The United States Air Force officer rank structure is similar to that of the other military branches with some notable exceptions: there are no warrant officers, as are found in each of the other military branches, and the US Navy has a unique officer rank structure. Officer ranks are the same in the USAF, US Army, and US Marines.
This guide covers the USAF rank structure and a little more detail about each of the ranks, including rank insignia, pay grades, promotion requirements, and general duty requirements and skill levels for each rank.
Table of Contents
USAF Officer Rank Structure
|General of the Air Force
|18 - 20 years
|14 - 16 years
|8 - 10 years
|0 - 2 years
*Varies by Career Field, Opportunity, and Other Factors. See explanation for each rank below.
**O1E – O-3E designates a Prior-Enlisted Officer with at least 4 years time in grade as an enlisted member. This is an administrative rating that impacts the officer’s pay and some other factors, such as BAH and household shipping allowances.
Company Grade Officers
Company grade Officers are those officers of grades Second Lieutenant (O-1) to Captain (O-3). Officers are generally commissioned as Second Lieutenants and promote through the ranks. However, some Commissioned Airmen may skip some ranks or receive accelerated promotion through the ranks based on their Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) and civilian world experience. This is usually limited to members in the professions, such as medical, legal, and chaplain career fields. Your recruiter can help you understand whether or not you will be eligible for accelerated rank or promotions.
Skill Level and Duty Requirements of Company Grade Officers: Company grade officers span a large skill set. New 2nd Lts are often charged with learning as much as possible as quickly as they can. It is not uncommon for some 2LTs to change offices every few months to gain familiarity with their career field and learn operations.
By the time officers become a 1st Lt, they are generally well-versed in their AFSC, though they may still be going through their required upgrade and on the Job Training (OJT). Some officers begin taking on the job of Flight Commander as a 2LT or 1LT.
By the time officers reach the rank of Capt, they have often become fully qualified in their AFSC and are working toward more advanced leadership roles. In some cases, Captains can be in the role of a Squadron Commander.
Promotion through the Company Grade Officer Ranks: Promoting from 2nd LT to Captain is nomally based on Time in Service (TIS) and Time in Grade (TIG), provided the officer meets Air Force standards for performance and behavior.
- Second Lieutenant (O-1): Officers generally serve in these ranks from time of commission through 2 years of service.
- First Lieutenant (O-2): Officers generally promote to 1LT after completing 2 years of service.
- Captain (O-3): Officers generally promote to Capt at 4 years of service.
Note: these are general timelines, and do not account for the aforementioned accelerated rank opportunities in the professional career fields. This also assumes the officer meets all standards.
Field Grade Officers
Field grade officers are those of grades O-4 to O-6.
Skill Level and Duty Requirements of Field Grade Officers: Field grade officers begin taking on larger roles at the Squadron, Wing, and Group levels. Majors (0-4) often serve as a Squadron Commander, or as a staff officer at a Wing or Group Level. Major is also a period in which many officers begin seeking out advanced career development, special duty assignments, or joint assignments (joint assignments are critical to one’s advancement as an officer, and should be undertaken before advancing too far in one’s career as it will be a requirement for advanced promotion).
Lieutenant Colonels often serve as Squadron and Group Commanders, Staff at Wing level or Higher Headquarters, Director of Operations, and other advanced positions.
Colonels can hold many of the same positions as Lt Cols, but usually in a more advanced or larger environment, up to a Wing Commander. They also serve as Commanders and heads of staff in a variety of positions throughout the Air Force, joint military environments, and various agencies.
Promotion through the Field Grade Officer Ranks: Officers in the ranks of O-4 through O-6 are eligible to promote in one of three ways: Below-the-Zone, In-the-Zone, and Above-the-Zone. Below-the-Zone promotions are rare, and generally occur one year in advance of the normal promotion schedule. This is limited to 10% of the force, but in practice is often less. Most promotions are In-the-Zone. Above-the-Zone promotions occur after and officer has initially been passed over for promotion more than once. Above-the-Zone promotions are rare, and most officers passed up for promotion more than once are required to separate from active duty or retire.
- Major (O-4): Captains must complete Squadron Officer School before promotion to the rank of Major. Promotion to Major is through a Major promotion board. The USAF recently announced a policy change of promoting 100% of eligible Captains to Major. Captains usually become eligible for promotion to Major at 8 years of service, and 4 years TIG.
- Lieutenant Colonel (O-5): Officers must have a minimum of 16 years TIS and 3 years TIG as a Major to be eligible for promotion to Lt Col. Majors must also complete required Professional Military Education (PME) such as Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) or an equivalent program, upgrade training requirements, and meet command position requirements to be eligible for promotion to Lt. Col. Approximately 70% of Majors will be promoted to Lt Col.
- Colonel (O-6): Lt Colonels must complete a senior developmental education course at Air War College, or an equivalent program before promotion to Colonel. Lt Colonels also need to have a Master’s Degree to be eligible for promotion to Colonel. The rank of Colonel is limited to 1.8% of Active Duty Air Force officers.
General Officers, or Flag Officers
General officers, also known as Flag Officers, are those in the ranks of O-7 and above. The General of the Air Force, O-11, is a special appointment that is only made in time of war. General officers are usually base or Wing Commanders, or serve as Staff at Higher Headquarters level or joint billets. General Officers are responsible for setting policy, requisitioning funds, and enabling their service to fulfill their role in the joint mission.
General Officer Duties & Requirements (examples):
- Brigadier General (O-7): Command large operational Wings, serve as Senior Staff Officers of a Numbered Air Force or higher level staff, serve as a Commandant or Dean of the USAFA or other educational institution.
- Major General (O-8): Deputies or Senior Staff Members of Major and Joint Commands, Numbered Air Force Commanders
- Lieutenant General (O-9): Command large Numbered Air Forces consisting of several wings, serve as high-level staff officers at various MAJCOM HQs and The Pentagon. Superintendent of the USAFA.
- General (O-10): Commands all operations that fall within his geographical area, Command MAJCOMs, or Unified Commands. May serve on Joint Chiefs of Staff
Promotion through the General Officer Ranks: Colonels eligible for promotion to Brigadier General are screened by a promotion board consisting of general officers from their branch of service. This promotion board then generates a list of officers it recommends for promotion to general rank. This list is then sent to the service secretary and the Joint Chiefs for review before it can be sent to the President, through the Defense Secretary, for consideration. The Senate must then confirm the nominee by a majority vote before the officer can be promoted. (source).
US Air Force Officer Promotions Sequence
Officers are positioned for promotion sequence based on the following criteria, applied in the order listed:
- Current Grade Date of Rank
- Previous grade date of rank, if applicable
- Total Active Federal Commissioned Service
- Total Federal Commissioned Service
- Regular officers will precede Reserve officers. Regular officers will rank among themselves based on date of Presidential nomination for appointment as a Regular officer
- Regular Air Force acceptance date; based on the date of the Air Force Form 133, Oath of Office
- Graduates of Service academies, appointed as Regular officers and assigned the same date of rank, on the active duty list in order of their graduation class standing
- Date of birth, with the earliest date taking precedence
- Reverse social security number, with the lowest number taking precedence
- AFPC Officer Promotion Points of Contacts
- (source – AFPC)