Rank is the way Starfleet conveys its ideals about responsibility, trust, and previous achievements.
Between various Star Trek series, rank is something of a hot mess, especially for characters outside the ensign through captain range the shows are usually most concerned with. In this article, I’ve tried to use some real-world military information, mixed with a broad interpretation of on-screen events to provide a framework that we can use in any era which is more consistent than the “rank as we like it” approach viewer experienced in most the series.
Starfleet personnel who do not attend an academy or other officer training program enter service as Enlisted Personnel, these service members have the least authority and have the least amount of comfort on-board ship. Sometimes an ambitious enlisted service member might earn promotion into the ranks of Warrant Officers or even the regular Officer ranks. The sleeve rank insignia is worn as a large patch on the left shoulder while the rank pin is worn on the right collar, just as the insignia pin for officers.
During the first and maybe second enlistment in Starfleet, enlisted servicemembers are learning their craft, largely through on-the-job training and mentoring with more experienced crewmembers. The provide the manual labor that makes Starfleet run, so are an indispensable part of the crew, even if they are often overlooked. An ambitious and capable crewman might find themselves selected for promotion to petty officer after their first tour (3 years) while it isn’t too unusual for some crewmembers to serve as Specialists for an entire additional tour as they acquire either the technical or leadership skills needed to excel as supervisors. Junior enlisted do not have any kind of “command authority” but may be assigned to lead details of lower ranking individuals by their petty officer or officer supervisors. Truly exceptional individuals might be selected for consideration to join either the Warrant Officer Corps or even attend Starfleet academy to become officers themselves. Every Specialist is invited to submit an application to Starfleet Academy after they complete their first three years of honorable service. Once enlisted personnel are promoted to Petty Officer 3rd Class they can take their department’s Warrant Officer exam each year, if they desire, with those scoring in the top 1% being selected for the Warrant Officer training course.
|E1||CER||Crewmember Recruit||Crewmember*||None||None||Minor NPC||0||0|
|E2||CE3||Crewmember 3rd Class||Crewmember*||Minor NPC||3||1|
|E3||CE2||Crewmember 2nd Class||Crewmember*||Minor NPC||9||2|
|E4||CE1||Crewmember 1st Class||Crewmember*||Minor NPC||12||4|
*On some ships this has been phonetically shortened to sound like “Crew’ber” for better or worse.
Petty Officers are experienced enlisted personnel who have been entrusted with special status as Non-commissioned Officers, these ranks are set apart from junior enlisted with special responsibilities and privileges. Junior petty officers will serve as first-line supervisors to the crewmen who do the manual labor in Starfleet and are responsible for their training, morale, health, and discipline. More senior will supervise junior petty officers and have the same sorts of responsibilities for the success of their subordinates. Each department aboard the ship will have one petty officer in charge all enlisted members of that department and will report directly to the officer who is the head (chief) of that department. On very small vessels, these department mates might be Petty Officers 3rd Class, but on very large vessels, each department, especially very important departments, like engineering, might have a Chief Petty Officer supervising the enlisted personnel. Additionally each vessel has one very important petty officer called the Chief of the Boat who serves as the senior enlisted advisor to the captain and executive officer. The Chief of the Boat is the supervisor of every enlisted person aboard the vessel and as such is responsible for their health, training, and morale. The COB will spend most of their time ensuring that the various departments and watches are running smoothly and that each crewman is being given their best opportunity to advance themselves and best serve the ship and Starfleet. This position will usually be the most senior petty officer aboard, but as they serve at the captain’s pleasure it might not be. The Chief of the Boat will often be tasked with sensitive tasks for the captain and it is paramount that they maintain their commander’s utmost confidence. The Chief of the Boat’s rank insignia will include the command star, regardless of what rank or division they are, as shown below for Chief Petty Officer.
|E6||PO3||Petty Officer 3rd Class||Mate||Notable NPC||24||10|
|E7||PO2||Petty Officer 2nd Class||Mate||Notable NPC||36||20|
|E8||PO1||Petty Officer 1st Class||Mate||Notable NPC||36||40|
|E9||CPO||Chief Petty Officer||Chief||Major NPC||36||60|
As Starfleet was incorporated as a quasi-military force for planetary protection and exploration, it made sense to draw mainly on the customs and traditions of the Earth’s navies and air forces to create the new military culture of Starfleet, after all, most of the world’s astronauts had already served as pilots in either an air force or navy. With great optimism, Starfleet Command believed the days of the “ground pounder” or “grunt” were over. It wasn’t long, however, before it became clear that there very real possibilities of aliens boarding Starfleet vessels and, at times, the need for Starfleet to board other species’ vessels forcibly. Starfleet personnel while having some security training were not the ideal choice to fill the role of acute close combat specialists, so in the mid-22nd century Military Assault Command Operations was formed. Drawing instead from the traditions of combat riflemen of armies and marines, the “culture” and ranks of the MACOs reflect their origins. Although the ranks are called different things, you can find their rank equivalents by looking at the Grade column. [See Military Assault Command Operations for more information.]
|E3||Private First Class||Private||Rifleman|
|E6||Staff Sergeant||Sergeant||Section Sergeant|
|E7||Sergeant First Class||Sergeant||Platoon Sergeant|
|E8||Master Sergeant||First Sergeant (Top)||Company Sergeant|
|E9||Sergeant Major||Sergeant Major||Battalion Sergeant|
|W1||Warrant Officer||Chief||Ops Team XO|
|W2||Chief Warrant Officer||Chief||Ops Team XO|
|W3||Senior Chief WO||Chief||Ops Team XO/Cmd|
|W4||Master Chief WO||Master Chief||Ops Team Cmd|
|W5||Master Chief WO||Master Chief||Ops Team Cmd|
|O1||2nd Lieutenant||Lieutenant||Platoon Leader|
|O2||1st Lieutenant||Lieutenant||Platoon Leader|
|O4||Major||Major||Company CO/ BN XO|
|O5||Lieutenant Colonel||Colonel||Battalion CO|
Midshipman (Cadet) Ranks
Individuals who attend one of the service academies will spend four years developing their career skills before they are entrusted with a Starfleet commission. During the last two years at the academy it is customary for midshipmen to serve temporary assignments in Starfleet to gain some practical experience and test the skills they have already acquired. For this reason, characters with the ranks of MD2 and MD1 are often found serving in minor roles aboard starships. For purposes of hierarchy MD4’s and MD3’s are considered of the same “rank” as Specialists and are afforded similar respect and billets, while MD2’s and MD1’s place above most enlisted personnel, but below Warrant Officers.
The terms Midshipman and Cadet are used pretty interchangeably, even when speaking about the title of one’s rank. This is the result of the history of the merging of naval and air force training academies into the Starfleet Academy. Language Arts instructors at the academy might note that there is a propensity for the term Cadet to be used more widely to refer to the role as students at the academy, while the term Midshipman is more widely used in association with their duties aboard starships during their training tours taking place between the second-and-third and third-and-forth years at the academy.
|M1||MD4||Midshipman 4th Class||Middie (only by superiors) or Midshipman||Minor NPC||0||E4||First Year Academy|
|M2||MD3||Midshipman 3rd Class||Middie (only by superiors) or Midshipman||Minor NPC||0||E5||Second Year Academy|
|M3||MD2||Midshipman 2nd Class||Middie (only by superiors) or Midshipman||Minor NPC||0||E7||Third Year Academy|
|M4||MD1||Midshipman 1st Class||Middie (only by superiors) or Midshipman||Notable NPC||2||E8||Fourth Year Academy|
Warrant Officer Ranks
Warrant Officers hold a special place in the hierarchy between enlisted members and officers. In the early industrial era, a person became a warrant officer by either being a seaman who possessed special skills that merited special treatment or being a midshipman who failed to become a regular officer. Four centuries later, their role is still similar. While Starfleet policy requires all commissioned officers to have broad skills in leadership, technology, tactics, and science, Starfleet’s technical requirements also require technical specialists who do a single job very well, better than once might be able to require from less educated enlisted personnel or educated, but generalist officer corps.
Starfleet warrant officers today come from three sources, civilian technical experts who join Starfleet and for one reason or another do not attend one of the service academies to become commissioned officers; enlisted personnel who become experts in their technical specialty through a combination of experience and education; or more rarely midshipman who excel in one field of study at the academy, but who fail to pass qualifying examinations in all six of the required career disciplines. Whereas commissioned officers have general ‘command authority’ over all Starfleet personnel of lesser rank, warrant officers have a form of limited ‘command authority’ which only applies to personnel assigned to be under them in their chain of command, who will usually be junior warrant officers and enlisted personnel; however, in a peculiarity of Starfleet rank structure, ensigns are often assigned to assist warrant officers and are considered junior to any warrant officer to whom they are assigned. This give the inexperienced officer an opportunity to learn valuable skills from experienced specialists.
With most warrant officers being technical or tactical experts, it is not surprising that the majority of them serve in the Operations Division; however, some Command Division warrant officers serve as commanders of fast patrol vessels (PFs), or helmsmen on larger vessels, and physician’s assistants are medical warrant officers, and along with nurses, are the medical professionals most crewmen will be treated by for ailments that don’t require surgery.
|W1||WO1||Warrant Officer||Chief||Notable NPC||12||20|
|W2||CWO||Chief Warrant Officer||Chief||Notable NPC||24||25|
|W3||SCW||Senior Chief||Senior Chief||Notable NPC||36||35|
|W4||MCW||Master Chief Warrant Officer||Master Chief||Major NPC||48||55|
|W5||FMC||Fleet Master Chief Warrant Officer||Fleet Chief||Major NPC||48||75|
Starfleet officers have a commission from Starfleet command authorizing them to serve as official agents of Starfleet Command and the United Federation of Planets and have command authority over other members of Starfleet and special responsibilities to citizens of the UFP. This position of special trust and confidence will be removed if Starfleet Command determines the service member violated their responsibilities or is unable to serve in the finest traditions of Starfleet.
|O1||ENS||Ensign||Mister or Ensign||Minor NPC||0||4|
|O2||LTJ||Lieutenant Junior Grade||Mister or Lieutenant||Notable NPC||12||10|
|O3||LTS||Lieutenant Senior Grade||Mister or Lieutenant||Notable NPC||24||20|
|O4||CDL||Lieutenant Commander||Commander||Notable NPC||36||50|
Fleet Captain isn’t a rank in the sense that other ranks in Starfleet are, but instead a brevet appointment which is done for one of two exceptional circumstances.
- A captain (O6) needs to assume command of a battle group, where they need unquestioned authority over other captains (O6s) for the duration of the battle group’s mission. These kinds of battlegroups are usually commanded by commodores or rear admirals, but in times of war, flag officers may not be available to command every battle group.
- A high honor for an exemplary careers for captains who for one reason or another, never received a flag appointment by the United Federation of Planets Subcommittee for Starfleet. This honor is very rare, with two exceptional captains being among the few recipients Garth of Izar and Christopher Pike.
The rank worn by Fleet Captains (for the duration of their appointment) are five golden pips. Captains who serve with distinction as brevet fleet captains are usually fast-tracked flag officer consideration.
Flag officers are individually appointed from among the Starfleet officer corps by the United Federation of Planets Subcommittee for Starfleet and approved by the President of the United Federation of Planets personally. As the promotion to flag ranks is literally a legislative act, these positions are inherently political in nature.
|O8||RAD||Rear Admiral||Admiral||Major NPC||48||**|
|O9||VAD||Vice Admiral||Admiral||Major NPC||48||**|
|O11||FAD||Fleet Admiral||Admiral||Major NPC||48||**|
|O12||ADF||Chief of Naval Operations||Admiral||Major NPC||48||**|
Grade: This is the Starfleet Personnel Grade Code used for determining pay and privileges as well as comparing rank equivalents between different services and treaty members. (When looking at the rank schedule of the Vulcan Space Command, one can see that a Sub-commander is an O5 or the equivalent to a Commander on the Federation rank schedule—however, due to treaty concessions, in early time periods Vulcans of equal position on the schedule are considered to outrank members of Starfleet.) SRC: The Short Rank Code is a three-letter code to abbreviate each Starfleet rank. This code is used where space might be restricted or on internal documents, where it would be unlikely to cause confusion. Term of Address: While it is always technically correct to use the full rank title when addressing a member of Starfleet, humans tend to feel that overly long terms of address are cumbersome, and their use can indicate the person being spoken to is “in trouble.” As a result, cultural tradition has created alternate terms of address, which are often used in there place for everyday purposes. These forms of address will never be used in ceremonial functions. Insignia: This symbol is worn on the uniforms of personnel holding this rank. Depending on the uniform, this insignia is usually worn on the uniform’s right collar or approximately inline with the wearer’s right collar bone (for personnel with standard humanoid anatomy). For enlisted members of Starfleet, a larger patch version is often worn on the left sleeve of work coveralls. Sleeve Braid: On some dress uniforms, officers wear braiding on their sleeves to denote rank. Character Type: While exceptions exist, NPC characters of these ranks will be this “type” of NPC. Time in Grade: This is the number of months a character needs to serve in their rank before they are eligible to apply for promotion. Characters are allowed to apply for promotion once a month [See Promotions ]. Merit: Merit is the sum of all Reputation that has been earned or lost throughout a career. The number shown on the table is the amount of Merit required to apply to promotion to that rank. If the character has twice that number of Merit, they can receive a waiver for the Time-in-Grade requirements and apply for promotion immediately. If a character has enough Merit to qualify for a rank more than one higher than their current rank it is possible (although difficult) to skip a rank and receive the highest rank they are qualified for when applying for promotion. [See Promotions] Equivalent Rank: Midshipman receive deference from enlisted personnel based upon which year they are in and are considered to hold the grade listed.