Commanding officer

Commanding officer

The commanding officer (CO) is the officer in command of a military unit. Typically, the commanding officer has ultimate authority over the unit, and is usually given wide latitude to run the unit as he sees fit, within the bounds of military law. In this respect, commanding officers have significant responsibilities (for example, the use of force, finances, equipment, the Geneva Conventions), duties (to higher authority, mission effectiveness, duty of care to personnel) and powers (for example, discipline and punishment of personnel within certain limits of military law).

In some countries, commanding officers may be of any commissioned rank; usually there are more officers than command positions available, and time spent in command is generally a key aspect of promotion, so the role of commanding officer is highly valued, and in theory only goes to the best officers. The commanding officer is often assisted by an Executive Officer (XO) or Second-in-Command (2i/c), who handles personnel and day-to-day matters. Larger units may also have staff officers of various responsibilities.


United Kingdom, Canada and Australia


In the British Army, Royal Marines, and many other Commonwealth military and paramilitary organisations, the title of commanding officer is reserved for commanders of major units (regiments, battalions and similar sized units), almost invariably holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and usually referred to within the unit simply as "the Colonel". The post of a commander of a sub-unit (company, squadron or battery) is collectively referred to as the Officer Commanding (OC). More specifically they are referred to as the Company Commander, Squadron Leader, etc. Officers and NCOs in charge of platoons, troops and sections are just referred to as Commanders (Platoon Commander, Troop Leader, Section Commander/Leader, etc.).

Air Force

In the Royal Air Force, the title of Commanding Officer is reserved for Station Commanders or commanders of independent units. As with the British Army, the post of a commander of a lesser unit such as an administrative wing, squadron or flight is referred to as the Officer Commanding (OC).


In the Royal Navy, Commanding Officer is the official title of the commander of any ship, unit or installation. However, they are referred to as "the Captain" no matter what their actual rank, or informally as "Skipper" or even "Boss".

United States

In the United States, the status of commanding officer is duly applied to all commissioned officers who hold lawful command over a military unit, ship, or installation.


The commanding officer of a company, a captain, is referred to as the company commander (or the battery/troop commander for artillery/cavalry). The commanding officer of a battalion (or squadron of cavalry), a lieutenant colonel, is the battalion commander. The commanding officer of a brigade, a colonel, is the brigade commander. At the division level and higher, however, the commanding officer is referred to as the commanding general, as these officers hold general officer rank.

Although holding command in the same sense as others officers the individual in charge of a platoon, the smallest unit of soldiers led by a commissioned officer, typically a second lieutenant, is referred to as the platoon leader not the platoon commander. This officer does have command of the soldiers under him but does not have many of the command responsibilities inherent to higher echelons. For example, a platoon leader cannot issue non-judicial punishment.

Non-commissioned officers may be said to have charge of certain smaller military units. They cannot, however, hold command as they lack the requisite authority granted by the head of state to do so.

Warrant officers in the United States armed forces are single career-track officers that can, and occasionally do, hold command positions within certain specialty units, i.e. Special Forces and Army Aviation. However, warrant officers usually do not command if a commissioned officer is present; normally they serve as executive officer (2IC).

Air Force

In the United States Air Force, the commanding officer of a unit is similarly referred to as the unit commander, such as squadron commander, group commander, wing commander, and so forth.


In the United States Navy, commanding officer is the official title of the commander of a ship, but they are usually referred to as "the Captain" regardless of their actual rank, or informally referred to as "Skipper".

See also

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • commanding officer — commanding officers N COUNT A commanding officer is an officer who is in charge of a military unit. He got permission from his commanding officer to join me …   English dictionary

  • commanding officer — n. the officer in command of any of certain units or installations in the armed forces …   English World dictionary

  • commanding officer — noun an officer in command of a military unit (Freq. 4) • Syn: ↑commandant, ↑commander • Derivationally related forms: ↑commandership (for: ↑commander), ↑command …   Useful english dictionary

  • Commanding Officer — Der Commanding Officer (CO) (dt. wörtlich: kommandierender Offizier) ist in angelsächsischen Streitkräften der Offizier, der das Kommando über eine militärische Einheit, Einrichtung oder ein Schiff hat. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Aufgaben 2 Weiter… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • commanding officer — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms commanding officer : singular commanding officer plural commanding officers an officer of any rank who controls a particular military group or operation …   English dictionary

  • commanding officer — noun Date: 1720 an officer in command; especially an officer in the armed forces in command of an organization or installation …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • commanding officer — com,manding officer noun count an officer of any rank who controls a particular military group or operation …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • commanding officer — command′ing of′ficer n. mil an officer having command of a military unit, installation, etc • Etymology: 1790–1800 …   From formal English to slang

  • commanding officer — /kəmændɪŋ ˈɒfəsə/ (say kuhmanding ofuhsuh) noun an officer in command …   Australian-English dictionary

  • commanding officer — Army. a commander of any rank from second lieutenant to colonel. [1790 1800] * * * …   Universalium

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