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Lieutenant general (United States)

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Title: Lieutenant general (United States)  
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Subject: Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, Eighth United States Army, General of the Army (United States), Major general (United States), Reduction in rank
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Lieutenant general (United States)

Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps three-star insignia of the rank of Lieutenant General. Style and method of wear may vary between the services.
This article is about a United States military rank. For other countries that use a similar rank, see lieutenant general.

In the United States Army, the United States Air Force and the United States Marine Corps, lieutenant general (abbreviated LTG in the Army, Lt Gen in the Air Force, and LtGen in the Marine Corps) is a three-star general officer rank, with the pay grade of O-9. Lieutenant general ranks above major general and below general. Lieutenant general is equivalent to the rank of vice admiral in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard.

Statutory limits

Army Service Uniform shoulder strap with the rank of Lieutenant General
Rank flag of a lieutenant general in the Army (the Air Force uses the same design with blue, vice red, field

The United States Code explicitly limits the total number of generals that may be concurrently active to 230 for the Army, 208 for the Air Force, and 60 for the Marine Corps.[1] For the Army and Air Force, no more than about 25% of the service's active duty general officers may have more than two stars.[2] Some of these slots are reserved by statute. For example, in the Army and the Air Force, the Surgeon General[3] and the Judge Advocate General[4][5] for both branches are lieutenant generals. Officers serving in certain intelligence positions are not counted against either limit, including the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.[6] The President may also add three-star slots to one service if they are offset by removing an equivalent number from other services.[2] Finally, all statutory limits may be waived at the president's discretion during time of war or national emergency.[7]

Appointment and tour length

The three-star grade goes hand-in-hand with the position of office to which it is linked, so the rank is temporary. Officers may only achieve three-star grade if they are appointed to positions that require the officer to hold such a rank.[8] Their rank expires with the expiration of their term of office, which is usually set by statute.[8] Lieutenant generals are nominated for appointment by the president from any eligible officers holding the rank of brigadier general or above, who also meet the requirements for the position, with the advice of the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[8] The nominee must be confirmed via majority vote by the Senate before the appointee can take office and thus assume the rank.[8] The standard tour length for most lieutenant general positions is three years but some are set four or more years by statute.

Extensions of the standard tour length can be approved, within statutory limits, by their respective service secretaries, the Secretary of Defense, the president, or Congress but these are rare, as they block other officers from being promoted. Some statutory limits under the U.S. Code can be waived in times of national emergency or war. Three-star ranks may also be given by act of Congress but this is extremely rare.


Other than voluntary retirement, statute sets a number of mandates for retirement. Lieutenant generals must retire after 38 years of service unless appointed for promotion or reappointed to grade to serve longer.[9] Otherwise all general officers must retire the month after their 64th birthday.[10] However, the Secretary of Defense can defer a three-star officer's retirement until the officer's 66th birthday and the president can defer it until the officer's 68th birthday.

General officers typically retire well in advance of the statutory age and service limits, so as not to impede the upward career mobility of their juniors. Since there is a finite number of three-star slots available to each service, typically one officer must leave office before another can be promoted.[11] Maintaining a three-star rank is a game of musical chairs; once an officer vacates a position bearing that rank, they have 60 days to be appointed or reappointed to a position of equal or higher importance or involuntarily retire.[8] Historically, officers leaving three-star positions were allowed to revert to their permanent two-star ranks to mark time in lesser jobs until statutory retirement, but now such officers are expected to retire immediately to avoid obstructing the promotion flow.


Modern use

An Army or Marine Corps lieutenant general typically commands a corps-sized unit (20,000 to 45,000 soldiers for an Army Corps and a similar number of Marines for a Marine Expeditionary Force), while an Air Force lieutenant general commands a large Numbered Air Force consisting of several wings or a smaller USAF Major Command (MAJCOM) such as the Air Force Special Operations Command or the Air Force Reserve Command. Additionally, lieutenant generals of all services serve as high-level staff officers at various major command headquarters and The Pentagon, often as the heads of their departments. Currently, five women serve as lieutenant generals in the US Army.[12]

After the close of the Second World War, generals were normally promoted permanently to brigadier general and major general, with temporary promotions to lieutenant general and general to fill senior positions as needed. In theory, a general vacates their three or four-star rank at termination of their assignment unless placed in an equal ranking billet. Douglas MacArthur, who served as four-star general and Army Chief of Staff, reverted to two stars after his CoS tour ended but chose to stay on active duty in the United States Army.

The practice of using lieutenant general and general grades as a temporary rank continues, with the President and the Department of Defense creating temporary or indefinite three- and four-star assignments, with fixed term of office, with the approval of the Senate. Even with the temporary status, such officers are also almost always granted permanent retirement in the last grade they held with the satisfactory completion of at least two or three years in grade.

Famous lieutenant generals


Listed in order of receiving the rank:

World War II

1950s through 1980s; Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War

Post-Cold War

See also


  1. ^ 10 USC § 526. Authorized strength: general and flag officers on active duty
  2. ^ a b [1] 10 USC 525. Distribution of commissioned officers on active duty in general officer and flag officer grades.
  3. ^ [2] 10 USC 3036. Chiefs of branches: appointment; duties.
  4. ^ [3] Pub.L. 110-181: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008
  5. ^ [4] Pub.L. 110-181: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 full text
  6. ^ [5] 10 USC 528. Officers serving in certain intelligence positions: military status; exclusion from distribution and strength limitations; pay and allowances.
  7. ^ [6] 10 USC 527. Authority to suspend sections 523, 525, and 526.
  8. ^ a b c d e [7] 10 USC 601. Positions of importance and responsibility: generals and lieutenant generals; admirals and vice admirals.
  9. ^ [8] 10 USC 636. Retirement for years of service: regular officers in grades above brigadier general and rear admiral (lower half).
  10. ^ [9]] 10 USC 1253. Age 64: regular commissioned officers in general and flag officer grades; exception.
  11. ^ [10] DoD News Briefing on Thursday, June 6, 1996. Retirement of Admiral Leighton W. Smith Jr.
  12. ^ Army finance officer attains historic third star (2014-08-13)
  13. ^ Patricia Tracey, VADM, USN (Ret), was the first woman to be promoted to three-star rank (Vice Admiral, the Navy rank equivalent to lieutenant general, both being the military grade of O-9), on 13 May 1996.

External links

  • The Origin of the Ranks and Rank Insignia Now Used by the United States Armed Forces
  • Abandoned proposal for six-star rank in Second World War
  • General of the Armies of the United States and General of the Army of the United States
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