Squadron (aviation)

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, 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, may not have an equivalent rank executive officer (XO), but are moving more toward the USN model. USMC aviation (Flying) squadron XO's are aeronautically designated officers in the rank of Lt.Col or Major.

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 countermeasures squadrons (17 MH-53), USMC "composite" medium tilt-rotor squadrons assigned afloat as the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (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.[8]

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.[9]

Organisational pattern in selected NATO countries, by relative size
Size British and
USAF and
Canadian German Air Force Rank level of
general or
commanding officer
Largest Group Wing Air division
Division aérienne
no equivalent OF-6 or OF-7
Large Wing Group Wing
Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader
(en: Operational AF-Wing)
OF-4 or OF-5
Small Squadron Squadron Squadron
Staffel OF-3 or OF-4
Smallest Flight Flight 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.

During the infant years of combat aviation in World War I and specifically with the trench stalemate at the front military aircraft partially took over the reconnaissance role from the cavalry. With that in mind the British Royal Flying Corps adopted the squadron nomenclature (Staffel in the Imperial German Army, the Austro-Hungarian armed forces and the Swiss Army used the term company). After the fusion of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service into an independent Royal Air Force, the new armed forces branch introduced its own system of ranks, with the commanders of squadrons becoming Squadron Leaders. The rapid sophistication in technology and combat tactics has led to increased requirements and qualifications of the officers in command positions and the commanders of RAF flying squadrons were upgraded from Squadron Leaders to Wing Commanders. Today RAF flying squadrons are battalion-eqivalents, while combat and combat service support ground squadrons such as communications or administrative squadrons are company-equivalents. This distinction is also observed in the modern German Air Force, where a flying Staffel is a battalion-equivalent, while a ground based support Staffel is a company-equivalent. One such example are the air base defence units, which are squadrons (German, plural: Staffeln) formed into battalions. The ground based missile air defence units are also company- (in this case battery-)equivalent squadrons (Staffeln).

The French Air Force equivalent of an aviation squadron is the Escadron (divided into flights called Escadrilles). (The Spanish Air Force and some air forces of other Spanish-speaking countries follow that tradition (with a squadron called Escuadron and a flight called Escuadrilla), so does the Brazilian Air Force with Esquadrão and Esquadrilha respectively). The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Belgian Air Component on the other hand use Escadrille as the equivalent of a squadron. The Italian Air Force uses Gruppo (group) to denominate its squadrons (same as the Chilean Air Force (Grupo de aviación)). The Portuguese Air Force (Esquadra) and the Polish Air Force (Eskadra taktyczna, Polish for tactical squadron) use the term squadron with its etimology originating from the naval and not the army meaning. The Czech Air Force and the Slovak Air Force use the generic term Letka as squadron equivalent. The Turkish Air Force (Filo) and the Hellenic Air Force (μοιρα αεροπορικής [mira aeroporikis] - aviation squadron) use the squadron denomination originating from the army term. The Royal Norwegian Air Force use the Skvadron term also originating from the army term. So does the Hungarian Air Force with repülőszázad (Hungarian for aircraft squadron or flying squadron, the cavalry company-equivalent term is század).

Many Eastern European countries use the term squadron originating from the french word Escadrille: Russian Air Force - Эскадрилья [Eskadril'ya], Ukrainian Air Force - Ескадрилья [Eskadril'ya], Belarusian Air Force - Эскадрыльля [Eskadryil'ya], Romanian Air Force - Escadrila, Bulgarian Air Force - Ескадрила [Eskadrila], Serbian Air Force - Ескадрила [Eskadrila], Croatian Air Force - Eskadrila. The Royal Danish Air Force use the Eskadrille, also originating from the French Escadrille.

The Swedish Air Force adopted naval-like traditions in its formative years and for that historical reason calls its squadrons divisions (plural: divisioner). They are grouped into air flotillas (plural: Flygflottiljer). During the Cold War the Swedish Army, Navy and Air Force each had their own integral helicopter arms. After the end of it in line with the mid-90s force reduction and reforms they were fused into a Helicopter Wing (Helikopterflottiljen) as a service, independent from the three main armed forces branches.[10] The Helicopter Wing adopted the term skvadron from the former Swedish Army Aviation for its units, which is squadron in its army company-equivalent meaning. In the early 2000s the Swedish Air Force absorbed the Helicopter Wing as its fourth combat air wing. 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. Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff (August 9, 2016). "CSAF letter to Airmen". Letter to.
  2. "Air Force Instruction 38-101, AIR FORCE ORGANIZATION (OPR: HQ USAF A1MO)" (PDF) (pdf). Secretary Of The Air Force. January 31, 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  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. Thomas E. Ricks; LT Jack McCain, USN. "A Navy pilot's take: The Air Force doesn't have a pilot crisis, it has a leadership crisis". Foreign Policy. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  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. 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
  9. "Army Aviation Beginnings". U.S. Army.
  10. Helikopterflottiljen (in Swedish)
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