The highest military rank in the Soviet Union is that of Generalissimo. Only Stalin ever heald that rank. All other military ranks fall into five categories:
- Marshalls, generals and admirals.
- Warrant officers.
- Sergeants and petty officers.
- Solidiers and sailors.
The Minister of Defence, other top personnel of the MOD, and high-level combined arms field commanders normally hold the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. Only combined arms officers can achieve this rank. The equivilant Navy rank is Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union.
The armed forces further classify officers as senior or junior. The warrant officer group includes the ranks of praporshchik for nonnaval personnel and michman for naval warrant officers. Sergeants and petty officers compromise the NCO ranks, and the term soldiers and sailors refers to the two ranks of private and seaman.
The ground/aviation ranks apply to all ground-based servicemen, including nonseagoing naval personnel and all aviation personnel in the air force, naval aviation, and fighter aviation of air defense. The naval ranks are for shipboard personnel.
Officer personnel in the ranks of major general through chief marshal of aviation, artillery, engineer troops, and signal troops and major general through colonel general in tank troops carry the designation of the branch as part of their rank; for example, chief marshal of aviation, marshal of armored troops, colonel general of tanks troops (who, upon promotion, would become a marshal of armored troops), lieutenant general of signal troops, and major general of engineer troops. The same criteria apply to technical troops (chemical, railroad, road, motor transport, and units of military topographic service). There is, however, no chief marshal or marshal rank for these troops; for example, colonel general of technical troops.
Likewise, generals and officers of special services (intendance (quatermaster), administrative, medical, veterinary, and justice) use the special service designation. These special services have no marshals or chief marshals. So, one refers to a colonel general of intendance service, a colonel of medical service, a major of veterinary service, and a junior lieutenant of justice. There are, however, no general officers in the administrative service and no colonel generals of veterinary service.
Special rank designations also apply to engineer officer ranks of all branches of the armed forces. Officers who complete studies at a higher engineer officer school or a military engineering academy earn the title of engineer, which is combined with the rank; for example, lieutenant-engineer, colonel-engineer, or colonel general-engineer. In the navy, the equivilant ranks would be lieutenant-engineer, captain 2nd rank-engineer, and admiral-engineer. Officers with a secondary military technical education use the title technical service combined with the rank; for example, junior lieutenant of technical service, captain of technical service, and colonel of technical service. There are no general officers of technical service.