7, and above.[7][8] However, as a matter of law, Title 10 of the United States Code makes a distinction between general officers and flag officers.[6] Non-naval officers usually fly their flags from their headquarters, vessels, or vehicles, typically only for the most senior officer present.[9][10] In the United States all flag and general officers must be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate; each subsequent promotion requires renomination and re-approval. For the Navy, each flag officer assignment is usually limited to a maximum of two years, followed by either reassignment, promotion and reassignment, or retirement.[11]


  1. ^Canada – National Defence: A-AD-200-000/AG-000 The Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces, Chapter 14, Section 3.
  2. ^Canada - National Defence: "Navy Rank and Appointment Insignia: NavyArchived 2011-08-20 at WebCite"
  3. ^Note: The referenced website, above, has not yet been updated to reflect the change as of July 9, 2010.
  4. ^See e.g.King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions Volume I 1913., §192
  5. ^"Naval History and Heritage Command - Navy Captain". 13 May 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2016. 
  6. ^ ab§101 of Title 10, US Code on
  7. ^Offenhauer, Priscilla. "General and flag officer authorizations for the active and reserve components: A comparative and historical analysis"(PDF). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, December 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  8. ^Kapp, Lawrence. General and Flag Officers in the U.S. Armed Forces: Background and Considerations for Congress, Congressional Research Service, February 18, 2016.
  9. ^Army Regulation 840-10, Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards, and Automobile and Aircraft PlatesArchived 2010-06-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^Department of the Army Institute of Heraldry website on General Officer FlagsArchived 2008-06-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^Chief of Naval Operations. Navy Military Personnel Assignment Policy, 2006, pg 6

External links[edit]

Flag of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army

Lieutenant-General António Fontes Ramos was born on 3rd July 1944 and joined the Portuguese Military Academy in 1961 graduating in 1964. He spent his junior officer's years as a platoon commander and instructor at the Infantry School.

In 1969, as a Captain, he was posted in Mozambique as a commanding officer of an Infantry Company operating in several operational zones until 1971. Upon his return and following a brief detachment as an instructor at the Military Academy, he attended the Staff Course from 1971 to 1974.

From November 1974 to March 1976, Lt General Fontes Ramos served as Staff Officer at the Territorial Command of East Timor. His next assignment was at the Portuguese Staff College as a professor of Intelligence and Strategic Studies. From June 1978 to June 1979 he attended the Command and General Staff Course at Fort Leavenworth and was promoted to the rank of Major during the Course. He returned to the Portuguese Staff College where he remained until August 1981.

From 1981 to 1984, still as a Major, he was posted at SHAPE as Staff Officer at the Intelligence Division. From October 1984 to June 1986 he served as Operations Officer of the First Mechanised Brigade having been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1985.

From July 1986 to 1991 his assignments included the post of Deputy Commander of the First Infantry Regiment, co-ordinator of staff procedures and tactics at the Staff College, and Commander of a Mechanised Battalion.

From June 1991 to December 1992, and as a Colonel, Lt General Fontes Ramos was posted in Angola as Chief of Staff of the Portuguese Mission to the Peace Process Agreements.

From December 1992 to August 1995, he was appointed Army ACOS for Operations and attended the Flag Officers Course in 1995/96. He then became Head of the Staff College Strategic Studies Department.

Upon his promotion to the rank of Major General, in January 1997, he became Assistant Inspector of the Army and in April 1997 he was appointed the Army Head of Personnel a post he held until he was nominated Military Representative to NATO Military Committee. He promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in June 26, 2000.

Lieutenant General Fontes Ramos attended several NATO courses, including the Staff Officers Course at Oberammergau, the Intelligence Course for ACE officers as Asford, ant the Third Mediterranean General/Flag Officer's Course at the NATO Defence College.

He is married to Isabel and they have two adult children: António Pedro and Ana Isabel.

Other NATO-related activities

  • Army Delegate in several NATO committees (Intelligence, Operations).
  • Lecturer on intelligence matters during the 1981/84 period at NATO School of Oberammergau.
  • Chairman for the MC 255 update in 1985 and 1987.
  • Head of the Portuguese task Force for the NATO Ministers of Defence Informal Meeting in Vilamoura in 1998.

Major awards and decorations

  • First class War Cross
  • Six Distinguished Service Silver Medals
  • Commander of the Military Order of Avis
  • Meritorious Service Medal
  • D. Afonso Henriques Medal (1st class)

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