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Commander is a naval rank which is also sometimes used as a military title depending on the individual customs of a given military service. Commander is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the armed forces, particularly in police and law enforcement.

Commander as a naval rank

Commander is a rank used in many navies and some air forces but is very rarely used as a rank in armies, but is a common rank in special forces as it refers to a team leader. The title (originally "master and commander") originated in the 18th century to describe naval officers who commanded ships of war too large to be commanded by a Lieutenant but too small to warrant the assignment of a post-captain. In practice, these were usually unrated sloops-of-war of no more than 20 guns. The Royal Navy shortened "master and commander" to "commander" in 1794; however, the term "master and commander" remained (unofficially) in common parlance for several years.[1] A corresponding rank in some navies is frigate captain. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the rank has been assigned the NATO rank code of OF-4.

Royal Navy

Insignia of a Royal Navy commander

A commander in the Royal Navy is above the rank of lieutenant-commander, below the rank of captain, and is equivalent in rank to a lieutenant colonel in the army. A commander may command a frigate, destroyer, submarine, aviation squadron or shore installation, or may serve on a staff.

Royal Australian Navy

A commander in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is identical in description to a commander in the British Royal Navy. RAN chaplains who are Division 1, 2 and 3 (of 5 divisions) have the equivalent rank standing of commanders. This means that to officers and NCOs below the rank of commander, major or squadron leader, the chaplain is a commander. To those officers ranked higher than commander, the chaplain is subordinate. Although this equivalency exists, RAN chaplains who are Division 1, 2 and 3 do not actually wear the rank of commander, and they hold no command privilege.

Royal Air Force

Since the British Royal Air Force's middle-ranking officers' designations are modelled after the Royal Navy's, the term wing commander is used as a rank and is equivalent to a lieutenant colonel in the army or commander in the navy. The rank is above squadron leader and below group captain.

In the now defunct Royal Naval Air Service, which amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in 1918, pilots held appointments as well as their normal Royal Navy ranks, and wore insignia appropriate to the appointment instead of the rank. Flight commander wore a star above a lieutenant's two rank stripes, squadron commander wore two stars above two rank stripes (less than eight years' seniority) or two-and-a-half rank stripes (over eight years seniority), and wing commander wore three rank stripes. The rank stripes had the usual Royal Navy curl, and were surmounted by an eagle.

Canadian Navy

United States

Polish Navy

The corresponding rank in the Polish Navy is Komandor porucznik.

Commander as a military appointment

British Army

In the British Army, the term "commander" is officially applied to the non-commissioned officer in charge of a section (section commander), vehicle (vehicle commander) or gun (gun commander), to the subaltern or captain commanding a platoon (platoon commander), or to the brigadier commanding a brigade (brigade commander). Other officers commanding units are usually referred to as the officer commanding (OC), commanding officer (CO), general officer commanding (GOC), or general officer commanding-in-chief (GOC-C), depending on rank and position, although the term "commander" may be applied to them informally.

In the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry commander is a rank equivalent to Major.

New Zealand Army

The usage is similar to the United States Army, with the term "commander" usually applying to very senior officers only, typically at divisional level (major general).

Spanish Armed Forces and Guardia Civil

In the Spanish Army, the Spanish Air Force and the Marine Infantry, the term commander is the literal translation of "comandante", the Spanish equivalent of a Commonwealth major. The Guardia Civil shares the Army ranks, and the officer commanding a house-garrison (usually a NCO or a lieutenant, depending on the size) is addressed as the "comandante de puesto" (post commander).

United States Army

In the United States Army, the term "commander" is officially applied to the commanding officer of army units; hence, there are company commanders, battalion commanders, brigade commanders, and so forth. At the highest levels of U.S. military command structure, "commander" also refers to what used to be called commander-in-chief, or CINC, until October 24, 2002, although the term CINC is still used in casual speech.

United States Air Force

In the Air Force, the term "commander" (abbreviated "CC" in office symbols, i.e. "OG/CC" for "operations group commander") is officially applied to the commanding officer of an Air Force unit; hence, there are flight commanders, squadron commanders, group commanders, wing commanders, and so forth. In rank, a flight commander is typically a lieutanant or captain, a squadron commander is typically a major or lieutenant colonel, a group commander is typically a colonel, and a wing commander is typically a senior colonel or a brigadier general.

An "aircraft commander" is also designated for all flights of United States Air Force aircraft. This individual must be a pilot and an officer that has graduated from an formal aircraft commander course and is designated on flight orders by the unit commander for that particular flight. This individual is in command of all military personnel on the aircraft regardless of rank (even individuals that out-rank the aircraft commander).

Commander as a non-military rank or title

NASA rank

In NASA spacecraft missions since the beginning of Project Gemini, one crew member on each spacecraft is designated as mission commander. The commander is the captain of the ship, and makes all real-time critical decisions on behalf of the crew and in coordination with the Mission Control Center (MCC).

Aviation rank

In aviation the flight captain is also known as the commander.

British police rank

Within the British police, commander is a chief officer rank in the two police forces responsible for law enforcement within London, the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police. In both forces, the rank is senior to chief superintendent, in the Metropolitan Police it is junior to Deputy Assistant Commissioner and in the City of London Police it is junior to assistant commissioner. In forces outside of London, the rank equates to assistant chief constable.

The Metropolitan Police introduced the rank in 1946, after they split the rank of deputy assistant commissioner with senior DACs keeping the rank and title with junior ones being regraded as commanders. The Metropolitan Police also had the rank of deputy commander, ranking just below that of commander, between 1946 and 1968. In addition, officers in charge of policing each of the London's boroughs are given the title "borough commander". However, such officers do not hold the actual rank of commander but instead hold the rank of chief superintendent. An exception to this is the Borough Commander of Westminster, who is actually a commander and not a chief superintendent due to the size, complexity and high-profile nature of the borough.

Australian police rank

In Australia, commander is a rank used by the Victorian,[2] Tasmanian, Western Australian,[3] and South Australian police forces. The insignia consists of a crown over three Bath Stars in a triangular formation, equivalent to a brigadier in the army. In all four forces, it is junior to the rank of assistant commissioner, and senior to the rank of chief superintendent, with the exception of Western Australia where it is senior to the rank of superintendent.

United States police rank

The Los Angeles Police Department and the San Francisco Police Department are two of the few American police departments which use this rank. A commander in the LAPD is equivalent to an inspector in other US departments (such as the NYPD); the LAPD rank was originally called inspector as well, but was changed in 1974 to commander after senior officers voiced a preference for the more military-sounding rank.

Commander is also utilized by larger Sheriff's Departments in the United States. The rank usually falls between Chief Deputy and Captain, which is three positions removed from the sheriff. The Clark County Sheriff's Office in southwest Washington state uses the rank of Commander. It falls between the rank of sergeant and the rank of branch chief. The insignia worn by a Clark County Sheriff's Office commander is a gold oak leaf, the same insignia worn by a major in the Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps.

The Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC) also uses the rank of commander. The rank falls between those of inspector and assistant chief.

The Rochester, NY, Police Department (RPD) uses the rank of commander. Higher than captain and below deputy chief, the rank is achieved by appointment. Commander is the rank held by the two patrol division heads and other commanders fill various administrative roles. The St Paul Police Department (MN) is another police force that uses the rank of commander. In the St Paul Police Department, commanders serve as the chief of the district/unit that they oversee.

Many police departments in the midwest (including the Chicago Police Department) use the rank of commander. It is equivalent to a lieutenant in most other departments, being above a sergeant and below a deputy chief or captain.

Commander is also used as a title in certain circumstances, such as the commander of a squad of detectives, who would usually be of the rank of lieutenant.

Canadian police rank

The Montreal police force, Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, uses the rank of commander.[4]

Incident Command System

In the Incident Command System the incident commander is in charge of the response to an emergency. The title may pass from person to person as the incident develops.

Military and chivalric orders

The title of commander is used in the military orders, such as the Knights Hospitaller, for a member senior to a knight. The title of knight commander is often used to denote an even higher rank. These conventions are also used by most of the continental orders of chivalry. The United Kingdom uses different classifications.

In most of the British Orders of Knighthood, the grade of knight (or dame) commander is the lowest grade of knighthood, but is above the grade of companion (which does not carry a knighthood). In the Royal Victorian Order and the Order of the British Empire, the grade of commander is senior to the grade of lieutenant or officer respectively, but junior to that of knight or dame commander. In the British Order of St John, a commander ranks below a knight. (However, knights of the Order of St John are not called "Sir".)

In common usage

"Commander" may sometimes be used by laymen, usually applied to the person who is accountable for and holds authority over a group or the attempts of a group to achieve a common goal.

In fiction

  • In the video game Mass Effect, the protagonist Shepard is a commander. Shepard is often referred to as "Commander Shepard".
  • In the film Forbidden Planet, Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) is the Commanding Officer of United Planets Cruiser C-57D.
  • Keith Murphey & Robert King’s fictional character Andreamos is referred to as “CAG, The Commander” a former commander of Alpha Battalion C of the planet Arkayus in the comic book story by the Comicbook Artists Guild.
  • In V for Vendetta, the Voice of London, Lewis Prothero is Commander Prothero.
  • In the computer game World of Warcraft, Commander is a retired military rank of the Alliance. Few players still have the rank of Commander.
  • In the computer game X-COM: UFO Defense, Commander is the highest rank achievable by X-Com soldiers, and only one soldier may hold the rank of Commander at any one time.
  • The fictional James Bond is a Commander in the Royal Navy who has been "seconded" to the Secret Service.
  • The fictional Horatio Hornblower holds the rank of Commander in Hornblower and the Hotspur.
  • In seaQuest DSV Jonathan Ford holds the rank of Commander.
  • In Star Trek, Commander is a rank in both Starfleet and the Romulan military. Spock, William T. Riker, Deanna Troi, Beverly Crusher, Chakotay, and Benjamin Sisko (at the start of the DS9 series) all held the rank of Commander at various points. Two unnamed Romulan Commanders appeared in the original Star Trek. In "Balance of Terror", Mark Lenard played the Commander of the first Romulan ship equipped with a cloaking device. In "The Enterprise Incident", Joanne Linville played the Commander of a squadron of three Romulan warships.
  • In Babylon 5, Jeffrey Sinclair in season 1 and Susan Ivanova starting from season 2 hold the rank of Commander.
  • The titles of book Master and Commander and subsequent Hollywood film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World refer to the original name for the rank, although Jack Aubrey is actually a Captain in the film, which is based on a later book in the series.
  • In the Star Wars films, the rank of Commander is commonly used among the Imperial Navy and the Rebel Alliance. Luke Skywalker is promoted to Commander after destroying the Death Star.
  • In Space: 1999, John Koenig was Commander of Moonbase Alpha.
  • In the strategy game series Command & Conquer, the player is always referred to as Commander by most characters in the series. Similarly, the player's avatar (and leader of their respective armies) in Total Annihilation is a unique unit known only as the Arm/Core Commander.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, Sir Samuel Vimes has the rank of Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.
  • In the detective novels by P. D. James, Adam Dalgliesh holds the Metropolitan Police rank of Commander.
  • In David Weber's novel On Basilisk Station, the main character, Honor Harrington, holds the rank of Commander in the Royal Manticoran Navy.
  • In the Battlestar Galactica miniseries (2003) and television series (2004–2009), Commander William Adama (played by Edward James Olmos) is the Commanding Officer of Galactica. President Laura Roslyn (Mary McDonnell) promotes him to Admiral after Rear Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes) is killed by the Cylon Gina Inviere (Tricia Helfer).
  • In Soul Calibur III's mini-game, Chronicles of the Sword, the young cadet is promoted to the rank of commander after he/she defeats the General in a final test at the Academy.
  • In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, three members of Team Galactic are commanders and are the leaders right under the boss.
  • In Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, the father of the Swallows is Commander Ted Walker of the British Royal Navy.
  • In season 5 of TV show JAG, Harmon Rabb is promoted to Commander.
  • Tom Clancy's fictional character Jack Ryan, formerly a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, is referred to as "commander" when in naval uniform in the film and book The Hunt for Red October, though he is actually a CIA liaison. He is called "commander" since he wears the uniform of a US Navy Commander.
  • In the Infinity Wards multi platform game Call of Duty 4, Commander is the highest rank to achieve in Online Mode.
  • In the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, Mat Cauthon's past lives including his own were always commanders of the best armies that ever existed.
  • In Call Of Duty 4 online "Commander" is the last rank earned (Lv.55)
  • In Treyarch's 2008 first-person shooter game, Call of Duty: World at War, "Commander" is the highest online multiplayer rank (Level 65).
  • In Infinity Ward's 2009 first-person shooter game, Modern Warfare 2, "Commander" is the highest online multiplayer rank (Level 70).
  • In the television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Commander Lee Crane (David Hedison) was the commanding officer of the submarine Seaview.
  • Adam Dalgliesh began as chief superintendent, but became later Commander in books by P.D.James, and TV-series (played by Roy Marsden).
  • Amanda Burton plays Commander Clare Blake in The Commander.
  • In the video game, Mortal Kombat 11, Cassie Cage was promoted to this rank within the Special Forces after defeating her commanding officer and mother, Sonya Blade, in the chapter "Next of Kin".

See also


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