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Navy BD: Establishing Command and Winning Relationships Part 1: Navy Organization

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

The Armed Forces are primarily organized in two (2) different ways. First, by Operational Chain of Commands and then by Administrative Chain of Commands.

The organization and structure of the Navy can be best summarized and viewed here. The Operational Forces of the Navy go from Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) down through Combatant Commands (COCOM) to various Service Providers that provide the actual service members and equipment to do the mission tasked by higher authority.

The Administrative Chain of Command goes down from the Service Secretaries and Service Chiefs (Secretary of the Navy/Chief of Naval Operations) and form what we commonly call the Echelons of Command Organization.

U.S. Navy Ships
The USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group transits in formation while deployed in the Indo-Pacific region in January 2020. Photo Credit: U.S. NAVY, Dylan Lavin

Navy Acquisition Strategy

The Navy Organization drives the Acquisition Strategy and is comprised of three different sides, or legs, of a triangle.

Echelon 1 Commands

Echelon 1 is at the top of the triangle and is represented by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and his staff. The CNO staff’s primary job is putting together the Planning, Programming, Budgeting System (PPBS) under which the annual program and budget for the Department of the Navy is put together and then executed.

Echelon 2 Commands

Echelon II Commands fall under the CNO staff and are comprised of approximately 27 Commands, which have both Operational and Administrative linkages back up to the SECDEF and CNO.

Echelon II Commands, which form the second leg of the triangle, help to carry out the Title 10 functions of Organize, Train, and Equip and operations of warfighting units. Within these Echelon II Commands, nine (9) are Navy Component Commands whose commanders carry out operations within their designated area of responsibility:

  • U.S. Fleet Forces Command

  • U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command

  • U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet

  • U.S. Pacific Fleet

  • U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command

  • U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/Commander, U.S. 10th Fleet

  • U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa

Echelon II Commands, which form the third leg of the triangle, help to carry out the functions of acquisition. These commands are responsible for acquiring new systems (C4I Systems, Ships, Submarines and Airplanes). There acquisition commands (sometimes called SYSCOMS) include:

  • Navy Information Warfare Command (NIWC, formerly SPAWAR)

  • Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA),

  • Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR)

  • Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP)

Sailors aboard an aircraft carrier with a city in the background
Sailors man the rails on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Photo Credit: MC3 Dallas Snider/U.S. Navy

The remaining Echelon II commands are related to other Shore Activities of the Navy such as:

  • Chief of Navy Personnel (CNP)

  • Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS)

  • Naval Education and Training Command (NETC)

  • Commander Naval Installations Command (CNIC)

Echelon III & Below Commands

The administrative commands continue down with subordinate, related commands under Echelon III, IV, V and VI commands. More information can be found annually under OPNAVINST 5400.45A, dated 9 November 2022 and can be viewed at OPNAV INSTRUCTION 5400.45A on the Secretary of the Navy website.

Quick Tip

When searching SAM and other government procurement databases, it’s important to know and understand which Echelon commands are involved as they commonly control the funding available for each procurement posted and subsequently awarded.


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