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A United States Air Force F-86 Sabre squadron during the Korean War, 1951

A squadron in air force, army aviation, or naval aviation is a unit comprising a number of military aircraft and their aircrews, usually of the same type, typically with 12 to 24 aircraft, sometimes divided into three or four flights, depending on aircraft type and air force. Land based squadrons equipped with heavier type aircraft such as long-range bombers, or cargo aircraft, or air refueling tankers have around 12 aircraft as a typical authorization, while most land-based fighter equipped units have an authorized number of 18 to 24 aircraft.

In naval aviation, sea based and land based squadrons will typically have smaller numbers of aircraft, ranging from as low as four for early warning to as high as 12 for fighter/attack. In most armed forces, two or more squadrons will form a group or a wing. Some air forces (including the Royal Air Force, Royal Netherlands Air Force, Belgian Air Component, German Air Force, Republic of Singapore Air Force, and United States Air Force) also use the term "squadron" for non-flying ground units (e.g., radar squadrons, missile squadrons, aircraft maintenance squadrons, security forces squadrons, civil engineering squadrons, range operations squadrons, range management squadrons, weather squadrons, medical squadrons, etc.).

United States military air services

In the United States Air Force, the squadron is the principal organizational unit.[1] An aggregation of two or more USAF squadrons will be designated as a group and two or more groups will be designated as a wing.[2] USAF squadrons may be flying units composed of pilots and flight crews, with designations such as fighter squadron, bomb squadron, or airlift squadron. Fighter squadrons may support between 18 and 24 aircraft, while larger aircraft flying squadrons (e.g., bomber, cargo, reconnaissance) may support fewer aircraft However, non-flying units also exist at the squadron level, such as missile squadrons, aircraft maintenance squadrons, intelligence squadrons, aerospace medicine squadrons, security forces squadrons, civil engineering squadrons and force support squadrons, as well as numerous other examples.[3]

USAF flying squadrons are typically commanded by an aeronautically rated officer in the rank of lieutenant colonel, although some particularly large squadrons, such as the 414th Combat Training Squadron that manages RED FLAG training at Nellis AFB, Nevada will be commanded by an aeronautically rated officer in the rank of full colonel.[4] Non-flying squadrons are also usually commanded by an officer in the rank of lieutenant colonel, but some may also be commanded by officers in the rank of major.

In contrast to the organizational structure of United States Air Force units, where flying squadrons are separate from non-flying squadrons tasked with administrative, aircraft maintenance, or other support functions, flying squadrons in naval aviation in the United States (e.g., United States Navy and United States Marine Corps) typically contain both embedded administrative support functions and organizational level aircraft maintenance functions, plus all their associated personnel, as part of the total squadron manning.[5] With few exceptions, oversight of the majority of these non-flying functions is assigned to the squadron's naval aviators and naval flight officers as their "ground job" in addition to their regular flying duties.[6]

With few exceptions, most U.S. Navy flying squadrons are commanded by aeronautically designated officers in the rank of commander. Exceptions are primarily the Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRS), which are often, though not always, commanded by aeronautically designated captains. Commanding officers (COs) of U.S. Navy flying squadrons other than FRS units will be assisted by an Executive Officer (XO) of the same rank who functions as a second-in-command and who will eventually "fleet up" and relieve the CO as the next CO.[7] In United States Marine Corps Aviation, in addition to flying units that are patterned in similar fashion to their U.S. Navy counterparts, the nomenclature "squadron" in the Marine Corps is also used to designate all battalion-equivalent, aviation support organizations. These squadrons include: wing headquarters, tactical air command, air control, air support, aviation logistics, wing support, and wing communications squadrons. In contrast to their USN counterparts, USMC flying squadrons and aviation support squadrons, while having a commanding officer (CO) at the lieutenant colonel level, will not have an equivalent rank executive officer (XO) and do not employ a "fleet up" model. USMC aviation squadron XOs are typically aeronautically designated officers in the rank of major.[8]

Also in contrast to USAF flying squadrons, most tactical sea-based and land-based U.S. Naval Aviation squadrons (USN and USMC), vice training squadrons and test and evaluation squadrons, usually do not have more than 12 aircraft authorized/assigned at any one time. Exceptions are USN helicopter mine countrmeasures squadrons (17 MH-53), USMC "composite" medium tilt-rotor squadrons assigned afloat as the Air Combat Element (ACE) of a Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU (12 MV-22s, 6 AH-1s, 4 CH-53s, 3 UH-1s, and 6 AV-8s). Other squadrons with a large number of Primary Aircraft Assigned (PAA) include Marine heavy helicopter squadrons (16 CH-53s), Marine light/attack helicopter squadrons (18 AH-1s and 9 UH-1s), and Marine attack squadrons (16 AV-8s).

Although part of U.S. naval aviation, United States Coast Guard aviation units are centered on an air station or air facility versus a squadron or group/wing organizational structure. The one exception to this is the Coast Guard's Helicopter Interdiction Squadron (HITRON), which is engaged primarily in counter-narcotics (CN) interdiction operations.[9]

In the United States Army Aviation Branch, flying units may be organized in battalions or squadrons (the latter for air cavalry only) reporting to an aviation brigade. Aircraft maintenance activities are typically assigned to an aviation maintenance company or element in the battalion or brigade.[10]

Pattern in some NATO countries Rank level of
general or
commanding officer
British and
USAF and
Canadian German Air Force
Group Wing Air division no equivalent OF-6 or OF-7
Wing Group Wing Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader
(en: Operational AF-Wing)
OF-4 or OF-5
Squadron Staffel OF-3 or OF-4
Flight Schwarm / Kette OF-2


An escadron is the equivalent unit in France's Armée de l'Air. It is normally subdivided into escadrilles of eight aircraft.

In the Air Training Corps of the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth nations, a Squadron is a group of cadets who parade regularly.

In the U.S. Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a squadron is the basic administrative unit. As the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, CAP follows the USAF organizational model.

In the Swedish Air Force a helicopter squadron (helikopterskvadron) is a detachment from the "Helicopter Wing" (Helikopterflottiljen).[11] The Swedish Air Force in general is organised around two basic units, squadrons (referred to as "divisions" in Swedish) and wings (referred to as "flotillas"). Unlike the US Air Force, where the name of the base and the units stationed at that base are not related to each other, the name of the wing (flotilla) is in general considered synonymous with the air base where the unit is stationed. For example the air base where the F10 wing is stationed (in Ängelholm) is commonly referred to as F10 even though it is the name of the tactical unit. In general, this only applies as long as a wing is stationed at the base. Case in point is Uppsala-Ärna air base, an active military airport but since the tactical unit located there has been disbanded it is no longer referred to as F16. These naming conventions have been inherited from the navy where Swedish military aviation has its roots.


  1. "CSAF letter to Airmen". August 9, 2016. 
  2. "Air Force Instruction 38-101, AIR FORCE ORGANIZATION (OPR: HQ USAF A1MO)". Secretary Of The Air Force. January 31, 2017. 
  3. Air Force Instruction 38-101, AIR FORCE ORGANIZATION, 31 Jan 2017 (OPR: HQ USAF A1MO)
  4. Airman 1st Class Ashley N. Steffen (June 24, 2016). "Preparing the thunder". 
  5. Nott, CAPT Richard C. USN, ed.; The Naval Aviation Guide, 4th ed; Naval Institute Press; Annapolis, MD; ISBN 0-87021-409-8; c1985, pp. 70-90
  6. "A Navy pilot’s take: The Air Force doesn’t have a pilot crisis, it has a leadership crisis". Foreign Policy. 
  7. Nott, CAPT Richard C. USN, ed.; The Naval Aviation Guide, 4th ed; Naval Institute Press; Annapolis, MD; ISBN 0-87021-409-8; c1985, pp. 70-90
  8. Nott, CAPT Richard C. USN, ed.; The Naval Aviation Guide, 4th ed; Naval Institute Press; Annapolis, MD; ISBN 0-87021-409-8; c1985, pp. 297-301
  9. Goodspeed, M. Hill & Burgess, Rick, ed.; U.S. Naval Aviation; Naval Aviation Museum Foundation & Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc; Pensacola, FL; ISBN 0-88363-102-4; c2001, pp. 238-254
  10. "Army Aviation Beginnings". U.S. Army. 
  11. Helikopterflottiljen (Swedish)

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