The SEAL Structure: A Review of the Ranking System Within the Navy SEALs

Author: Eric Sof

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The rank structure of Navy SEALs and SEAL teams is similar to that of other military units worldwide. Like other US military branches, the US Navy uses a standardized rank system for its SEALs. This means that the ranks used in the SEALs are the same as those used throughout the Navy.

Navy SEAL ranks

The ranks in the Navy SEALs are the same as those in other units of the US Navy, but they may have different titles. The rank structure in the Navy is divided into three categories: Enlisted (E-1 to E-9), Warrant Officer (CWO-1 to CWO-5), and Commissioned Officer (CO-1 to CO-5), as well as Admiral ranks (CO-6 to CO-10; FADM). These ranks indicate an individual’s responsibility, experience, and leadership level.

Navy SEAL ranks: From enlisted to officers
Navy SEAL ranks: From enlisted to officers (Photo: US Navy)

Most Navy SEALs, numbering around 2,000, are enlisted personnel holding ranks from E-4 to E-9 (Petty Officer 3rd Class to Master Chief Petty Officer). Approximately 500 SEAL officers lead these SEALs with ranks ranging from O-1 to O-10 (Ensign to Admiral Chief of Naval Operations). There are also a small number of SEAL Warrant Officers, estimated at around 30, who rank above the most senior enlisted personnel but below Commissioned Officers. These Warrant Officers play a vital role in the leadership and management of SEAL units.

A Warrant Officer is a highly specialized expert and trainer in his or her career field. A Warrant Officer is a highly specialized expert and trainer in his or her career field. Commissioned Officers are the managers, problem solvers, key influencers and planners who lead Enlisted Soldiers in all situations.

Difference between services

The rank system in the Navy SEALs follows the same pay grade structure as other military branches. The ranks of commissioned officers in the US Navy have two sets of insignia: on dress uniforms, stripes similar to those used in the Commonwealth navies are worn; on service khaki, working uniforms (such as the Navy Working Uniform [NWU] and coveralls), and special uniform situations (such as combat utilities, flight suits, and US Marine Corps uniforms when worn by Navy officers assigned or attached to USMC units), the rank insignia are identical to those used by the US Marine Corps.

Like all military organizations, the Navy SEALs have a hierarchical command structure with different ranks to reflect the responsibilities and roles within the unit. It is important to note that the ranks in the SEALs are not unique; they are part of the broader rank system used by the Navy. Other special operations units, such as Army Special Forces, US Army Rangers, Delta Force, and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), also have rank systems that reflect their organization’s specific needs and structure.

The ranks in the Navy SEALs
Navy SEAL ranks: The ranks of the Navy SEALs do not differentiate from the regular Navy ranks(Photo: Pinterest)

Enlisted

E-4Insignia of a Navy Petty Officer Third ClassPetty Officer Third ClassPO3Noncommissioned Officer
E-5Insignia of a Navy Petty Officer Second ClassPetty Officer Second ClassPO2Noncommissioned Officer
E-6Insignia of a Navy Petty Officer First ClassPetty Officer First ClassPO1Noncommissioned Officer
E-7Insignia of a Navy Chief Petty OfficerChief Petty OfficerCPOSenior Noncommissioned Officer
E-8Insignia of a Navy Senior Chief Petty OfficerSenior Chief Petty OfficerSCPOSenior Noncommissioned Officer
E-9Insignia of a Navy Master Chief Petty OfficerMaster Chief Petty OfficerMCPOSenior Noncommissioned Officer

Commissioned Warrant Officers

W-2US Navy CW2 insignia.svgChief warrant officer twoCWO-2 
W-3US Navy CW3 insignia.svgChief warrant officer threeCWO-3 
W-4US Navy CW4 insignia.svgChief warrant officer fourCWO-4 
W-5US Navy CW5 insignia.svgChief warrant officer fiveCWO-5 

Officers

O-1Insignia of a Navy EnsignEnsignENSJunior Officer
O-2Insignia of a Navy Lieutenant Junior GradeLieutenant Junior GradeLTJGJunior Officer
O-3Insignia of a Navy LieutenantLieutenantLTJunior Officer
O-4Insignia of a Navy Lieutenant CommanderLieutenant CommanderLCDRJunior Officer
O-5Insignia of a Navy CommanderCommanderCDRSenior Officer
O-6Insignia of a Navy CaptainCaptainCAPTSenior Officer
O-7Insignia of a Navy Rear Admiral Lower HalfRear Admiral Lower HalfRDMLFlag Officer
O-8Insignia of a Navy Rear AdmiralRear AdmiralRADMFlag Officer
O-9Insignia of a Navy Vice AdmiralVice AdmiralVADMFlag Officer
O-10Insignia of a Navy AdmiralAdmiralADMFlag Officer

Suppose officers in the Navy SEALs consistently demonstrate superior performance and show the ability to take on additional responsibilities. In that case, they may be eligible for a promotion to a higher pay grade. This process involves an increase in rank and is officially referred to as a promotion.

The letter and number associated with each rank in the Navy SEALs indicate the individual’s specific title and pay grade. It is important to note that the rank of a SEAL signifies their job duties and leadership responsibilities within the organization. At the same time, the pay grade reflects their level of experience and expertise. SEALs can advance their careers by pursuing continued education and taking on command and specialty roles within the unit.

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5 thoughts on “The SEAL Structure: A Review of the Ranking System Within the Navy SEALs”

  1. I found it interesting when you said the differences between navy ranks are the pay grade. I think that it’s important to identify an officer’s rank by their uniforms or insignias. Otherwise, it’ll be difficult to determine who’s in charge of them. I think you did a great job explaining how essential it is to have a command structure identified by uniforms.

  2. The reason an officer wears the same uniform and doesn’t display his or her rank on their uniforms in the field, is to keep an enemy sniper from singling them out to shoot! 1st order of business is to take out the command and control elements!

  3. How does a SEAL team member make rank? If he goes into the Navy as say a MM, QM or othr rate, does he stay this rate while a SEAL? Does he have to take the Navy wide exam to advance to a higher rank? Or is he promoted based on his SEAL duties only? Thanks

  4. Proofread, please. Navy admiral ranks are O7-O10. O6 is a Navy Captain. US Navy SEALS have the exact same ranks (pay rates) as all other sailors. They do receive specialty pay allowances, but so do many other specialty ratings (jobs).

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