Group (military aviation unit)

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A group can be a (1) military aviation unit, (2) a U.S. Army combat arms (in some branches) or combat support organization larger than a battalion but smaller than a brigade, (3) a U.S. Marine Corps logistics combat element (LCE) unit consisting of three regiments or (4) a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) command element (CE) (viz., headquarters) unit, (5) a U.S. Navy organization consisting of a combination of one or more aircraft carriers, surface warfare ships, amphibious warfare ships, submarines, auxiliary ships, landing craft, embarked aircraft units, and/or embarked special warfare or landing forces, or (6) a Naval special warfare or Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, (7) a component of military organization, or a (8) military formation. Usage of the terms group and wing differ from one country to another, as well as different branches of a defence force, in some cases. Groups therefore vary considerably in size. The very nature of warfare dictates widely varying composition of groups for aviation, ground, and naval forces units.


In many air services, a group is made up of two to four squadrons and is usually commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, Commander or an officer of equivalent rank. In France and Germany, the precursors of the "Armée de l'Air" and "Luftwaffe" formed "groupes" and "gruppen" during the early stages of World War I. In World War 2, the "groupes" of the "Armée de l'Air" were equivalent of the squadrons found in the RAF or the USAAF ; they comprised two "escadrilles" (flight), but sometimes only one, or as many as four. French "groupements" (grouping) were similar to the RAF groups : for example, the "Groupe de Bombardement I/31", a French bomber squadron, was operationally part of "Groupement de Bombardement 6" in May 1940. In the German Luftwaffe bomber and fighter forces, the gruppe was the principle unit of action. They were usually labelled after a Geschwader, such as I. StG 76 (1st Gruppe of Stuka Geschwader 76) which in May 1940 was under the command of Stuka Geschwader 2. Gruppe usually were organized in three German Staffeln (a word which means "relay," "relay race", or "relay team" and often translated "squadron," although RAF squadrons and French "groupes" were usually larger in numbers of aircraft and in assigned aircrew).

United States[edit]

Air Force[edit]

In the United States Air Force (USAF) a group consists of two or more squadrons, often functionally aligned within a wing. Per AFI 38-101 Air Force Organization (21 April 2015) a group is a "level of command between wings and squadrons. Groups bring together multiple squadrons or other lower echelon units to provide a broader capability." Groups may be dependent or independent: "A dependent group is a mission, maintenance, mission support, medical, or large functional unit (e.g., communications) that encompasses a number of related squadrons to provide the specified capability to a parent wing. Such groups may possess small supporting staff elements, such as standardization and evaluation or quality control, that are organized as sections." "An independent group has the same functions and responsibilities as a like-type wing but its scope and size do not warrant wing-level designation and associated overhead costs." A group requires at least 400 personnel, while a wing requires at least 1000. A fighter wing, for example, is normally composed of dependent wings: an operations group of typically 3 flying squadrons and an operations support squadron and a maintenance group with aircraft, equipment, and component maintenance squadrons and a maintenance support squadron. Wings responsible for the air base also have other dependent groups such as a mission support group (security, communications, logistics support, mission support, engineering squadrons) and a medical group. The dependent group commanders are considered to be in command billets, but they function like staff officers (the S-3 or the S-4) in other organizations. Independent groups are effectively small wings with both flying and maintenance squadrons. USAF groups are usually commanded by officers in the grade of OF 5 or colonel. Wings are also usually commanded by officers in the grade of OF 5, but some are commanded by officers in the grade of OF 6 or brigadier general.[1]

Marine Corps[edit]

In the USMC, the unit title "group" is used in Marine Aviation, Marine Combat Logistics, and MAGTF CE oganizations.

Marine Aviation Groups (MAG/MACG/MATSG)[edit]

A Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) consists of two or more aircraft squadrons (usually four to six) and can range to as many as ten (see MAG-14). A MAG also contains a Marine Aviation Logistics Squadrons (MALS) (intermediate aircraft maintenance, aviation supply, and aviation ordnance support), a Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) (air base functions), and a MAG headquarters detachment with a colonel as the commanding officer. The MAG is the organizational equivalent of a Marine Regiment. MAGs are analogous to U.S. Navy carrier air wings, U.S. Army combat aviation brigades, and USAF wings, although smaller MAGs could be more comparable to USAF independent groups.

Marine Air Control Groups (MACG) consist of several aviation command, control, communications, and air defense units. These units include: a Marine Air Control Squadron (MACS) (control of air traffic and tactical air defense), a Marine Air Support Squadron (MASS) (control and coordination of tactical aircraft operations directly supporting ground forces), a Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron (MTACS) (command of tactical ground support and tactical air defense), a Marine Wing Communication Squadron (MWCS) (wire, radio, data, and satellite services) , and a Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) (ground-based anti-aircraft missile and machinegun weapons) battalion/detachment, under a MACG headquarters detachment, commanded by a colonel.

Marine Air Training Support Groups (MATSG) provide administrative control and training support at for Marines at formal naval aviation training programs. These groups, commanded by a colonel, do not have subordinate squadrons assigned and are not part of the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).

Two or more MAGs (usually three or four), and a MACG, under a Marine Aircraft Wing Headquarters (MAW HQ) supported by a Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron (MWHS) form a Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), usually commanded by a major general, and is the FMF organizational equivalent of a Marine Division (MARDIV). The MAW is analogous to a USAF numbered air force or a British Royal Air Force (RAF) group.

Marine Combat Logistics Groups (MLG)[edit]

Marine Logistics Groups (MLGs) are commanded by a general officer, (either a brigadier general or major general) and consist of a MLG Headquarters and three logistics regiments. These regiments include: a Headquarters Regiment (command and control, administration, communications, food services, and services support to the MLG Headquarters and expeditionary combat logistics to assigned Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU)), and two Combat Logistics Regiments (CLR). One CLR provides direct logistical support to an assigned MARDIV and the other provides general logistical support to an assigned Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). The MLG is the USMC organizational equivalent of a U.S. Army Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

MAGTF CE Headquarters Groups (HQG)[edit]

The headquarters unit of a MAGTF is designated as a headquarters group (HQG) and exercises command and control (management, planning, and coordination for (1) manpower, (2) intelligence, (3) operations and training, (4) logistics, (5) civil-military planning, and (6) communications functions) over the other elements of the MAGTF. The MAGTF HQG consists of communications, intelligence, law enforcement, and radio detachments, companies, and battalions, and attached Force Reconnaissance and Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) teams, platoons, detachments, and companies and may have Civil Affairs (CA) and other specialized unit elements (e.g., Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF)) attached. The size of the HQG is relative to the size of the MAGTF - a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) HQG is a company-sized unit of approximately 200 officers and enlisted members typically commanded by a major, a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) HQG is a battalion-level organization of about 800 - 1200 personnel and is usually commanded by a lieutenant colonel, while a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) HQG is a regimental-equivalent command of roughly 3000 members with a colonel as the commanding officer.


Carrier Strike Group (CSG)[edit]

A CSG usually consists of one aircraft carrier with an embarked carrier air wing, one or two guided missile cruisers, a destroyer squadron of two or three guided missile destroyers, one or two attack submarines, and a logistics support ship, all under the command of an embarked flag officer.

All the aircraft on a United States Navy (USN) aircraft carrier, historically, were called the carrier air group regardless of whether the total was 72-90 on a fleet carrier or 20 to 30 on an escort carrier. Even today, the commander of the carrier air wing is called "CAG" standing for "Commander, Air Group". A USN aircraft wing (carrier, patrol, or type) (there are type wings for strike fighters, electronic warfare, airborne early warning, maritime strike helicopter, and sea combat helicopters that provide squadrons to the carrier air wing for operations but maintain administrative and standardization control) is an OF 5 (Captain) command roughly analogous to a USMC aircraft group or an USAF wing. Group is no longer a USN term for aviation, but the immediate superior of a carrier air wing commander is the carrier strike group commander, a surface or aviation rear admiral in the grade of OF 6 or 7, with a mixed air and surface staff, who integrates four major USN (OF 5) commands—a carrier air wing, an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, and a destroyer squadron—into a coherent air-surface fighting force.

Amphibious Ready Group (ARG)[edit]

An ARG is composed of an amphibious assault ship, a dock landing ship, an amphibious transport dock, and an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit under the command of an embarked USN flag officer or USMC general officer.

Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG)[edit]

An ESG consists of an ARG and one or more guided missile cruisers, guided missile destroyers, and/or attack submarines, all under the command of an embarked flag officer. The ESG may also include land-based maritime patrol aircraft.

Submarine Group (SUBGRU)[edit]

A SUBGRU consists of two or three submarine squadrons (SUBRONs) under a flag officer.

Surface Action Group (SAG)[edit]

A SAG usually consists of a destroyer squadron (DESRON) consisting of three or four guided missile destroyers with embarked Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron detachments, all under the command of the DESRON commodore.

Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWGRU)[edit]

A NSWGRU consists of one or more SEAL, SEAL Delivery Vehicle, or Special Boat teams along with headquarters, training, and support personnel, all under the command of a captain.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group (EODGRU)[edit]

An EODGRU consists of four EOD mobile units, a training and evaluation unit, and a diving and salvage unit.


In the United States Army, certain non-aviation formations (e.g., current Special Forces and formerly some Air Defense Artillery, Armored Cavalry, Combat Engineer, Field Artillery, Military Intelligence, Military Police, and Signal Corps units) are/were organized into groups, vice brigades or regiments. These units are/were generally smaller than brigades, usually consisting of from two to four battalions/squadrons (armored cavalry only), separate companies/batteries (air defense and field artillery)/troops (armored cavalry only), and/or detachments.

The corresponding aviation unit in the US Army to an Air Force or Navy wing or a Marine aircraft group is the combat aviation brigade.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the RAF and the air forces of many Commonwealth countries, a group is made up of several stations or wings, each of which typically controls two or more squadrons, so that a group normally includes six to 10 squadrons. When the ranks of the RAF were designed, an officer with the rank of group captain (equivalent to an Army colonel and Navy captain) commanded such a unit, although by the time of World War II, many groups were commanded by air commodores (equivalent to brigadiers/brigadier generals and commodores) or air vice-marshals (equivalent to major generals and rear admirals).

RAF groups are generally not the equivalent of a USAF wing, but more analogous to a USAF numbered air force—commanded by an air or general officer with 200 to 400 aircraft. At the height of the combined bomber offensive in WW2, Main Force RAF Bomber Command and Eighth Air Force were considered cognate organizations and shared the same operational headquarters—RAF manning it at night and USAAF manning it during the day; Bomber Command was commanded by an officer in a grade of Air Chief Marshal that today is considered OF 9, while Eighth Air Force was commanded by a Lieutenant General (today’s OF 8). Groups in Bomber Command were somewhat analogous to the USAAF Air Divisions responsible for generating combat power and respectively usually commanded by air vice-marshals and major generals (today’s OF 7) or occasionally by air commodores or brigadier generals. From 1943 to 1945, RAF groups were composed of bases, which were analogous to USAAF wings, these were the units tasked for forces and usually all aircraft from the same RAF base or USAAF wing operated together in a mission. RAF bases were usually commanded by air commodores (today’s OF 6) and USAAF wings by colonels or brigadier generals (OF 5 or 6). Bases were composed of stations (the main station plus 1 to 3 others) commanded by group captains (today’s OF 5), which were analogous to USAF groups commanded by lieutenant colonels or colonels (OF 4 or 5) and controlling the air operations from its assigned air station. RAF Stations typically controlled 1 to 2 flying squadrons each of 1 to 3 flights (typically 3 to 5 flights per station). Stations were analogous to USAF groups, which were composed of 4 squadrons, which squadrons were more like RAF bomber flights than RAF squadrons. In 1945 there were RAF bomber squadrons with 40 or more Lancasters that were larger than some USAAF bombardment groups, some of which had less than 40 B-17s or B-24s (nominally they each were to have 56). On average, Lancaster and Halifax squadrons provided 13.6 aircraft per mission every 4 days. B-17 and B-24 groups provided, on average 27 aircraft per mission every 4 days, over the course of the war. Thus, the 4-squadron B-17 and B-24 groups were on average twice the size of an RAF squadron—most of time having 2 flights. RAF stations (air bases) are also controlled by a particular group, although Expeditionary Air Groups control expeditionary air wings directly. Groups are directly subordinate to a command (or, historically, to a tactical air force).

In the British Fleet Air Arm and some other naval air services, a group usually consists of three squadrons.

Pattern in some NATO countries Rank level of
general or
commanding officer
British and
USAF and
Canadian German Lw
Group Wing Air division no equivalent OF-6 or OF-7
Wing Group Wing Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader
(en: Operational AF-Wing)
OF-4 or OF-5
Squadron Squadron Squadron Staffel (en: Squadron) OF-3 or OF-4