Naval commissioned officers are paid commensurate with their rank based on a pay scale that runs from O-1 for the lowest-ranked individuals to O-10 for the highest. Vice admirals are paid at the O-9 level. Officers within the O-7 to O-10 range are considered “flag officers.” Fewer than 1 percent of career officers are promoted to flag rank, which in the Navy comprises the one-star rear admiral, the two-star rear admiral, the three-star vice admiral and the four-star admiral.
Anyone eligible for the rank of vice admiral must have at least 20 years of service.
The Navy's promotion system is based on service record strength, but it is also vacancy-driven and for flag officers is a highly political process. Each year, in-service promotion planners map out the anticipated need for officers in each grade based on quotas established by Congress for each category. The selections board then recommends officers to the president of the United States, who will choose from this list whenever a vacancy occurs in the appropriate rank due to another officer's retirement or promotion. The president makes this decision with input from the secretaries of the Navy and Defense Department and in consultation with the service chief of staff/commandant. The Senate must then confirm the president’s choice. Vice admirals later recommended for promotion to admiral must repeat the nomination and confirmation process.
Officers recommended for promotion will have their service records thoroughly analyzed and be vetted both professionally and for strength of character before they are deemed qualified by the selections board.
Per their O-9 pay range, vice admirals with 20 years invested earn $11,947 per month, while those with more than 38 years of service are paid $14,819 per month. Federal law limits the number of active-duty officers, and the Navy is restricted to 216 flag officers, with about 35 spots reserved for those with the rank of vice admiral.
The law also dictates that all naval flag officers retire by age 62, although this can be delayed until 64 if the Navy secretary or defense secretary grants an extension, and flag officers may even serve until age 66 at the president’s discretion.