Commander is a military 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 military, particularly in police and law enforcement.
Commander as a military rank
Commander is a military rank used in many navies and some air forces but is very rarely used as a rank in armies. The rank (originally "Master and Commander") originated in the 18th and early 19th centuries to describe lieutenants that were "captains" of smaller ships such as sloops or brigs. The Royal Navy shortened "Master and Commander" to just "Commander" in 1794.
A commander in the British 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 but do not wear this rank on their uniform.
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.
Commander as a military title
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
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.
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
, 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
, 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
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).
In aviation the Flight Captain is also known as the Commander.
British police rank
Commander is also a senior police rank in the two London police forces, the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police Service. It is senior to Chief Superintendent in both forces and junior to Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police and Assistant Commissioner in the City of London Police. It equates to Assistant Chief Constable in other forces. The Metropolitan Police introduced the rank in 1946, when they split the rank of Deputy Assistant Commissioner (with senior DACs keeping that rank title and junior DACs being regraded as Commanders). The Metropolitan Police also had a rank of Deputy Commander, ranking just below Commander, between 1946 and 1968. In addition, officers in charge of policing each of London's boroughs are given the title of "Borough Commander", although they hold the rank of Chief Superintendent, not Commander.
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
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 Assistant 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 or Air Force.
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 (exception being 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.
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 Sovereign Military Order of Malta
, 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 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 holds the rank of Commander in the Royal Navy.
- The fictional Horatio Hornblower holds the rank of Commander in Hornblower and the Hotspur.
- In Star Trek, Spock, William T. Riker, Deanna Troi, Beverly Crusher, and Benjamin Sisko (at the start of the DS9 series) all 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 Battlestar Galactica (2003) William Adama played by Edward James Olmos is the Commander of the Battlestar Galactica before being promoted to Admiral after Rear Admiral Helena Cain (played by Michelle Forbes) was killed. In the series' rank structure, therefore, the rank of Commander equates to the real-world naval rank of Captain.
- 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 Pokemon 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 was called "commander" since he was wearing the uniform of a US Navy Commander.
- A protagonist who dies later in the storyline of Halo 3 is known as Commander Miranda Keyes, who orchestrated the resistance on Earth against the invading Covenant in the New Mombasa areas, as well as taking command when they came upon the Forerunner installation The Ark after entering a slipspace portal created on Earth by a Forerunner installation.
- In Infinity Wards multi platform game Call of Duty 4 Commander is the highest rank to achieve in Online Mode.
- In the Xbox 360 game Mass Effect, the main protagonist is ranked as Commander.