General is the highest military rank in most militaries; some, such as Israel, do not have this high a grade. It also may refer to the highest group of ranks (i.e., general officer, sometimes interchanged with the naval term flag officer).
In the NATO designation system (STANAG 2116), it is level OF-9, which is equivalent to the naval rank of admiral. The next lower rank is "lieutenant general". While some militaries have a higher grade of "field marshal" or "general of the army", they are usually wartime only. In the U.S. system, however, it is one grade higher than NATO; a U.S. general is officer grade O-10, not O-9.
In modern militaries, typical command assignments at this level would be a field army (i.e., not a ground component commander) or higher unit, or a very high level of staff responsibilities, including being the senior officer of a service or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (or national equivalent) The commanders of U.S. Unified Combatant Commands are generals or admirals. Typical modern assignments for a general not commanding operational fores include, in the U.S., the Director of National Intelligence, a major support or training/readiness organization such as the Air Combat Command, or Army Materiel Command.
While there are national differences, there are usually four grades of general officer, possibly with a higher rank given rarely and only in wartime.
- Marshal, General of the Army, Marshal of the Royal Air Force; rarely used
- Lieutenant general (sometimes colonel general in militaries that do not have the brigadier general grade)
- Major general
- Brigadier general (or brigadier; the "brigadier" title tends to be a Commonwealth term used for the highest rank of the next lower class of "field-grade officers" and not a term for a general officer)
Many countries follow U.S. or British usages. In the U.S. military, which does have a brigadier general rank, full generals wear four stars.
The British and widespread Commonwealth usage has a crown, a star and a pair of crossed swords.
- NATO codes for grades of military personnel: Agreed English texts, 1992, NATO Standardization Agreement (STANAG) 2116