Air chief marshal

Air chief marshal (Air Chf Mshl or ACM) is a high-ranking air officer originating from the Royal Air Force. The rank is used by air forces of many countries that have historical British influence. An air chief marshal is equivalent to an Admiral in a navy or a full general in an army or other nations' air forces.

The rank of air chief marshal is immediately senior to the rank of air marshal but subordinate to marshal of the air force. Air chief marshals are sometimes generically considered to be air marshals.[1]

Royal Air Force use and history

Air chief marshal
An RAF air chief marshal's command flag
Shoulder and sleeve insignia from the Royal Air Force
An RAF Air Chief Marshal star plate
Service branchAir forces
AbbreviationAir Chf Mshl / ACM
NATO rank codeOF-9
Formation1 August 1919 (1919-08-01) (RAF)
Next higher rankMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Next lower rankAir marshal
Equivalent ranks


Prior to the adoption of RAF-specific rank titles in 1919, it was suggested that the RAF might use the Royal Navy's officer ranks, with the word "air" inserted before the naval rank title. For example, the rank that later became air chief marshal would have been air admiral. The Admiralty objected to any use of their rank titles, including this modified form, and so an alternative proposal was put forward: air-officer ranks would be based on the term "ardian", which was derived from a combination of the Gaelic words for "chief" (ard) and "bird" (eun), with the unmodified word "ardian" being used specifically for the equivalent to full admiral and general. However, air chief marshal was preferred and was adopted in August 1919.[2] The rank was first used on 1 April 1922 with the promotion of Sir Hugh Trenchard.[3] With Trenchard's promotion to marshal of the RAF on 1 January 1927, no officer held the rank until Sir John Salmond was promoted on 1 January 1929. It has been used continuously ever since.

In the RAF, the rank of air chief marshal is held by the serving Chief of the Air Staff (currently Sir Michael Wigston). Additionally, RAF officers appointed to four-star tri-service posts hold the rank of air chief marshal. Throughout the history of the RAF, 139 RAF officers have held the rank and it has also been awarded in an honorary capacity to senior members of the British Royal Family and allied foreign monarchs.

Although no serving RAF officer has been promoted to marshal of the Royal Air Force since the British defence cuts of the 1990s, British air chief marshals are not the most senior officers in the RAF as several officers continue to retain the RAF's highest rank. Additionally, Lord Stirrup was granted an honorary promotion to marshal of the Royal Air Force in 2014. The marshals are still to be found on the RAF's active list even though they have for all practical purposes retired.

RAF insignia, command flag and star plate

The rank insignia consists of three narrow light blue bands (each on a slightly wider black band) over a light blue band on a broad black band. This is worn on the lower sleeves of the service dress jacket or on the shoulders of the flying suit or working uniform. The command flag for an RAF air chief marshal is defined by the two broad red bands running through the centre of the flag. The vehicle star plate for an RAF air chief marshal depicts four white stars (air chief marshal is a four-star rank) on an air force blue background.


In the Royal Australian Air Force, this rank is only used when the Chief of the Defence Force is an Air Force officer. When this is not the case, the senior ranking Air Force officer is the Chief of Air Force, holding the rank of air marshal.[4]

With the establishment of the Australian Air Board on 9 November 1920, Australian Air Corps officers dropped their army ranks in favour of those based on the Royal Air Force. However, it was not until 1965 when Sir Frederick Scherger became Chairman of the Australian Chiefs of Staff Committee, and was promoted to air chief marshal that an RAAF officer attained the rank. Throughout the history of the RAAF, only four of its officers have held the rank. Apart from Scherger, they are Sir Neville McNamara (promoted 1982), Sir Angus Houston (promoted 2005) and Mark Binskin (promoted 2014). McNamara, Houston and Binskin are former Australian Defence Force chiefs; as of July 2018, General Angus Campbell is the current chief of the Australian Defence Force.


In 2016 the Bangladeshi Chief of Air Staff position was upgraded from air marshal to air chief marshal rank.[5]


Throughout the 20th century history of the Royal Canadian Air Force, only two officers held the rank of air chief marshal. They were: Lloyd Samuel Breadner[6] (promoted 1945) and Frank Robert Miller[7] (promoted 1961). The rank existed on paper until the 1968 unification of the Canadian Forces, when Army-type rank titles were adopted and the rank of air chief marshal was replaced by that of full general. As no serving officers held the rank in 1968, no Canadian air chief marshals were regraded to general and Miller, the then only living retired air chief marshal, retained his rank. When Miller died in 1997 the Canadian rank of air chief marshal effectively passed into history. The 21st century re-creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force has not seen the rank revived and as of 2014 there are no plans for such a change. Army-style rank titles continue to be used although a return to the former insignia has been enacted.[8] In official French Canadian usage, the rank title was maréchal en chef de l'air.


In the Indian Air Force, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) (currently ACM Vivek Ram Chaudhari) holds the rank of Air Chief Marshal. The position of the CAS was upgraded from Air Marshal to Air Chief Marshal in 1966. The first IAF officer to hold this rank was Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh (later promoted to the five-star rank of marshal of the Indian Air Force) who was promoted to the rank in 1966 while he served as the CAS.[9] Post 1966, all the Indian air chiefs have held the rank. As of 2014, 19 Indian chiefs of the air staff have held the rank. In the Indian Air Force the honorary promotion of Arjan Singh to marshal of the Indian Air Force in 2002 resulted in Indian air chief marshals no longer being the most senior IAF officers until Singh's death in 2017.


In the Namibian Air Force, the rank is known as Chief air marshal.[10]


The Nigerian air chief marshal is the second highest-ranking officer in the Nigerian Air Force, below Marshal of the air force.[11] Only the Chief of the Defence Staff holds four-star rank. The first Nigerian Air Force officer to attain the rank of air chief marshal was Paul Dike upon his appointment as the Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff in 2008. Dike was succeeded as Chief of the Defence Staff in 2010 by Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin. In 2014, Alex Sabundu Badeh was appointed Chief of Defence Staff and promoted to air chief marshal. The Nigerian Chief of Air Staff is normally a three-star air marshal.


In March 1976, as part of a Pakistani Defence Ministry reorganization, the post of Chief of Air Staff, the head of the Pakistan Air Force, was upgraded from air marshal to air chief marshal rank. To date all Pakistani air chief marshals have been members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. However, only Air Chief Marshal Farooq Feroze Khan has served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the supreme commandant of Pakistan Armed Forces.

Originally, a Pakistani air chief marshal's rank insignia was essentially the same as the RAF insignia. In 2006 the Pakistan Air Force changed the rank insignia for its officers,[12] abandoning the ring insignia in favor of a Turkish Air Force-style featuring four stars and a crossed swords and laurel device.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, only the Chief of Defence Staff holds an active four-star rank.[13] Retiring Commanders of the Sri Lanka Air Force are promoted to the rank of air chief marshal as an outgoing honour. Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera was the first CDS appointed from the Air Force and Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetileke became the first serving Air Force Commander to be appointed to the rank of air chief marshal as part of the victory celebrations.

See also


  1. "Forms of Address: Air Chief Marshal, Air Marshal and Air Vice-Marshal". Debrett's. Archived from the original on 19 November 2015. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  2. Hobart, Malcolm C (2000). Badges and Uniforms of the Royal Air Force. Leo Cooper. p. 26. ISBN 0-85052-739-2.
  3. "H M Trenchard_P".
  4. "Badges of rank" (PDF). Department of Defence (Australia). Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  5. "Navy, BAF chiefs' rank upgraded". 17 January 2016. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  6. "Canada in the Second World War". Juno Beach Centre. 21 February 2014.
  7. Stouffer, Ray (2008). "Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller – A Civilian and Military Leader". Canadian Military Journal. 10 (2). Archived from the original on 26 September 2010.
  8. Government of Canada, National Defence (25 September 2014). "News Article – RCAF receives new rank insignia".
  9. "Arjan". Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
  10. "Government Notice" (PDF). Government Gazette of the Republic of Namibia. Vol. 4547. 20 August 2010. pp. 99–102. Retrieved 20 December 2021.
  11. Smaldone, Joseph P. (1992). "National Security". In Metz, Helen Chapin (ed.). Nigeria: a country study. Area Handbook (5th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. pp. 296–297. LCCN 92009026. Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  12. "PAF changes officers' rank insignia". The News. 6 July 2006. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2012.
  13. "Commissioned Officers". Sri Lanka Air Force. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  14. "OFFICER'S RANKS". Archived from the original on 10 February 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  15. "For Officers". Indian Air Force. Archived from the original on 25 February 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  16. "Commissioned Officers". Sri Lanka Air Force. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  17. "RAF Ranks". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  18. "RANKS AND BADGES IN THE AFZ". Air Force of Zimbabwe. Archived from the original on 9 June 2022. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
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