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U.S. Navy Squadron Designations and Abbreviations

The system of squadron designations was established to help define part of Naval Aviation's organizational structure and help identify the operational and administrative functions of aviation within the fleet. Just as the designations for ships, such as DD, CA, BB, etc., were used to define the duties of the specific units and their alignment within the fleet organization, so also were the squadron designations established to formulate the responsibilities and alignment within naval aviation and the fleet structure.

During naval aviation's early years there were big question marks concerning naval aviation's ability to succeed as a functional component of the fleet and whether it would survive due to the limited capabilities of the aircraft. In official publications and references, such as the Daily Aviation News Bulletin of 1 October 1919, casual terms were used to describe or identify various aircraft squadrons and units. The casual terms were used because no specific fleet aviation organizational structure for squadrons had been officially established. Prior to 1919, naval aircraft, excluding Marine Corps planes, were primarily assigned to shore stations. Therefore, in order to integrate aviation into the fleet, it was necessary to develop a fleet organization that included aviation units. The development of a system of squadron designations is discussed in Chapter 1.

In general terms, the Navy's system for designating naval aircraft squadrons has usually conformed to the following loose classification structure:

(1) Squadron designations were based on specific letters used for indicating the missions for each particular type of squadron and its assigned aircraft. As an example, a World War II squadron operating the F4U Corsair aircraft would have been designated a fighting squadron (VF). The letter F, for fighting or fighter, was the key in identifying the type of squadron and was also used in the aircraft's designation.
(2) Identification numbers were assigned to each squadron, such as VF-1. The number 1 separates Fighter Squadron 1 (VF-1) from Fighter Squadron 10 (VF-10).

There have been many variations to this basic system throughout Naval Aviation's history. Changes were also made to the designation system when new plane types were developed and new squadrons were formed to carry out those new missions. There is no logical sequence for the numerical designation assigned the various squadrons throughout most of Naval Aviation's history. The Marine Corps did establish a logical sequence for their squadron designations, however, there are variations to this system, too.

As Navy squadrons were established, disestablished or redesignated, many of the same letters and numbers were reused and assigned at a later date for newly established or redesignated units, hence, the lineage of a squadron cannot always be traced or linked by using the same designation. As an example, VF-1 from World War II has no direct relationship to VF-1 established in the 1970s. The rich tradition and heritage of the various squadrons in the Navy has not always been carried over because of the break in continuity between units. Once a squadron is disestablished that ends its history. If a new squadron is established using the same designation of a previous squadron it does not have any direct relationship with that unit. The reuse of many of the same letters and numerical designations adds considerable confusion to the squadron designation system. A new squadron may carry on the traditions of a previous squadron, just as a ship that has been assigned the same name more than once carries on the traditions of the past ships with the same name. However, a squadron, just like a ship, can not claim a heritage or historical link to the old unit with the same designation.

Consistency has been the major ingredient lacking in the Navy's squadron designation system. As an example, the use of "Plane" in squadron designations was not consistent during the 1920s. Sometimes the full designation would be written differently, depending on the squadron's assignment to the Battle Fleet, Scouting Fleet, or Asiatic Fleet. A designation such as Scouting Squadron and Scouting Plane Squadron, which used the same abbreviation, VS, was listed in the Navy Directory as Scouting Squadron under the Battle Fleet and Scouting Plane Squadron under the Scouting Fleet. The use of "Plane" in squadron designations was most likely designed to identify the squadron as an aviation unit, vice a destroyer squadron. This seems to be especially true during the 1920s when aviation was first being integrated into the fleet organization and operations. The Navy Directory, Monthly Report, Status of Naval Aircraft, and the Bureau of Aeronautics, Weekly Newsletter all list squadron designations using "Plane." The Chief of Naval Operations' "Naval Aeronautical Organization", published for each Fiscal Year, lists the squadron designations without using "Plane" in the designation. It is obvious there is no difference between the squadrons with or without the use of "Plane" in the squadron designation. The acronym remained the same, with or without the use of "Plane" in the full squadron designation. In the 1930s the squadron designations listed in all four sources identified above usually refer to the squadron using its abbreviated designation, such as VF Squadron 1 (VF-1) instead of Fighting Plane Squadron 1. In the 1940s the use of "Plane" in the full squadron designation is dropped.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s the VC squadron designation was used to identify a group of squadrons with several different missions but all assigned the VC designation. Missions for specific Composite Squadrons (VC) included all-weather night, attack and defense; air early warning; anti-submarine warfare; and photographic. The only identifying factor to separate the different types of Composite Squadrons was the numerical designation. In the late 1940s the single digit numbers were for the Composite Night or Attack and Defense units, those numbers in the teens were for Composite Air Warning squadrons, numbers in the 20s and 30s were for Composite Anti-Submarine units, and the numbers in the 60s were for Composite Photographic squadrons.

Besides the composite squadrons (VC), several patrol squadrons (VP) had specific mission requirements that were different from its normal patrol and reconnaissance duties. However, these squadrons still maintained the normal VP designation. In the late 1940s there were two VP squadrons with a primary mission of photographic and one with an air early warning mission. VP-61 and VP-62 were the photographic squadrons and VP-51 was the air early warning squadron.

The special VC and VP designated units, were on the cutting edge of technology, which eventually lead to the development of specialized squadron designations in the 1950s and 1960s. Squadrons such as VAW (Carrier Airborne Early Warning), VAQ (Tactical Electronic Warfare), and VQ (Electronic Countermeasures or Air Reconnaissance) were the result of technical developments in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The use of an abbreivated squadron designation with different missions occurred in the early 1950s when the VJ designation was used for both photographic squadrons and weather squadrons. VJ-1 and 2 were designated Weather Squadrons or Weather Reconnaissance Squadrons. VJ-61 and 62 were designated Photographic Squadrons. The missions were totally different for these two types of squadrons but they used a common abbreivated squadron designation.

There are four factors that play a role in developing or changing squadron designations. They have been around since the introduction of aviation in the Navy and will continue to be the primary factors effecting squadron designations. The factors are:

1. the duties or mission of a squadron
2. technical advances in aircraft or equipment
3. changes in tactics or development of new tactics
4. changes in naval aviation or fleet organziation

The following is a list of various squadron designations used by the Navy since the early 1920s. It does not include Marine Corps squadron designations. The list is in alphabetical order rather than in the chronological order of squadron development. The general time frame for when the designation was in use is listed with the squadron designation. Further elaboration on the assignment of squadrons to other organizations and their designations such as: a battle group, carrier air wing, cruiser group, fleet air force, scouting fleet, Asiatic Fleet, naval district, reserves, etc..., has not been included in this list to prevent it from becoming to confusing or extensive. The only exception to this is for the reserves. Reserve squadron designations, beginning in 1970, are included in this list. In 1970 the naval air reserve was reorganized and the squadron structure and arrangement was aligned to mirror the squadron designation system in existence for active fleet units.


Acronym     Full Squadron Designation                    General Timeframe
in use 
HAL or HA(L)Helicopter Attack Squadron Light             1967-72, 1976-88
HC          Helicopter Combat Support Squadron           1965-present
HCS         Helicopter Combat Support Special Squadron   1988-present
HCT            Helicopter Combat Support Training Squadron  1974-1977
HM            Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron   1971-present
HS          Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron           1951-present
HSL         Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light)   1972-present
HT          Helicopter Training Squadron                 1960-present
HTU         Helicopter Training Unit                     1950-1957
HU          Helicopter Utility Squadron                  1948-1965
RVAH        Reconnaissance Attack Squadron               1964-1979
RVAW        Carrier Airborne Early Warning Training Squadron 1967-1983
STAGRON     Special Air Task Force Squadron (VK)         1943-1944
TACRON      Tactical Squadron or Tactical Air Control
            Squadron or Tactical Control Squadron        1946-present
VA          Attack Squadron                              1946-present
VA(AW)      All-Weather Attack Squadron                  1956-1959 
VAH or VA(H) Heavy Attack Squadron                       1955-1971 
VA(HM)      Attack Mining Squadron                       1956-1959 
VAK         Tactical Aerial Refueling Squadron           1979-1989 
VAL or VA(L) Light Attack Squadron                       1969-1972 
VAP or VA(P)  Heavy Photographic Reconnaissance
              Squadron or Photographic 
              Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) or 
              Heavy Photographic Squadron                1956-1971 
VAQ         Carrier Tactical Electronics Warfare 
            Squadron or Tactical Electronics 
            Warfare Squadron                             1968-present 
VAW         Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron      1948 
VAW         Carrier Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron  1968 
VB          Bombing Squadron or Light Bombing Plane 
            Squadron                                     1928-1946 
VBF         Bombing Fighting Squadron                    1945-1946 
VC          Composite Squadron                           1943-45, 1948-56 
VC          Fleet Composite Squadron                     1965-present 
VCN         Night Composite Squadron                     1946-1948 
VCP          Photographic Composite Squadron             1959-1961 
VCS         Cruiser Scouting Squadron                    1937-1945 
VD          Photographic Squadron                        1943-1946 
VE          Evacuation Squadron                          1944-1945 
VF          Combat Squadron                              1922 
VF          Fighting Plane Squadron or Fighting Squadron  1922-1948 
VF          Fighter Squadron                             1948-present 
VFA         Fighter Attack Squadron                      1980-1983 
VFA         Strike Fighter Squadron                      1983-present 
VF(AW)      All-Weather Fighter Squadron 
            or Fighter (All-Weather) Squadron            1956-1963 
VFN or VF(N)  Night Fighting Squadron                    1944-1946 
VFP or VF(P)  Light Photographic Reconnaissance
              Squadron or Photographic 
              Reconnaissance Squadron or
              Photographic Reconnaissance 
              Squadron (Light) or Light
              Photographic Squadron                      1956-1987 
VGF         Escort-Fighter Squadron                      1942-1943 
VGS         Escort-Scouting Squadron                     1942-1943 
VH          Rescue Squadron                              1944-1946 
VJ          Utility Squadron or General Utility
            Squadron                                     1925-1946 
VJ          Weather Squadron or Weather 
            Reconnaissance Squadron                      1952-1953 
VJ          Photographic Squadron                        1952-1956 
VK          Special Air Task Force Squadron (STAGRON)    1943-1944 
VN          Training Squadron                            1927-1947 
VO          Spotting Squadron                            1922 
VO          Observation Plane Squadron or 
            Observation Squadron                         1923-45, 1947-49 
VOC         Composite Spotting Squadron                  1944-1945 
VOF         Observation Fighter Squadron                 1942-1945 
VP          Seaplane Patrol Squadron                     1922 
VP          Patrol Squadron                              1924-1944 
VP-AM       Amphibian Patrol Squadron                    1946-1948 
VPB         Patrol Bombing Squadron                      1944-1946 
VP-HL       Heavy Patrol Squadron (landplane)            1946-1948 
VPM         Meteorological Squadron                      1946-1947 
VP-ML       Medium Patrol Squadron (landplane)           1946-1948 
VP-MS       Medium Patrol Squadron (seaplane)            1946-1948 
VPP or VP(P)  Photographic Squadron or Patrol 
              Squadron (photographic)                    1946-1948 
VPU         Patrol Squadron Special Unit                 1982-present 
VPW         Weather Reconnaissance Squadron              1945-1948 
VPW         Air Early Warning Squadron                   1948 
VQ          Electronic Countermeasures Squadron          1955-1960 
VQ          Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron            1961-present 
VR          Transport Squadron or Air Transport 
            Squadron or Fleet Logistic Air Squadron      1942-1958 
VR          Fleet Tactical Support Squadron              1958-1976 
VR          Fleet Logistics Support Squadron             1976-present 
VRC or VR(C)     Fleet Tactical Support Squadron         1960-1976 
VRC         Fleet Logistics Support Squadron             1976-present 
VRE         Air Transport Evacuation Squadron            1945 
VRF         Transport Ferry and Service Squadron         1943-1946 
VRF         Air Ferry Transport Squadron or 
            Air Ferry Squadron                           1943-1948 
VRF or VR(F)  Aircraft Ferry Squadron                    1957-1986 
VRJ         Utility Transport Squadron                   1945-1946 
VRS         Air Ferry Service Squadron or Ferry
            Command Service Squadron                     1943-1946 
VRU         Transport Utility Squadron                   1946-1948 
VS          Scouting Plane Squadron or 
            Scouting Squadron                            1922-1946 
VS          Anti-Submarine Squadron or Air
            Anti-Submarine Squadron or Carrier 
            Air Anti-Submarine Squadron                  1950-1993 
VS          Sea Control Squadron                         1993-present 
VSF         Anti-Submarine Fighter Squadron              1965-1973 
VT          Torpedo Bombing Plane Squadron or 
            Torpedo Bombing Squadron                     1922-1930 
VT          Torpedo Plane Squadron                       1921 
VT          Torpedo Squadron                             1930-1946 
VT          Training Squadron                            1960-present 
VTN         Night Torpedo Squadron                       1944-1946 
VU          Utility Squadron                             1946-1965 
VW          Air Early Warning Squadron or Airborne 
            Early Warning Squadron or Fleet
            Early Warning Squadron                       1952-1971 
VW          Weather Reconnaissance Squadron or 
            Fleet Weather Reconnaissance Squadron        1967-1975 
VX          Experimental Squadron                        1927-circa. 1943 
VX          Experimental and Development 
            Squadron or Operational Development 
            Squadron or Air Operational
            Development Squadron or Air
            Development Squadron                         1946-1968 
VX          Air Test and Evaluation Squadron             1969-present 
VXE         Antarctic Development Squadron               1969-present 
VXN         Oceanographic Development Squadron           1969-1993 
ZJ          Blimp Utility Squadron                       1944-1945 
ZK          Kite Balloon Squadron                        1922-1924 
ZKN         Kite Balloon Training Squadron* 
ZKO         Kite Balloon Observation Squadron* 
ZNN         Non-rigid Airship Training Squadron* 
ZNO         Non-rigid Airship Observation Squadron* 
ZNP         Non-rigid Airship Patrol Squadron* 
ZNS         Non-rigid Airship Scouting Squadron* 
ZP          Airship Patrol Squadron                      1942-1961 
ZP          Blimp Squadron                               1942-1961 
ZP          Airship Patrol Squadron (All-Weather 
            Anti-Submarine) or Airship Squadron
            or LTA Patrol Squadron                       1942-1961 
ZRN         Rigid Airship Training Squadron* 
ZRP         Rigid Airship Patrol Squadron* 
ZRS         Rigid Airship Scouting Squadron* 
ZS          Airship Anti-Submarine Squadron* 
ZW          Airship Early Warning Squadron               1956-1961 
ZX          Airship Operational Development
            Squadron or Airship Development Squadron     1950-1957

* These squadron designations were developed, however, the Navy never established any squadrons using the designations.

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30 June 1997