Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Lieutenant general (United States)

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
United States


Non-NATO rank

LTG / Lt Gen / LtGen

NATO rank

Lieutenant general (United States)

Service branch
United States Army  United States Air Force  United States Marine Corps

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and the United States Air Force, 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 other uniformed services.


Statutory limits

The United States Code explicitly limits the total number of generals that may be concurrently active to 230 for the Army, 60 for the Marine Corps, and 208 for the Air Force. 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. Some of these slots can be reserved by statute. Officers serving in certain intelligence positions are not counted against either limit, including the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The President may also add three-star slots to one service if they are offset by removing an equivalent number from other services. Finally, all statutory limits may be waived at the president's discretion during time of war or national emergency.

The Superintendent of the United States Military Academy is almost always a U.S. Army lieutenant general; either upon appointment or shortly thereafter.

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. Their rank expires with the expiration of their term of office, which is usually set by statute. 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. The nominee must be confirmed via majority vote by the Senate before the appointee can take office and thus assume the rank. 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. Otherwise all general officers must retire the month after their 64th birthday. 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. 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. 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.

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.


Listed in order of receiving the rank:

  • George Washington, first officer to be appointed to the grade of lieutenant general. He was later posthumously promoted to General of the Armies of the United States in 1976.
  • Winfield Scott, received a brevet promotion to lieutenant general
  • Ulysses S. Grant, later promoted to General of the Army of the United States
  • William Sherman, later promoted to General of the Army of the United States
  • Philip Sheridan, later promoted to General of the Army of the United States
  • John A. Schofield, while serving as Commanding General of the United States Army
  • Nelson A. Miles, while serving as Commanding General of the United States Army
  • World War II

  • Frank Maxwell Andrews, U.S. Army Air Forces, commander of U.S. Forces in the European Theater, killed in an air crash
  • Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., commander of U.S. Tenth Army, posthumously promoted to General
  • Jimmy Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces, leader of the Doolittle Raid on Japan in World War II and commander of the U.S. Eighth Air Force, Twelfth Air Force and Fifteenth Air Force, later promoted to General, U.S. Air Force, after retirement
  • Hugh Aloysius Drum, commander of U.S. First Army
  • Ira C. Eaker, U.S. Army Air Forces, commander of U.S. Eighth Air Force, later posthumously promoted to General in 1986
  • Delos Carleton Emmons, commander of the Hawaiian Department
  • Lloyd Fredendall, commander of U.S. Second Army
  • Leslie Groves, who ran the Manhattan Project and oversaw The Pentagon design / construction.
  • Millard Harmon, U.S. Army Air Forces, commander of Army Air Forces Pacific, lost during plane flight
  • Thomas Holcomb, U.S. Marine Corps, Commandant of the Marine Corps during first half of World War II, later promoted to General on retirement
  • William S. Knudsen, Director of Production, Office of the Under Secretary of War. First civilian to enter the Army at that rank.
  • Lesley J. McNair, commander of Army Ground Forces, later posthumously promoted to General
  • Richard K. Sutherland, chief of staff to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, present on the USS Missouri (BB-63) for the Empire of Japan's surrender signing.
  • George S. Patton, commander of U.S. Third Army, later promoted to General
  • 1950s through 1980s; Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War

  • Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, U.S. Marine Corps, the most decorated Marine in Marine Corps history (only Marine ever to be awarded the Navy Cross five times)
  • Robert Sink, former Commander of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Band of Brothers), the XVIII Airborne Corps and the Strategic Army Corps.
  • Hal Moore, former commander of the 1st Cavalry Division
  • William Eldridge Odom, head of the National Security Agency under president Ronald Reagan, outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and warrantless wiretaping of US citizens.
  • Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force, NASA astronaut, flew on Gemini 6A, Gemini 9, Apollo 10 & Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Promoted to Lieutenant General in 1979 as Deputy Chief of Staff, Research Development and Acquisition, Headquarters USAF, Washington D.C.
  • Post-Cold War

  • David Barno, LTG, USA (Ret): former commander of Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan during the War in Afghanistan
  • Carol A. Mutter, LtGen, USMC (Ret): first woman to be promoted to Lieutenant General (1 September 1996)
  • Claudia J. Kennedy, LTG, USA (Ret): first woman to be promoted to Lieutenant General in the United States Army (17 June 1997)
  • Ricardo Sanchez, LTG, USA (Ret): former commander U.S. V Corps, former commander of US ground forces in Iraq
  • Samuel V. Wilson, LTG, USA (Ret): Ranger Hall of Fame, Delta Force co-founder, former commander of the 6th Special Forces: former Deputy to Director, Central Intelligence Agency, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, former President of Hampden-Sydney College
  • John B. Sylvester: former Deputy Chief of Staff for NATO in Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Susan Helms, Lt Gen United States Air Force (Ret): former commander 14th Air Force and former NASA astronaut
  • Michael T. Flynn, LTG, USA (Ret): former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, former National Security Advisor
  • HR McMaster, National Security Advisor (20 February 2017)
  • References

    Lieutenant general (United States) Wikipedia