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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 1956-present 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 1967-1968 VOC Composite Spotting Squadron 1944-1945 VOF Observation Fighter Squadron 1942-1945 VP Seaplane Patrol Squadron 1922 VP Patrol Squadron 1924-1944 1946 1948-present 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.

Published: Tue Nov 15 14:25:12 EST 2022